Herbs In Africa
Conservation and Cooperation
|To give to each Nation its own type of
medicine, the theoracam best suited to it, as it behooves, for I can
well realize that my prescriptions may turn out to be ineffectual
among the foreign Nations, and that foreign recipes may turn out to
be ineffetual in our Nation. That is to say that I write for Europe,
and I do not know whether Asia and Africa may profit from it.
|Paracelsus (1493 - 1541)
Even in the face of adversity and injustice,
the African peoples have been fecund. This is evidenced by large African
populations in North America, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. These
groupings of Afro peoples, represent a very large, and lucrative market
for indigenous remedies.
However before these markets can be tapped, a continuity of supply must be
assured. That continuity cannot be achieved by the wild harvesting of
medicinal plants. Such procedures end in the extinction of countless
On the other hand, the large-scale mono-cropping of medicinal species,
which need inputs of artificial fertilisers, and large scale spraying of
dangerous and expensive biocides is not a sustainable practice. The
results of those policies are clearly visible in the form of a destabilized
weather pattern, and a degraded environment. Inevitably,
wide-spread famine and disease is the result in developing nations. Most
of these problems are caused by first world economic criteria applied to
every nation across the board. Science in the service of multi-national
corporations, becomes malignant rather than benign.
In a short series of articles it is intended to outline the basic
requirements, for small scale, sustainable cultivation, and processing
techniques, for rural communities. No large inputs of capital expenditure
and inappropriate technology are required. In other words, what is
required, is the willing cooperation of small communities and the
application of appropriate technology. This means tapping the Natural
Science knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. Forget
about large scale corporate financial muscle. No Westernised company that
tries to use Afro-ethnic knowledge can have the credibility of the real
In a community that does not have access to
corporate power, water, and sewage disposal, the technology offered by
first world countries is obviously not appropriate to the situation.
Appropriate technology in a zero situation, is people, land, a shovel, and
seeds, and a need to ensure the continuity of the community. From that
point on, any community may bootstrap their way into a viable situation
without resorting to the money lender/debt trap. The technology is Solar
or Helio technology. From the power of the Sun, and the power of Nature,
all is possible. This, without disturbing that cooperative essence, of the
structure of life on our planet.
Business is Business
Cooperation within small communities to meet
common goals is a natural process. However any community that wishes
to engage in commercial activities outside the boundaries of the community
will need a framework in order to interact with larger scale
Free legal advice and assistance for communities may be accessed via the
Global Cooperative Movement. The cooperative structure not only defines
the individuals rights, duties and rewards but also allows them a legally
recognised business framework. Within this framework they can trade across
national borders. However what is appropriate, is that any budding
community must first trade within their natural boundaries. That means
that their first markets stem from the healer within the community. In
other words everyone must cooperate in common cause.
The herb grower has a degree of flexibility
and market options which are unmatched by any other branch of agriculture
or horticulture, the options may be divided into 4 main categories:
Food and flavours.
2. Cosmetics, perfumes and Toiletries.
3. Natural Medicines.
4. Industrial intermediates eg Dyes, tanning agents, insecticides
and craft materials.
It will be understood that those categories
are further sub-dividable and when combined with the number of herb
species traded then the options are diverse. However to access the options
the grower must be able to process the crop.
By employing one or more of the following techniques the grower may
considerably value-add the primary product:
Dehydration - (Removal of water)
Distillation - (Steam, Water, Separation)
Extraction - (Use of solvents)
Compounding - (Manufacturing combination products)
The techniques are simple and usually no
more complicated than those methods employed in a domestic kitchen.
The technology required fits the following
can be owner constructed
It can be owner maintained
It has low construction and maintenance costs
It has a low environmental impact.
Much of the technological hardware equates
to scaled up domestic kitchen apparatus.
Yields and Economic Potential
Crops yields are subject to many variables eg:;
|(B) Soil Type
|(E) Available Nutrients
|(F) Light Intensity and Duration
In addition, the drying ratio between root,
leaf and flower will vary from species to species, nonetheless the grower
needs a general guide upon which to provide a forecast of economical
The following table was compiled across a number of seasons and can be
used to represent fair average yields for forecast purposes.
|Fresh Yield Per ha
|Average Dry Yield
Tinctures and Extracts
The tinctures and extracts are the basis of
many diverse products
Types of Extract
The base form of all extracts is liquid and
is classified into types as follows;
A. The Liquid Extract is the
strongest type of plant liquid made, its ratio of the plant material to
solvent is 1:1, i.e., 1 gram crude drug represents 1 ml of the liquid
extract. For technical reasons it may only be further concentrated by
evaporation of the solvent. Occasionally a 1:2 preparation, i.e., 1 g
crude drug equals 2 ml liquid is called an extract, this is
incorrect and leads to confusion.When the term extract is used here, it
means a 1:1 preparation.
B. The Tincture is the most
common form of plant liquid. An official definition of a tincture is that
it has a drug/solvent ratio of 1:4 and that the solvent be a minimum 45%
by volume.There are some difficulties with that definition because there
are strong tinctures, i.e., 1:2 or 1:3 or they may go from 1:5 through
1:10. International protocol on potent plant drugs, e.g., Belladonna,
Digitalis, Strophanthus etc. is agreed upon 1:10. The international
protocol was established for obvious reasons. Preparations above 1:10 are
little more; than preserved concentrated infusions.
C. The Essential Oils
represent a fraction of 1% of the total plant constituents and are not
representative of a plant's therapeutic range. They are undoubtedly the
finest natural bactericide, that because of their potency can be dangerous
in the wrong hands.Therefore if taken internally they can be extremely
toxic and if used without dilution externally, the result will be damage
to dermal or mucous tissue.
D. The Expressed
Plant Juices enjoyed popularity in the early years of the 20th century but
were gradually abandoned because of their limitations. They are brisk and
vigorous in action; this may be attributed to the live enzyme content and
as such bear comparison with fresh fruit and vegetable juices, however
strict dosage restraints must be adopted otherwise harm may result. The
preserved juices are problematical.
Concentrated Infusions and Decoctions are prepared with water as the
solvent. If taken in that form they are classed as recentium (recent) or
alternatively they are preserved with alcohol 20%.
They are the basis of pills and ointments.
F. The Pasty or Dry Extracts
are prepared from liquid extracts by evaporation. They must be prepared
with extreme care lest irremediable damage occurs. There are three types;
(1) Soft. (2) Semi-soft.
Methods of Preparation for the Extracts
Yield Converted to Liquid Yield
On the assumption of 100 kg of dried
material, a liquid extract will yield 100 litres of extract.
On the same amount of dried material, a 1 in 4 tincture will yield 400
litres of tincture. A Homeopathic mother tincture is 1 in 10. (There are a
few odd exceptions). Therefore, the original 100 kg of dried material will
yield 1000 litres of the mother tincture. It may be seen that the original
100 kg of dried material has suddenly started to be commercially viable.
An average consumer-ready bottle of a tincture or extract has a volume of
15 ml. Accordingly, 1 litre will yield on average 65 x 15ml bottles
(allowing for evaporation during the bottling process). The bottles may be
filled with nothing more than the usual type of spirits dispenser found in
hotels and public houses
Appropriate technology is all around us. Grow slowly, but think
These articles have been published in
Science in Africa
Next in this series: Dehydration