Herbs In Africa

Conservation and Cooperation
Part 1
Part~2    Part~3    Part~4     Part~5     Part~6
Ivor Hughes

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  species.

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 deal !

Appropriate Technology

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 commercial activity.

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.

Market Scope

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:

1. 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:

The Process

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

The technology required fits the following criteria:

It 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.

Crop Yields and Economic Potential

Crops yields are subject to many variables eg:;

(A) Species (B) Soil Type (C) Temperature
(D) Water (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 potential.

The following table was compiled across a number of seasons and can be used to represent fair average yields for forecast purposes.

Plant Part Fresh Yield Per ha Drying Ratio Average Dry Yield
Root 7500 kg 3:1 2500 kg
Herb 8000 kg 4:1 25000 kg
Flower 5000 lg 10:1 500 kg

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.

E.   The 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.     (3) Dry.

Methods of Preparation for the Extracts

Procedure A B C D E F
Pressure       *    
Solvents * *     * *
Distillation     *      
Pulverizing       *    
Evaporation           *

Dry 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  big..

Part~2       Part~3      Part~4       Part~5       Part~6

These articles have been published in Science in Africa
Next in this series: Dehydration