Saturday, February 19, 2011


Think of an animal... What do you picture? Chances are it is one of the animals of Africa. These are the creatures we learn of in our youngest days. Lion, elephant, giraffe, rhino, zebra. These are the creatures that we use to define ourselves as human. African animals are icons of the wild. Yet, human influence is taking its toll. Most large mammals in Africa are threatened by poaching or habitat destruction as the population increases. The number of people in Africa will double in less than 50 years, with untold consequences for the wildlife that competes for the same natural resources.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Traditional African Herbal Medicines

Before the event of colonialism, Africa was a continent where the "witch doctors" taken care of all ailments, real or superstious. The African traditional healers went by many names such as: Inyanga and Isangoma in Zulu, Ixwele and Amaquira in Xhosa, Nqaka in Sotho and Toordokter, bossiedokter or kruiedokter in Afrikaans, some of these remedies was also known as "boererate" or "kruierate". 

Although the Inyanga or Sangoma was more spiritually endowed the elders, birth attendants, mediums, herbalist and the ordinary person living in the bush are all carriers of tribal medicine knowledge.
The following herb/plant descriptions are for informational purposes only. We are not advising or prescribing herbs or plants for any specific medical conditions. 
Always check with you health care provider prior to using herbs/plants for medical purposes. Be smart and do your research. Most of the information and herbs listed in the following descriptions have not been verified or proven safe by the FDA. Use at your own risk.
Acacia erioloba
Ear infections can be treated with the dried powder of the pods, The gum can be used for the treatment of gonorrhea and the pulverized burned bark can be used to treat headache 
Acacia hebeclada
Rood can be used for a cure for diarrhoea
Acokanthera oppositifolia
This plant and ALL it's parts are extremely poisonous, it contain several cardiac glycosides of which Acovenoside A is the major compound, with minor constituents which include the well known hunting poison ingredient Ouabain. Acovenoside A is highly toxic and can cause death even with minute doses. A infusion of the root bark are used to treat excessive and irregular
 menstruation. Small doses of the plant are taken orally, and some applied topically for
 the treatment of toothache.Other medical uses include the treatment of colds, anthrax and tapeworm.
Acacia nilotica (Mimosa nilotica) Zulu take bark for cough. Astringent bark used for diarrhea, dysentery, and leprosy.  Other preparations used for coughs, gargle, toothache, ophthalmia, and syphilitic ulcers.
African Vocanga (Vocanga africana) This plant is used by the Diola of Africa against infectious diseases. It has also been reported to been used to treat mental disorders and as an analgesic. Reported to contain voacangine (carbomethoxy-ibogaine), ibogamin, plus many other unidentified alkaloids in the root & trunk bark, leaves and seeds. The total alkaloid fraction is said to be slightly toxic, acting as CNS depressants & hypotensives.
Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) Has been found effective in the treatment of some cases of arthritis. Also aids in liver and gall-bladder complaints. 
Lion tail (Leonotis and Leonuris) are known collectively as lion's tail; ongoing research at the CBGTEP suggests that these little-known herbs may also be useful as a calming tea. In South Africa, the leaves and roots of the plant are also used as a remedy for snake bite and to alleviate the pain of other bites and stings. The decoction of dried leaf or root is used as an external wash to treat itchy skin and eczema. Internally, the tea of the dried leaves is taken to treat headache, bronchitis, high blood pressure and the common cold. The plant contains volatile oils and marrubiin. 
Yohimbe bark (Pausinystalia johimbe) Increases blood flow to the genitals, compressing the veins and prevents the blood from flowing back out. It has been shown to restore erectly function in many cases of impotence. Also used for weight loss and as a poultice for pain. Used as an infusion, decoction, extract and tincture. The bark has been smoked as mild hallucinogen. 
Yohimbe is a tall evergreen forest tree, reaching a height of 90 feet and width of 40 feet, native to southwestern Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, and the Congo. Yohimbe bark has traditionally been used in western Africa as a sexual aphrodisiac, especially in male erectile disorders, reportedly stimulating both erection and salivation. No significant human studies on crude yohimbe bark or its whole extract have been conducted. 
Numerous studies, however, have investigated the actions of the isolated constituent yohimbine. One study indicated that lower doses of yohimbine, given to patients who are fasting or eating a low-fat diet, may be effective. There are a few studies showing that yohimbine is effective for some impotence, especially of vascular, diabetic, or psychogenic origins. It can improve the quality and staying power of erections, usually without increasing sexual excitement. Though yohimbe bark is freely available in the United States in health and natural food stores, pharmacies, and by mail order, it should be used with caution. 

Traditional African Food

Although porridge,  in whatever form, are the staple food of Africa, there are still hundreds of other foodstuff that are eaten on just as regular bases and which may seem for the average Westerner as primitive or uneatable. Let's be honest, eating prawns, crayfish, mussels and many other delicatessen is not that different from eating Mopane worms or Scarab larvae, or is it?
This small fish are caught in rivers and pools with nets and then dried in the sun, can be mixed with maize or any other type of porridge. Very interesting taste.
This Caterpillar is the larval stage of the Mopane moth ( Gonimbrasia belina)  and are caught , cooked and dried for further use and are a relish of southern Africa. There are three tastes available (of which I know) Regular (cooked and dried) , curry marinated and deep-fried in oil and a deep-fried chili variety. It is a acquired taste, and I had problems acquiring it..
Eenyandi ( Diospyros mespiliformis) Jackal berry. The fruit are eaten when ripe or dried for later use, a beer brew are also made of this berry. Sometimes the berries are grounded and used as porridge. The Jackal-berry tree are also used to make Wato's (Canoe), medicine and many other uses.
Embe, very nice little berry tasteful, eaten as a relish or mixed with water to make a very pleasant tasting brew.
Wituintjies ( Moraea edulis), harvested in shallow pools , riverbeds and omarumbas. Taste nice with a bit of a frankish taste. Also sometimes boiled in milk and taste like sweet potato's.
Jugo bean (Vigna subterranea) very nice smelling and tasting when cooked in water, and very filling also.
Sorghum meal (Sorghum bicolor) very important food, used to make porridge and beer.
 Fine grounded Pearl millet or Mahango ( Pennisetum glaucum) One of the most important food crops of Africa and in many place it is the stable and only food of the people.

How did the People from Africa make it?

Making Cordage (Rope) By Hand

Cordage (rope and string) can be made from many different fibers including Each material has specific requirements for extracting and preparing the fibers, but there are only two basic ways for using the fibers to make a cord: braiding (or plaiting) and twining. Braiding was usually done with flat, split materials such as Grewia.sp  inner bark or palm leaves. The instructions in this page will deal only with twining, specifically with two ply (S-twist, Z ply, also called right handed) cordage.
After preparing a bundle of fiber half the thickness of the finished cord, place your hands six to twelve inches apart and about one third of the way from one end. Twisting the fibers clockwise with both hands, wind the bundle tight (making single-ply cordage).
Bring your hands closer together and keep twisting. The kink should rotate on its own in a counterclockwise direction. Twist until two or three rotations occur. This is the start of a two ply cord. At this time you can attach the end to something (or someone) which can rotate (free-end) and keep twisting with both hands turning clockwise OR you can attach the end to something solid (fixed-end) and begin twisting and counter-rotating (see below).
Finger-twisting finer material is usually done completely in the hand, with the finished string being wound on a bobbin or netting needle as you go. Your left hand acts to control tension while your right hand does the twisting. Then place the Y (the point where the two ply’s come together) between your left thumb and fore finger. Take the lower of the two ply strands and twist it tightly clockwise until it begins to kink. Lock the twist in by closing your remaining three fingers over the strand. Then, while holding the first twisted ply securely, twist the second ply with your right thumb and forefinger. As you twist, you should feel the completed string begin to twist counter-clockwise. Follow this motion with your left thumb and forefinger while maintaining even tension and a symmetrical Y. Next move your left thumb up to the fork in the Y as before and repeat steps 1 and 2 until you need to add more fiber.
If you began your cord off-center, then one side will run out of fiber first. As you get to within about 3 inches of the end of this short ply, prepare another bundle of fibers the same size as you began with, but taper the end of the bundle for about 4 inches.
Lay this bundle parallel to the bundle being replaced, and sticking out about an inch beyond the Y. Continue twisting as before. You should also add in if one ply becomes thinner than the other, or if both plies become thinner than they started. In these cases add just enough fiber to bring them back to correct size. Ideally, your cord should stay the same size throughout, although aboriginal cordage did vary about fifty percent in nets. Bowstrings and fish lines under heavy pull should be very even.
It is also possible to add to both sides at the same time by bending a bundle of fiber in half and placing the Y of the bundle into the V of the Y, but it is harder to keep from making a lump at this point. After your string is finished, you can cut or burn (carefully) off the overlap ends to make your string less fuzzy.
NOTE: dry surfaces tend to slip, so you should keep your hands and the fiber damp while you are working. Squeeze out excess water though or your string will be loose when it dries.
Finger-twisting methods are best used when a relatively small amount of string is being made and/or has to be very tight and even, and when very stiff or coarse materials are being used. When making mass quantities of cordage, it is much faster and easier on the hands to use the leg (thigh) rolling method. The principle is the same, S-twist, Z-ply, but the twist is applied by rolling on the leg, rather than twisting between the thumb and finger. You can continue to work without getting cramps in your hand muscles, and you can (with practice) work faster (about ten feet per hour). The critical element in making this method work is having the right surface on which to roll. Traditionally the bare left thigh is used. If you do not want to expose your skin, or if your legs are hairy, you can use pants, but these should be tight around your leg, so they won't bunch up as you roll, and they should have a rough enough surface to give traction. Keeping them damp is also critical. I keep a bucket of water next to me while work. 
Before you begin, prepare as much fiber as you will be using during that session. Once you get into the rhythm of the work, you won't want to stop and clean material.
Roll both plies away from you with the palm of your right hand (pre-roll each separately). Your left hand holds the Y and follows the movement.
Bring the two plies together by moving the left hand forward and back. If the two plies did not get tightly rolled the first time, carefully pick up both plies and repeat step one first.
When the plies are tight and touching, bring the right palm back towards you, counter-rotating the two plies into two-ply cordage.
Before repeating step one, it is necessary to untangle the loose ends of fiber, separate into two plies, and move the left hand up to the new Y.