African Medicinal Healing – an Introduction
Ancient African healers had an elaborate materia medica, which consisted of mixtures of various herbs, minerals, and clays. One of the herbs the medicine man, or Shaman, used was the Funtumia elastica which assisted in relieving respiratory conditions. The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest in medical literature and used by ancient African healers, consisted of a collection of about 700 prescriptions for addressing internal diseases arranged according to the organ concerned. The papyri contains chapters on intestinal disease, ophthalmology, dermatology, gynecology, pregnancy diagnosis, contraception, dentistry, and the surgical treatment of abscesses, tumors, fractures and burns. Surviving papyri point to a sophisticated medical knowledge of the Egyptians.
These ancient people left an indelible mark upon medical history. Despite assertions to the contrary, it was not the Hippocratic authors who first recognized the power of nature to heal spontaneously. Excerpts, allusions, and derivations of the Egyptian papyri appear frequently in Arabic works and medieval manuscripts. Some drugs from the Nile valley could still be found in pharmacopoeias until the early 1900s – stibium is still being used to treat trachoma.
Africa is a continent with an enormous wealth of plant resources. Thousands of distinct species thrive in the lowland forest regions alone, and most have been used for centuries in traditional medicine for the prevention and treatment of various diseases. The history of healing arts in Africa can be traced back to ca. 3200 BC, during the reign of Menes, the first Pharaoh of ancient Egypt.
Although there are researched publications available on the constituents and biological activities of medicinal plants from Africa, the development of therapeutic agents from Africa medicinal plants has remained a somewhat neglected subject. The study of African medicinal plants has not been taken as seriously or documented as fully as in other traditional societies, such as the Chinese and Ayurvedic. Most of what we know about African medicinal plants is derived from actual experience of the African traditional medical practice and beliefs as explained by the healers themselves and from ancient medical transcripts. African traditional medicine has a systematic methodology of its own. The fact that it may not conform to the present level of knowledge in science should not be held against it. The cures dispensed by the medicine man are not all products of chance, but results of years of careful experimentation and painstaking observations; as is the case with most indigenous remedies.