Sunday, April 11, 2010


You must have come across someone who advised you to use herbal medicine once in your life time, but do these locally-grown herbs really work? Am not a good fun of these herbs for only two particular reasons:  one is hygienic conditions of both the people involved and the place of work (where they manufacture or boil the herbs)  and the other is professionalism of the practitioners.

To tell the truth, the number of people going for herbs is increasing significantly across Africa--both men and women, educated and uneducated--and the business is booming, hence attracting many investors. While a many Ugandans associate this business with Jjujju (witchcraft) and African traditional religions, when it comes to seeking these herbs, even prominent modern religionists will put their faith/belief on hold and use it. Today, it’s now like a religion itself. We are seeing more advanced arrangements mostly known as reflexology, there’s so much manipulation using this system and it feels like no one regulates how reflexology works. 

For the past two weeks, I have not seen the wife of my landlord. I didn’t care much about her whereabouts since it’s not my business to know. But this morning I was alarmed to see her getting out of her house with big bottles of herbal medicine. I felt sorry for her simply because, from my observation, she can afford any medical doctor in any medical centre in Kampala, but then why does she use herbs? I kept that for my own, some things are better left unknown. I was determined to ask her but chose not to.

These herbs are not purchased by prescription.  You simply hear the herbal businessman telling their patients to take five litres of herbs, and sometimes they even tell you to take a jerrycan of 20 litres, this is total madness and backwardness of African people.

There are many things I love in life, one of them is cameras of any kind.  Cameras don’t lie. Recently on NTV, a journalist brought the story of a herbal maker on its screens. The guy had lots of stuff in his place of work including a Qur’an (90% of herbal makers are Moslem, at least in Uganda).This guy was arrested for mixing his herbal medicines with all funny and dirty stuff. He was mixing it with his urine, saliva, burnt nails, pupu (shit) and he went ahead to also burn his hair into ashes then mixed it with the herbs. When the journalist asked him why he does that? His answers were “The Qur’an teaches them that everything from them, both in and outside can be used to heal.” This is on record.

This is a humanitarian issue. No society should permit entrepreneurs to make a living endangering people’s lives. This is the primary reason am writing about this. Take precautions before getting addicted to buying herbs.

While the journalists did their work, it’s now a year and never heard of him being charged. I even recall seeing some Moslem leaders protesting “that the guy was NOT a Moslem and that his actions were against the Qur’an and the Islamic regulations”. Since then, nothing we heard of any action by courts of law in Uganda.

We all know how these medicines are prepared; they pick up discarded empty containers (mostly plastic water bottles) which are used to package their products. The bottles and cans are picked from polluted Kampala streams and we cannot be sure how they are treated beforehand. Some guys even pee in these cans before dumping them in streams around Kampala.

On many occasions, I overheard customers of this kind of medical solutions complaining that “herbal makers” packed food color.  Forgive me because I don’t consider them professional healers, therefore I have no respect for them.   Can you imagine? Let whatever illness hit me, I will never use locally made (unapproved) herbs.

I truly presume that some herbs may have some real benefits like thoseones used by women after and before giving birth but I encourage strong critical consultation virtually. We now have the Internet,which has more information on almost anything you would ever like know, it should be consulted before buying any herbs.  If you are not sure of what to do on internet to get what you would want,kindly seek some help from Internet Café attendants. Most of them are kind and approachable.


John Powers said...

I think there is little difference between our opinions about herbs, although the particular herbs are probably different here in the USA and there in Uganda. But I want to raise a slightly different point.

There is no question that there are useful herbs for example herbs used in cooking and in making perfumes. And I think almost everybody is quite skeptical about overblown claims of particular herbs for treating illness. But it gets tricky because there are clearly some herbs which have some medicinal use. For example the Chinese used Artemesia annua for treating malaria for over a thousand years. Now that plant is used for making medicine to treat malaria. Part of making that medicine is finding enough growers to supply the plant material. Chemists found a way to synthesize acetylsalicylic acid in the a laboratory to make aspirin, but before that it was extracted from a plant Filipendula ulmaria which had been used for years as a folk remedy to reduce fever.

There is some knowledge about herbs that's really useful and important. But it's also true that many of the the old herbal remedies do not work and can even be harmful. The really hard part is separating the useful knowledge from the false remedies.

One of the legacies of Colonialism in Africa is the reduction of interest in useful native plants. It's very important to reclaim knowledge about these plant because they are valuable resource.

Also in Uganda many people get their primary medical care from traditional healers. There is an organization in Uganda Theta Uganda which promotes collaboration between the biomedical community and traditional healers. I don't know much about Uganda, but when I saw this I thought it very good. There are good reasons to respect the knowledge that some traditional healers have about the native plants and their knowledge about the people that come to them for help. Some of them are eager to be even more helpful so they welcome respectful collaboration with doctors and health officials. Both sides know that the best treatment for illness is to not get sick in the first place ;-)

I grow many medicinal herbs in my garden, the main reason is most of them are pretty and easy to grow. But I also enjoy finding out about the plants and their histories of use by people. I don't make preparations from most of these plants and am very leery of eating them! But I know that some are safe to ingest and do work. I'm less troubled by preparations made from herbs to be used on the skin. Some of these really do work.

The issue of entrepreneurs causing harm seems as though it's a straightforward matter to fix, but I think it's really harder that it first appears. There are many man made chemicals which are clearly harmful too and it doesn't seem that we're always good at making judgements about risks and benefits.

I certainly agree with you that we are wise to be skeptical of many claims that seem too good to be true about herbs. I also think that an interest in herbs is a good thing. Knowledge really is the key. It's good to remember that some traditional healers really do have some important knowledge.

Quitstorm said...

I agree with you John

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