Research Nugget

Know Your Traditional Medicinal Plants Used to Treat Diabetes

The use of medicinal plants for the prevention and treatment of both communicable and non-communicable diseases is well established globally. In South Africa, traditional healers in Vhembe district in Limpopo Province traditionally use medicinal plants in treating diabetes, a non-communicable and chronic metabolic disease which remains a global epidemic with a high burden of mortality.

In an effort to curb the erosion of important traditional knowledge systems for the benefit of both the present and future generations, a NRF funded ethnobotanical study surveyed sixty traditional healers from each of the local municipalities in Vhembe.

The study found that:

  • There are 63 medicinal plant species from 37 families for treating diabetes. The top cited medicinal plants include Elephantorrhiza elephantina (Burch.) Skeels, Elaeodendron trasvaalense (Burtt Davy) R.H.Archer, Brackenridgea zanguebarica, Moringa oleifera Lam., Securidaca longipedunculata Fresen, Cassia abbreviata Oliv., Tabernaemontana elegans Stapf., Capparis tomentosa Lam., Dichrostachys cinerea (L.) Wight and Arn, and Anthocleista grandiflora Gilg.
  • Twenty-six species were recorded for the first time in the folkloric treatment of diabetes, including the two species (Aloe grandidentata Salm-Dyck. and Grewia retinervis Burret.) with no prior record of being used as a traditional remedy for any specific ailment.
  • Many of the plants are used in combinations. The most frequently used plant parts were roots (47%), followed by stems (23%), and leaves (17%). Majority of the plant materials (62%) were sourced from the wild. Decoctions (68%) and infusions (25%) were the leading methods of preparation.

The study advocates that evidence-based and sustained valorisation of the efficacy and safety of traditionally used therapies in treating diabetes using modern scientific tools is particularly recommended, not only for the promotion and development of rich African indigenous knowledge in traditional medicine, but also for controlling the unprecedented menace, morbidity and mortality caused by diabetes.

Read the full paper published October 2021 in the South African Journal of Botany here.