Traditional medicine according to WHO (1997), is the sum total of all knowledge and practices, whether explicable or not, used in diagnosis, prevention and elimination of physical, mental or social imbalance and recycling exclusively on practical experience and observation handed down from generation to generation whether verbally or writing. Herbal therapy entails the use of plants for their therapeutic or medicinal values. A medicinal herb or simply herb is a plant or plant part valued for its medicine, aromatic or savory qualities. These herbs produce and contain a variety of chemical substances called phytochemicals, which acts upon the body to bring about physiological changes. Herbal medicine is an integral part of the development of modern civilization is an important part of culture and traditions of African people including Nigeria.
A medicinal herb is any plant which contain substances in its root, stem, leaf, and fruit or flower that can be used for therapeutic purposes or which are precursors for the synthesis of useful drugs. These plants can be in the form of food, actinomycetes (for isolating drugs like antibiotics), fibre plants (e.g. cotton, flax, and jute, used for preparing surgical dressings). Nigeria flora has made and would continue to make great contributions to health care of Nigerians. In fact, the indigenous medicinal plants form an important component of the natural wealth and culture of Nigeria. Like other traditional medicines, the use of medicinal herbs for managing several ailments has come a long way since the ancient times and are making new waves every day. Most of the herbal medicines are mainly prepared by grinding, pounding, chewing, boiling, cooking roasting or smoking.
The herbs are conveyed in water, alcohol, tea mineral (“soft”) drinks (7up), pap’s or milk. Some of these also facilitate the activity of the medicinal plants. The herbal preparations are administered orally, topically, inserted or inhaled. The plant parts frequently used include the root, stem, leaves, stem barks, root barks, flowers, seeds, juice/sap, tubers, rhizomes, fruits or whole plant. Herbs can be taking in the form of decoction (liquid preparation obtained by boiling medicinal plants in water and extracting it by straining the preparation) or as a poultice (applying the whole herb rather than the liquid extract to the affected part). It may also be used as prophylactic (to prevent the onset of the disease) and curative( to manage the disease after onset).
Examples of some medicinal herbs include:
- Azadiracter indica (Neem plant) for treatment of fever, septic boil, anthelmintic, syphilis etc.
- Bambusa vulgaris (bamboo) used as abortifacient, respiratory disease, appetizer etc.
- Carica papaya (pawpaw) used malaria fever, diabetes, gonorrhea, dysentery etc.
- Chromolaena odoratum (siam weed) for treating dysentery, malaria fever etc.
- Musa paradisacal (plantain) fresh wound cut, epilepsy etc.
- Allium cepa (onion) epilepsy, convulsion, diuretic, anticancer etc.
- Vernonia amygdalina (bitter leaf) diabetes, laxative, malaria fever, antipyretic, stomachache and fever.
Mangifera indica (mango) malaria fever, diabetes etc.
- Anacardium occidentalis (cashew) fever, dysentery, etc.
- Ocimum gratissimum (tea bush) prevention of miscarriages, cough, cold, fever, colic pains and convulsion.
The use of herbs (medicinal plants) in the management of diseases is on the increase worldwide and is becoming an integral part of the health care delivery system. This is due to its efficacies and reduced side effects which in some cases have been validated by scientific data and available statistics. The use of these medicinal plants has been surrounded by myths in which some are true while others are not and should therefore be used with caution.