Herbalist meet in Nairobi to discuss the state of herbal medicine

Before the advent of hospitals and the contemporary ways of treating illnesses, communities around the world had indigenous systems of dealing with diseases. In China for example, Chinese traditional medicine dates back to more than 3500 years ago. Traditional medicine was also common among African communities, Kenya included.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) it estimated that over 80% of the emerging world’s population depend on traditional medicine.  TICAH aims to promote the use of locally and easily available resources to provide solutions to problems that people face in their daily lives. We co-facilitate spaces where different communities discuss their indigenous ways and how they apply them.

African Traditional herbalists at a meeting hall
Herbalist meet at TICAH in February

In February, we brought together a group of herbalists, representing Luo, Sabaot, Maasai, Kamba and Ogiek communities, for a three-day meeting to discuss the current state of herbalism in their communities and the evolution that the practice has undergone. They discussed the challenges they face with their practices and suggested possible solutions to promote plant medicine use and value.

From these herbalists, we found that even though most never had a formal education, they had their unique skills of diagnosing diseases and effectively administering treatment that they had learned from their elders.  Such skills were passed from one generation to the next and only for the chosen few individuals who were disciplined, harbored no ill-will, lacked selfish interests, were generous and carried the needs of the society at heart. These individuals were coached by their benefactors at a tender age and only allowed to practice when they reached a certain age. Some were handed the skills in dreams by their departed ancestors who revealed to them a list of plants and the diseases that the plants treat. In some cases, the herbalist would even know that a specific patient would come to them for treatment so they would go beforehand to look for herbs to treat the patient.

Maasai herbalist contributing to the discussion  at the TICAH herbalist meet
Maasai herbalist contributing to the discussion  at the TICAH herbalist meet

From the discussion, the herbalists stressed the need to conserve the medicinal herbs that are disappearing as some are at the verge of extinction. The disappearance is caused by the destruction of forests to give way for cultivation. The herbalists discussed the need to create awareness in the communities where they come from, so that society can realize the importance of the medicinal plants and make efforts to conserve them. They agreed that it is also imperative to pass the knowledge to the future generations, who currently do not know anything about plant medicine. The youth have not really understood the value of plant medicine and some of them even hold a negative perception towards them. They agreed to bring at least 2 seedlings of different plants each, which will be used in improving the Medicine Shield Garden at the National Museum and reaching young people.

African Traditional herbalists discussion group
Herbalists group discussions

In times such as these, we can see how important our environments are to the health and wellness of everyone.  Plant medicine and the traditions of herbalists around the world are part of this balance.  Follow us here and Facebook for more on the plants that can help us be well and the herbalists who have the ancient knowledge of plant medicine.