Tuesday, March 30, 2010

African medicine vs. science

Biblical origins of herbs
In Genesis 1 of the King James version of the Bible, verses 11 to 12 to be exact, God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

“And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

In Genesis 1:29, "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."

Herbs were set apart from other forms of vegetation even in the beginning with an example in Genesis 2:5 which reads "And every plant of the field, before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew.

Most English dictionaries define herbs as a plant used for adding flavour to food or as a medicine. Traditional healers are known to plant various herbs in gardens or hunt for them in the bush including barks from trees but a large number of Africans now think it‘s evil.

Herbs are mentioned throughout the King James Bible including frankincense and myrrh, the two gifts brought by the three Wise men to the baby Jesus.

According to a Herbs in the Bible website, frankincense represents holiness while myrrh is very aromatic and resinous and is obtained from thorn trees.

“Many believe the myrrh was to symbolize the suffering that would come to Jesus in the future, perhaps referring to the crown of thorns He would wear on the cross”.

Mustard is another famous New Testament herb, mainly mentioned to note comparisons about size while other herbs mentioned briefly in the New Testament, are cumin, mint, and dill in Matthew 23:3, reads www.essortment.com.

The same Home & Garden site show that mint was popular in Biblical times as a condiment and medicine, and grown throughout the Syrian region.

Cumin was used in breads and stews and was also a popular herb for tithing while rue known as the “herb of grace” was used as medicine and in cooking.

Another herb called gall which in Hebrew translates to "bitterness" is mentioned several places in the Bible but most famously at the crucifixion of Jesus.

At that time it was mixed with wine and offered to those crucified to relieve pain, as it is actually the juice of an opium plant and therefore used as a narcotic.

The Old Testament abounds with mentioning of herbs with aloe singled out in Numbers 24:6, "..like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters".

Coriander also has numerous Old Testament references and was used medicinally and as a spice while hyssop known as a holy herb used to cleanse sacred places is also referred to frequently in the Bible.

Numbers 19:18 shows how a clean person shall “take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there."

Along with other herbs and spices, saffron is mentioned in Song of Solomon 4:14, when he is expressing his affection to his lover.

"Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all the trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, along with the finest spices. You are a garden spring,..". To be likened to herbs and spices at that time was a prized compliment.

Southernwood, which is often grown today for its fragrant properties, is a species of wormwood.

Some herbs are used not only for culinary and medicinal purposes, but also for psychoactive or recreational purposes such as cannabis.

Nyanga tales

While the average Malawian usually avoids using herbs when cooking, others especially villagers still use medicinal herbs (mankhwala azitsamba) to cure illnesses and various diseases.

Others associate herbs with black magic and witchcraft spells involving the occult and satanic evil forces.

These include what is locally known as nsupa, a narrow necked calabash dressed in beads around its “waist” on an “hour-glass like figure” made from a fruit called mponda, a “poisonous” gourd forbidden to eat.

Also on the evil list is maula some kind of a magic oracle operated by a goat horn. Some traditional healers locally known as asing’anga amizimu usually treat ill patients with herbs and use a Bible or pray before administering their herbs.

WHO promoting traditional medicine

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 80 percent of the population in some Asian and African countries depend on traditional medicine for primary health care.

Likewise in many developed countries, 70 to 80 percent of the population has used some form of alternative or complementary medicine like acupuncture.

Herbal treatments are reportedly the most popular form of traditional medicine, and are highly lucrative in the international marketplace.

Annual revenues in Western Europe reached US$ 5 billion in 2003-2004. In China sales of products totalled US$ 14 billion in 2005 and herbal medicine revenue in Brazil was US$ 160 million in 2007.

But not many countries have national policies for traditional medicine and scientific evidence from tests done to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of traditional medicine products and practices is limited says the WHO website.

“While evidence shows that acupuncture, some herbal medicines and some manual therapies (e.g. massage) are effective for specific conditions, further study of products and practices is needed,” it states.

In response WHO and many member states cooperate to promote the use of traditional medicine for health care. The collaboration aims to support and integrate traditional medicine into national health systems in combination with national policy and regulation for products, practices and providers to ensure safety and quality.

It also aims to ensure “the use of safe, effective and quality products and practices, based on available evidence and acknowledge traditional medicine as part of primary health care, to increase access to care and preserve knowledge and resources; and ensure patient safety by upgrading the skills and knowledge of traditional medicine providers.”

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Took this picture of children in Milange, Mozambique admiring visiting Malawian children

Tracing footsteps to lead me home

Greetings from the Warm Heart Africa, Malawi.

I'm a Malawian journalist who grew up in many countries including South Africa, Belgium, then West Germany, UK, Washington DC and New York in the US and I love New York.

Trying to come up with the production of my life and by compiling some of my 1000 poems into a book called ‘Tracing Footsteps’ to lead me Home with excellent photography.

I also plan to film award winning documentaries based on the history of this ancient land called Malawi and the mysteries of the Sirius star.

.....watch this space.