National Coordinator for the Traditional Healers Organisation, Phephisile Maseko, says it is encouraging that people are going back to using traditional plants in the management of diseases. However, she has warned that there should be some guidance on how to use the herbs effectively.

This comes after reports of people overdosing on umhlonyane (Artemisia afra) sparked a debate on how to use the African traditional herb in the prevention and management of diseases.

Maseko says, “When you use umhlonyane it is always advisable that you use umhlonyane as a cocktail with other medicinal plants. We believe as friends of the plants it is in the combination of other plants. The best person to tell you how best to use it would be your healer. We were surprised to hear that there are people who are sick from umhlonyane because umhlonyane is like your food.”

Umhlonyane has been used for decades by traditional healers to treat various illnesses, including respiratory symptoms, it can be consumed with water, used with steam to clear a blocked nose and chest, or inhaled in the plant form.

However, recently, people have started abusing and overdosing on umhlonyane as they try to prevent contracting COVID-19.

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Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at Wits University Professor, Sandy van Vuuren, says umhlonyane is very effective in treating bacteria, but there is no evidence that it kills viruses like COVID-19.

She says their studies have shown that on its own, it has very low toxicity. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all for every patient.

Van Vuuren says, “What needs to be cautioned is if you are using it in conjunction with something else, because you do not know what the interaction is going to be. Now you have a patient that may be on hypertensive medication, you may have a patient that is on anti-diabetic medication. There is no way of knowing what the interaction is going to be with those drugs. If you are fine, you are healthy, you don’t have any other drugs that you are taking maybe it’s fine.”

Managing Director of Vida Pharmaceuticals, Patricia Mathivha, says now more than ever there is a place for both indigenous and western medicine in the management of different ailments.

She, however, warns that all medicines have side effects if not used correctly.

Mathivha says, “The marrying of the indigenous knowledge with the scientific methods of discovery of products comes into play there. And if we are going to say this is a medicine, like any other medicine it will have some side effects. You must follow the instructions of use. Unfortunately, with us taking a traditional medicine as it is and using it without the instructions of indigenous knowledge holders, we stand a chance of misusing it or abusing it.”

Maseko has advised people to add a handful of umhlonyane to about two litres of water and bring to boil. This can be consumed daily, at least three tablespoons, three times a day.

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