By Robyn Wilkinson, 5 November 2018
While speaking to the fiercely passionate Botanical Researcher and developer Steve Hurt, we realize he is a man on a mission. A mission we should all be aware of and one that involves developing and protecting the many medicinal plants and herbs available in Southern Africa to safely share their healing capacity with the world.
MORE THAN 3 000 MEDICINAL PLANTS IN SOUTHERN AFRICA ARE REGULARLY USED AS HERBAL MEDICINES. OUR TREES, FLOWERS AND PLANTS MAKE UP THE MOST PHENOMENAL MEDICINE CABINET. THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF TRADITIONAL USE HAS RESULTED IN A BROAD KNOWLEDGE OF THE FORMULATIONS AND DOSAGES REQUIRED FOR SAFE AND EFFECTIVE RESULTS.
With that in mind, only 38 of the 3 000 have been formally standardised and made commercially available in capsules, tinctures and tablets. Of the 38, only eight of them are approved for sale in the European Union. These include Rooibos, Honeybush, Aloe Ferox, Devil’s Claw, Pelargonium Sidoides, Buchu and Baobab.
Steve is intimately connected to plant magic and has made it his life’s work to bring more of the power of African plants to more of us in a way that’s sustainable and safe. “Wide scale habitat destruction threatens the survival of many of these medicinal plant species,” explains Steve who has spearheaded a number of initiatives towards safeguarding the environments they grow in. “Careful conservation driven by sustainable use and integrated with commercialisation objectives may be one solution to ensuring their survival in the future. If communities derive financial benefit from these plants being abundant in nature then they have a reason to conserve them.”
Steve’s entire existence is inextricably interwoven with nature and to demonstrate the forest as a pharmacy we set up our interview with him along one of the nature trails in Knysna. If anything was to give us an idea about the rich medicine available, it’s Steve who can’t help himself explaining the amazing qualities and attributes in the plant life that surrounded us.
To anyone else it was a forest. To Steve it’s a living chemist. When following Steve I imagined the many medicine women and men collecting bark, leaves, sap, flowers, fruits, roots and everything else ready to take home and boil, grind, steam, extract or however else they used to get the medicinal value.
One of the first healing staples we came across was the Aloe. Steve explained how the Aloe Arborescens in many parts of South Africa is traditionally planted around kraals as a living fence. Abandoned kraals are easily identified by the aloes that remain. The Zulu people use the leaves dried and powdered as a protection against storms, decoctions are used in childbirth and to treat sick calves. Some use the plant to treat stomach aches. Aloe is also a first aid treatment for burn wounds and abrasions. Extracts from the leaves have shown significant wound healing, antibacterial, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, hypoglycaemic and also alopoeic activity. The leaves show purgative properties and the sap is reported to relieve x-ray burns.
Bushmans poison (Acokanthera Oppositifolia) has a milky sap used by the Khoisan as part of a cocktail to poison their arrow tips during hunting. Medicinally it’s used to treat snake and spider bites, intestinal worms and aches and colds. We casually walked past a few of these trees and wouldn’t have suspected a thing, had Steve not elaborated.
We stumbled on a Bush Guarrie (Euclea Schimperi) which is alleged to have supernatural powers and because of that is not used as fuel. Small branches are seen hanging on doorsteps as good luck charms. It has a high tolerance of soil with heavy metal content and is considered an indicator of gold deposits.
“Almost every tree or bush we passed, Steve had a story to tell or a healing remedy. From Cape Beech to the Horeswood, White Ironwood, the Forest Elder, Red Currant and more we were overwhelmed with the rich knowledge and capacity of our natural heritage.”
“Collecting these plants for commercial use needs to be done with the utmost care and sustainability”, emphasises Steve who is a licensed distributor of protected indigenous flora. Under the company name Afrigetics Botanicals they collect raw materials through well-established network of rural harvesting programmes. One of their initiatives include a benefit sharing agreement with the indigenous San people of Southern Africa, who receive a portion of the profits derived from the harvesting of plants. Who knows how many medicines lie undiscovered in nature, awaiting discovery. We’re grateful to those making these options available and at the same time safeguarding the botanical treasures.
Steve Hurt founded Afrigetics Botanicals in 2003 and is currently one of the leading exporters of Southern African medicinal herbs, teas, oils and foods to the international wellness and pharmaceutical industries. One of the key product ranges ‘Afrigetics Botanicals’ includes a range of seven products addressing conditions from immune and libido boosting to stress; colds and flu; detox; weight loss and more. For more information log on to www.afrigetics.co.za
Special Thanks to the Holistica Team (Robyn & Kate) for the Article.