Saturday, 24 October 2015

Medicinal plants: An invaluable, dwindling resource in sub-Saharan Africa

Medicinal plants: An invaluable, dwindling resource in sub-Saharan Africa


Ethnopharmacological relevance

The use of plant species for different therapeutic/medicinal purposes is well-entrenched in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aim of the review

To provide a critical and updated review of the enormous medicinal plant heritage in sub-Saharan Africa with regards to the abundance, importance, conservation status and potential means to help sustain their availability for future generations.


A comprehensive literature search involving different online databases, books and theses were conducted in order to obtain, collate and synthesize available information on various fundamental aspects pertaining to African medicinal plants.


African biodiversity hotspots are endowed with a high level of endemic species with a significant portion possessing medicinal value. Apart from the extensive ethnobotanical uses of medicinal plants found in Africa, scientific validation of their biological potential such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties have been recognized. Together with the demand arising from their biological efficacies, other anthropogenic factors are exerting conservation strains of the wild population of these medicinal plants. Even though researchers have acknowledged the importance and value of conserving these medicinal plants, several challenges have hampered these efforts on the Continent as a whole.


The rich flora occurring in sub-Saharan Africa suggests enormous potential for discovery of new chemical entity with therapeutic value. However, concerted efforts focused on documenting the conservation status of African medicinal plants are pertinent. Application of different biotechnological techniques is needed to sustain these valuable botanical entities, especially to meet increasing pharmaceutical demand. Most importantly, increased public enlightenment and awareness may help eradicate the prejudice against cultivation of medicinal plants.

Graphical abstract

Image for unlabelled figure


  • Biodiversity;
  • Biotechnology;
  • Conservation;
  • Cultivation;
  • Ethnobotany;
  • Herbal medicine;
  • Micropropagation

Corresponding author. Tel.: +27 33 2605130.