There are many books on the indigenous plants of southern Africa available, many of them citing the importance of medicinal plants as an important part of South African cultural heritage. Most have extensive lists stating that a particular plant is used to treat anything and everything form stomach ailments to hallucinations. South Africa has well over 30 000 species of higher plants of which more than 3000 are used as medicines in some form or other. Of these, some 350 species of South African plants are traded and used as culturally traditional medicinal plants.
While plants have played an important role in medicine, modern methods of analysis and medical study have taken the mystery out of ethnobotany and the cultural medicinal claims. There are compounds in plants that have definite medical properties but the purity of the chemical, the doses required and the toxic properties must be understood before any recommendations can be made. This is why I appreciate the important warning at the beginning of the book, advising against self-diagnosis and self-treatment using these plants or extracts thereof as crudes medicine.
What makes this book different is that it approaches the subject and the 150 plants described on a scientific basis, listing the cultural use but describing the chemicals extracted, their real medicinal properties as well as listing the scientific reference.
A large number of peer-reviewed scientific papers on South African medicinal plants have been published since 1997, some of which have led to a recent focus on commercial development of extracts from these plants. Some examples are Hoodia gordonii for its appetite suppressant properties, Mesembryanthemum tortuosum for it anxiolytic properties and Lippia javanica for its mosquito repellent effects. Certain volatile oils extracted from Lippia, or lemon bush, which is cultivated in Limpopo in an upliftment project, are used in candles to repel mosquitoes. They are commercially available under the Fever Tree brand.