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Why was the project necessary?

An estimated 70% of South Africans regularly use traditional medicines, most of which are derived from plant species indigenous to the region. These may be obtained on prescription from a traditional healer, purchased from herb sellers or gathered in the wild for self-medication.

The quantity of medicinally active principle(s) present in these herbal remedies may vary genetically, seasonally, geographically or according to the mode of preparation (collection, drying and storage). It may also happen that superficially similar but botanically unrelated species are included with the genuine article.

Who benefits?

Medicines of variable potency and/or poor batch-to-batch consistency are unsatisfactory and may be downright dangerous. The goal of the monograph project is to protect those who have an interest in traditional medicines (patient, prescriber, pharmacist, manufacturer, health authority, medicines regulatory body) against medicine of poor quality. The project seeks to do this by setting, for selected traditional medicines, standards which define their identity, purity and potency. This approach to formalizing the use of traditional medicines in primary health care has been endorsed by the WHO and is compatible with the aims of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Drug Policy which was established in the Western Cape in 1995 as a shared venture of UWC's Pharmacy School and UCT's Medical School.

What is a monograph?

The establishing of a set of standards which together define the identity, purity and potency of a particular medicine, is common practice. Such information constitutes a pharmaceutical monograph for that medicine. A collection of monographs is the basis of a pharmacopoeia - a handbook of medicines information that has been given official status by a country or group of countries and which is regularly updated to reflect current usage. In South Africa, which for historical reasons has never had its own pharmacopoeia, the pharmaceutical and medical professions use the British Pharmacopoeia (BP), supplemented by the Pharmacopoieas of Europe and the United States of America. These works comprise monographs for the medicines currently in common use in the Western allopathic system, about 70% of which are synthetic and the remaining 30% derived from natural products.

What monographs are available for indigenous traditional medicines?

Only two South African traditional medicines have ever been the subject of BP monographs, in contrast to the many European, American and Asian traditional remedies that were included in earlier editions of the BP and the fair number (e.g. Belladonna Leaf, Liquorice Root and Cloves) that are listed in the current edition. The African Pharmacopoeia, commissioned in 1984 by the then Organisation of African Unity for the purpose of recognizing the central role of traditional medicines in the health care systems of African countries, includes very few monographs dealing with South African plant species. The WHO, through its Essential Medicines Programme, is in the process of compiling a World Pharmacopoeia of widely-used traditional herbal medicines, but the vast majority of monographs prepared to date deal with non-African plant species. The present project aims to make good this deficit by drawing up, for the first time, monographs for 100 plant species in common use as traditional medicines in South Africa.

How will the monograph project achieve its aim?

An initial species list was compiled on the basis of suitability for the treatment of common, self-limiting ailments, unlikely toxicity and ready availability. The developing of monographs for these species is familiar territory to the pharmacist, whose training encompasses the discipline of pharmacognosy (the study of natural-product medicines). The laboratories of the School of Pharmacy at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) are equipped to carry out the procedures basic to monographing, which are well-documented and span botany, chemistry, microbiology and pharmacology.


Progress to date

The first sixty monographs, presented here, were compiled by Gillian Scott (PhD) and Evan Springfield (MSc). They comprise mainly new information from the results of research conducted by the authors in the laboratories of the School of Pharmacy and Department of Microbiology (with the kind assistance of Mr Norman Coldrey) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), together with data from the published scientific literature . The line drawings of plant habit are the work of Jeanette Loedolff (formerly of SANBI, Kirstenbosch). Colour illustrations, except where otherwise indicated, are the work of the authors.


The monograph authors would like to thank the following institutions for generously providing authenticated plant material for research:

The South African Biodiversity Institute
Montagu Museum
Cape Flats Nature Reserve (UWC)
Tygerberg Nature Reserve
Durbanville Nature Reserve
West Coast National Park
Institute of Natural Resources, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg
Northern Cape Nature Conservation Service
Parceval Pharmaceuticals
Cape Nature Conservation
Grassroots Natural Products cc
KwaZulu/Natal Department of Nature Conservation
North West Province Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment
Silverglen Nursery, Durban Parks Department
KwaZulu/Natal Department of Nature Conservation

Bibliography and general references


SOUTH AFRICAN TRADITIONAL MEDICINES RESEARCH GROUP The South African Traditional Medicines Research Group, (SATMERG), established in 1997 and funded by the South African Medical Research Council, seeks to promote the rational use of indigenous traditional medicines, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)


University of the Western Cape
Medical Research Council

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