Back To Our Healing Roots

Wow … I thought I was making a dent in my research on traditional uses for the medicinal plants of Africa.

But I’ve just come across some notes from an ecological conference in Brazil. A group of micromolecular biologists have figured out that there may be 70,000 or more medicinal plants in the world. 1

And since one out of every 10 plant species in the world can be found in southern Africa alone, that means there are probably more than 10,000 medicinal plants in Africa. Maybe a lot more.2

I spent a lot of time with Prince Dr. David Mawanda during my recent trip to Africa. He showed me many of the herbs and plants in the Tooro Botanical Gardens, like this angel’s trumpet plant. Tooro is a part of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, and works with local botanists to reforest using indigenous plants and trees.

I’m lucky enough to have been to Africa four times, but I guess I need to step it up.

Thanks to my new contacts there, I’ve already catalogued hundreds of healing herbs, and I’m going to show you how to use them in my upcoming book Healing Roots of Africa.

One of my contacts who I spent a lot of time with during my last trip to Africa is Prince Dr. David Mawanda. He’ll be one of the contributing authors to Healing Roots.

He’s an accomplished botanist and a consultant for most of the herbal gardens created in Uganda, both by the government and by private institutions. He also researches herbs that you can’t easily find and gets them to herbalists.

Right now it looks like we’ll have eight different contributing authors who will all share their knowledge for the book, many for the first time anywhere.

It may turn out to be the most insightful account of the herbology and its medicinal uses ever created.

And it will be practical too. Something you can use in your everyday life.

Let me give you an example…

Dr. Mawanda spotted a bed of water mint, father of the hybrid we call peppermint.

When Dr. Mawanda showed me around the Tooro Botanical Gardens, he brought me to a bed of herbs being grown for the garden and picked a few.

I’d seen the water mint in a few other places, but it’s somehow different to see an herb in its place of origin.

When you cross water mint with another African herb, spearmint, you get peppermint, one of my favorite herbs. Dr. Mawanda told me they use all three mints in Africa to help treat anxiety and depression.

Mints have always been a medical curiosity to me. How can an herb have such an effect in only a few seconds? It means something else is going on other than the normal explanations of chemistry and physiology.

But science does back up the traditional use of water mint, and mints in general as anti-depressant.

Water mint has a flavonoid called naringenin. And naringenin is what we call an “MAO-inhibitor,” which means that water mint keeps feel-good chemicals in your brain like serotonin around for longer. 3

That makes water mint a natural anti-depressant that doesn’t have the nasty side effects of synthetic drugs.

Mints in general are also antioxidant, and protect your brain from free radical damage.4 Mint extracts can also keep the fats that make up most of your brain and nerve sheaths from deteriorating. 5

To get the beneficial effect of mint, you can simply chew on a mint leaf and you’ll feel it start to work very quickly. But you don’t have to ingest mint for it to have a calming effect. Just break one open and the smell gives you a feeling of “aaaaahhhh” … like cool rain on a hot day.

To cure headaches, you can spread a tincture of mint on your forehead and let it evaporate.

What I like to do is add water mint leaves to my coconut water. Just a few will do, since they have a very strong distinctive peppermint-like flavor. You can also use the leaves as a flavoring in salads or cooked foods, but use them sparingly because they are very pungent.

1. Verpoorte R. “Bioprospectin: Exploring Our Only Renewable Ratural Resource.” XXVII Annual Meeting on Micromolecular Evolution, Systematics and Ecology Reflections on the Current Status of Chemosystematics. São Paulo, Brazil. 2007;BPL-3.

2. Van Wyk B. “A Broad Review of Commercially Important Southern African Medicinal Plants.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Oct 28;119(3):342-55.
3. Olsen H, Stafford G, van Staden J, Christensen S, Jäger A. “Isolation of the MAO-Inhibitor Naringenin From Mentha Aquatica L.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 May 22;117(3):500-2.
4. López V, Martín S, Gómez-Serranillos M, Carretero M, Jäger A, Calvo M. “Neuroprotective and Neurochemical Properties of Mint Extracts.” Phytother Res. 2010 Jun;24(6):869-74.
5. Dorman H, Koşar M, Kahlos K, Holm Y, Hiltunen R. “Antioxidant Properties and Composition of Aqueous Extracts from Mentha Species, Hybrids, Varieties, and Cultivars.” J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Jul 30;51(16):4563-9.