The Healers Invited Me In

Later this week, I have a meeting with a unique and respected African healer, Dr. Sekagya Yahaya Hills. I wanted to meet with Dr. Sekagya because I identify with him.

He’s a doctor of modern medicine, too – a dental surgeon. But he believes nature knows best; he practices traditional healing methods as well.

As a boy, he had an experience that he didn’t completely understand at the time, but that led him to know he had a calling. To be a healer.

Originally, Dr. Sekagya went to traditional medical school, but he found fault with what they were teaching him. It conflicted with the traditional healing methods that he had been raised to know.

Dr. Sears in the grass

There are over 4,000 healing plants used by traditional herbalists in Africa. Many of them grow in the wild, like the plants I saw in the rainforest of Uganda.

So he quit, and went to live in the jungle among the traditional herbalists and healers and immerse himself in their lore.

He did return to school and became certified as a modern medical doctor as well. And eventually, he got a grant from the government and started his own school. The Dr. Sekagya Institution of Traditional Medicine.

The Institution has a meeting each week of traditional healers from around Africa. They get together each week and discuss one herb or plant they use for traditional healing, and share its medicinal uses and preparation.

Dr. Sekagya has invited me to join the group and speak with them about my experiences and travels, and share what I’ve learned about time-honored traditional healing practices in other countries. Especially the other parts of Africa I’ve visited.

Dr. Sekagya founded another important group. The Uganda chapter of PRO.ME.TRA, an international organization that works toward preserving and restoring ancient medicinal knowledge and practices.

This is critical to Africans, because around 80% of the people in Africa still rely only on traditional medicines and remedies.

The problem is, knowledge of how to use healing plants and herbs in Africa is becoming lost.

Dr. Sekagya and his friends are trying to preserve that knowledge. They are working toward making sure the traditions continue to be handed down from generation to generation.

One of the other difficulties is the fact that the land the medicinal herbs grow on is being used for other purposes. That means knowledge of and access to some of the more than 4,000 healing plants in Africa may be lost soon.

You may have already heard of a few of these African herbs that heal, like aloe, or myrrh, and the kola nut.

But here are some herbs that you might find in an African healer’s “lenaka,” or medicine chest, that you may not have heard of, and that you can try for your own benefit:

Grains of Paradise are used throughout Africa in the same way we use peppermint or ginger. It’s an effective digestive aid, combats nausea, and freshens breath.

They’re a seed that looks a little like a peppercorn. They grow on a leafy plant, and you can pick them easily. And since I’ve been in Africa, I’ve also discovered that it’s a delicious spice used in lots of local drinks and dishes. You can get them at gourmet grocers and online spice houses.

Pellitory is a versatile root that traditional healers in Africa use to relieve toothaches. It can also soothe headaches and relieve digestive problems. The roots have compounds called alkamides, which are fatty acids that seem to have many medicinal benefits.

In one study, doctors gave people who had just gone through dental surgery either the anesthetic xylocaine or pellitory extract. The root worked just as well as the drug, had no side effects, and helped with wound healing.1

Pellitory is not known or sold widely in the U.S., although it’s used in some cosmetics and herbal performance supplements. You can try online sellers like

Irvingia gabonensis is an extract from a fruit seed that can give you increased energy. It also ramps up your body’s ability to burn off excess fat, and it has a calming, normalizing effect on your cholesterol and blood sugar.

It’s traditionally used to treat diabetes, and it’s also a powerful “adaptogen” that can help your body adapt to stress. You can get it at many health-food stores in capsule form. I recommend you take 150 mg a day of the seed extract.

Kanna is not very well-known outside of Africa. But it’s been used for hundreds of years by the hunter-gatherer peoples of Africa to elevate mood and reduce stress. Traditional healers use it to treat anxiety, too.

It has a component called mesembrine, which studies show may help lessen the effects of stress.2

It’s a small plant that was usually chewed. But now you can get it as an extract powder. To use kanna, just add about 1/3 of a teaspoon into a cup of tea.

1. Patel V, et. al. “A clinical appraisal of Anacyclus pyrethrum root extract in dental patients.” Phytotherapy Research, May 1992;Volume 6, Issue 3, pages 158–159
2. Smith C. “The effects of Sceletium tortuosum in an in vivo model of psychological stress.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Jan 7;133(1):31-6