Part 1: The pharmacological potential of indigenous phytochemicals
At the point in time when most of the world’s population was still deciding if Covid-19 was real, my 53-year old brother in America was admitted to the ICU of Yale Hospital. An otherwise very healthy man, he lived with his family an hour’s drive outside of New York on a smallholding along a river in a natural forest. He is a professor at a NY university. Just before lockdown started in South Africa, his 20-year old son, an exchange student to Spain, made a traumatic return to NY, as people were physically fighting to get a seat on an aeroplane. The young man, not knowing that he was a carrier of the EU variation of the Covid-19 virus, had a light fever and recovered within days. My brother unfortunately got very sick. As I was preparing for an ethnobotanical survey at the time, I remembered a phytochemical I came across that was tested effective against SARS in 2018. Although a different illness, some similarities might be worth noting. I decided to carry out a pilot study to look for worthwhile chemicals in plants, used by our ancestors in treating flu-like diseases.
Secondary metabolites, as part of a plant’s defence system, can assist humans against a multiple of unwanted organisms. The area covered by Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) houses a plant population more diverse than in most areas of the world. Plants with possible antiviral properties might be growing on our doorstep. During the 21st century, several Ethnobotanical Surveys of southern Africa have been carried out and three studies were identified as excellent models to guide me for my planned survey. The three wise scholars Jan De Vynck, Ben-Erik Van Wyk and Josef De Beer documented 67 medicinal plants being used ethnographically to treat flu-like ailments in the vicinities of Still Bay, Calvinia and Graaff-Reinet. Twelve species showed repetition over the three studies and could be viewed as plants with possible antiviral properties. As I was focusing on determining species from the three study areas with the highest chance of succeeding, the phytochemicals of the species which occurred in two or three areas were selected and the global popularity also determined in a search on Web of Science. Many of the phytochemicals which occurred in the species from the study area, occur in other species too. Therefore the global occurrence of phytochemicals is a good indication of the plants’ various potential.
Part 2: Unlocking the economy of indigenous phytochemicals
In Part 2, a value chain analysis on a successful botanical product will be carried out. This analysis can act as an algorithm in helping local botanical entrepreneurs in working towards self-reliance and alleviating poverty. In an area where little commercial value has been gleaned from a vast portal of medicinal plants, selected South African ethnobotanicals can also make it to international molecular bio-computation laboratories to possibly treat worldwide illnesses.
GCBR and Dr Jan De Vynck are thanked whole heartedly for their financial and intellectual support in the scientific documentation of local plant knowledge.
Compiled by Tania Louw, Aspiring Botanist
Photos courtesy of Tania Louw
|Medicinal species||Main Phytochemical||Web of
|3||Artemisia afra||Coumarin and Thujone||27 677
|2||Carpobrotus edulis||Citric acid
|2||Dodonaea angustifolia||Dodonic acid
|2||Viscum capense||Viscumside A||3|
The main phytochemicals per popular species, as well as the number of Web of Science occurrences per phytochemical.