Book guides you to herbal, nutritional health - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 13 February 2021

Book guides you to herbal, nutritional health


The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic last year placed Madagascar under sharp media limelight. The island republic attracted continental and global attention after the launch of its herbal medical remedy, CovidOrganics. Among the countries that received donations of the medicine was Tanzania.

Through their National Institute for Medical Research, Tanzanians have been conducting tests to establish the efficacy of the concoction in the fight against the new coronavirus. Last week, the Health Minister Dorothy Gwajima, launched a campaign in Dodoma to increase awareness on herbal approaches to Covid-19.

In a country that has opted for unconventional approaches to the pandemic, its campaign has been received with mixed reactions as many African countries wait for the much-touted vaccines from the West and the East. This situation has re-ignited the debate around the efficacy of indigenous knowledge approaches in tackling modern ailments and emergent health challenges even in Kenya.

The nexus between our health and the natural environment we dwell in is obvious. The adage goes that we are what we eat. Pundits argue that shifts in our culinary cultures and habits are partly to blame for the weak immunities experienced by modern generations.

There is a need in this dire time to revitalise our indigenous knowledge systems and practices in matters of medicine and cures. These are native knowledge cultivated through experiments spanning eons and transmitted from the past to the present through memories of specialists and their word of mouth.

Last year, an organisation based here in Nairobi chose to highlight this argument through a practical initiative. Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (Ticah) is based in Karen. They published an informative book on this subject entitled, Using our Traditions: A Herbal and Nutritional Guide for Kenyan Families (2020).

The 194-page book is a reference guide of various illnesses and their herbal remedies. It is a rich documentary of community recipes drawn from different local cultures. It is the second edition of an earlier publication that came out in 2006. The first edition dwelt on the management of HIV-Aids using local recipes of herbal medication and habits of healthy living.

Both editions were written by Tara Fitzgerald, whose passion in the use of indigenous knowledge systems in addressing public health concerns is laudable. The book bears beautiful images and artwork by Kathy Mamai, who did the layout, and bears an informative introduction by Mary Ann Burris, the founding editor of Ticah. It was produced through a generous aid from Egmont Trust.

At the centre of the book is the abiding devotion to knowledge about our bodies and our foods as the pathways to bolster our immune systems and enhance our decision-making habits on health matters. Covid-19, just like HIV-Aids before it, is a virus-based pandemic that is here to stay. To find the best coping mechanisms to help us navigate around the perils both pose is an undertaking of serious note.

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This is why we do not need to trivialise the possibilities posed by herbal approaches to the pandemic. Even as we pursue scientific approaches, such as laboratory vaccines, and laud the nations that are successful in this pursuit, we should guard against trivialising the voices that stand for the opportunities that traditional medicines offer.

Flus need a compendium of approaches for effective management, both at the personal and communal levels, because no silver bullet answer for them exists. The same can be said of ailments arising from other viruses.

Using Our Traditions (2020) as a book follows on the path set by its worthy precursors. These include books such as Medicinal Plants of East Africa by Najma Dharani and Abiy Yenwey, published a decade ago, as well as another by the same title but penned by JO Kokwaro. The latter was published by the Kenya Literature Bureau in 1993.

The new book interestingly bears no copyright, and as one of its kind, allows for the free use of the information it bears as a resource. The only disclaimer is that such open and public use must honour the source of the information and attribute it to Ticah.

Red-flag illnesses such as tuberculosis and typhoid, as well as STIs, are treated in the pages of this compendium of useful ingredients for home treatments. Ailments of the respiratory and alimentary systems are not left behind, as well as maladies of children and the elderly. Fistula, cancer and epilepsy are some of the conditions that have their prescriptions in this second edition.

This book is one that should be used as a reaffirmation of our trust in indigenous knowledge systems and practices in a fast-changing health environment. Science is the pillar of modern medicine, just as nature is the foundation of traditional medicine. To walk tall in this precarious age of the coronavirus should form stilts upon which we perch as Kenyans.

The book can be ordered from local bookstores or from the publisher at

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