Ethnobotany programme

The NBI’s Ethnobotany Programme seeks to be a national focal point for research on traditional uses of southern Africa’s plants, for their conservation, sustainable use and development. Contributions are made towards documenting the cultural, medicinal and economic value of these plants.

Collaboration with partners from state departments, parastatals, academic institutions, NGO’s and CBO’s is extensive and ongoing.

Central to operations is MEDBASE, the National Medicinal Plants Database for South Africa, which holds holistic information on the medico-magical flora. Horticultural, usage, floristic, chemical, and ethnopharmacological data have been captured in MEDBASE, for the 300 most important ethnomedical taxa in South Africa.

Three main thrusts are currently being pursued within the Programme:

  • Bioprospecting of the medicinal plants of southern africa to develop new medicines for treating neglected African diseases, particularly malaria and tuberculosis. This research and development has been pursued through a Novel Drug Development Platform, a consortium-based thrust funded by the Innovation Fund of the National Research Foundation.
  • Natural products research on important Zulu medicinal plants, and their allies. Student training at a post-graduate level is closely linked to this activity.
  • The development of medicinal plant displays at each of the eight botanic gardens of the NBI, featuring medicinal and charm plants exhibited in a culturally authentic setting, along with appropriate interpretative materials. Research findings feeding in from a Zulu healer garden survey form the basis for such exhibits. Displays at the Natal, Pretoria, Free State and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens are already in place.
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