African Traditional Medicines Research Group
University of the Western Cape
South African Traditional Medicines Research Group (SATMeRG)
established in 1997
funded by the South African Medical Research Council
scientists from the School of Pharmacy at the University of
the Western Cape (UWC) and the Medical School at the University
of Cape Town (UCT)
to promote the rational use of indigenous traditional medicines,
as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)
from Jakob Breyne's Exoticarum .. Plantarum Centuria Prima,
published in Danzig in 1678.
Pharmacopoeia Monograph Project:
Why is the project necessary?
An estimated 70% of South
Africans regularly use traditional medicines, most of which
are derived from plant species indigenous to the region. These
may be obtained on prescription from a traditional healer, purchased
from herb sellers or gathered in the wild for self-medication.
quantity of medicinally active principle(s) present in these
herbal remedies may vary genetically, seasonally, geographically
or according to the mode of preparation (collection, drying
and storage). It may also happen that superficially similar
but botanically unrelated species are included with the genuine
Medicines of variable potency
and/or poor batch-to-batch consistency are unsatisfactory and
may be downright dangerous. The goal of the monograph project
is to protect those who have an interest in traditional medicines
(patient, prescriber, pharmacist, manufacturer, health authority,
medicines regulatory body) against medicine of poor quality.
The project seeks to do this by setting, for selected traditional
medicines, standards which define their identity, purity and
potency. This approach to formalizing the use of traditional
medicines in primary health care has been endorsed by the WHO
and is compatible with the aims of the WHO Collaborating Centre
for Drug Policy which was established in the Western Cape in
1995 as a shared venture of UWC's Pharmacy School and UCT's
(wilde daga, lion's ear, umfincafincane) from Breyne's Centuria
of a set of standards which together define the identity, purity
and potency of a particular medicine, is common practice.
Such information constitutes a monograph for that medicine.
A collection of monographs is the basis of a pharmacopoeia -
a handbook of medicines information that has been given official
status by a country or group of countries and which is regularly
updated to reflect current usage. In South Africa, which for
historical reasons has never had its own pharmacopoeia, the
pharmaceutical and medical professions use the British Pharmacopoeia
(BP), supplemented by the Pharmacopoeias of Europe and the United
States of America. These works comprise monographs for the medicines
currently in common use in the Western allopathic system, about
70% of which are synthetic and the remainng 30% derived from
are available for indigenous traditional medicines?
two South African traditional medicines have ever been the subject
of BP monographs, in contrast to the many European, American
and Asian traditional remedies that were included in earlier
editions of the BP and the fair number (e.g. Belladonna Leaf,
Liquorice Root and Cloves) that are listed in the current edition.
The African Pharmacopoeia, commissioned in 1984 by the Organisation
of African Unity for the purpose of recognizing the central
role of traditional medicines in the health care systems of
African countries, includes very few monographs dealing with
South African plant species. The WHO, through its Essential
Medicines Programme, is in the process of compiling a World
Pharmacopoeia of widely-used traditional herbal medicines, but
the vast majority of monographs prepared to date deal with non-African
plant species. The present project aims to make good this deficit
by drawing up, for the first time, monographs for 100 plant
species in common use as traditional medicines in South Africa.
(wilde als, unhlonyane, wormwood) from Breyne's Centuria
will the monograph project achieve its aim?
An initial species list has
been compiled on the basis of suitability for the treatment
of common, self-limiting ailments, unlikely toxicity and ready
availability. The developing of monographs for these species
is familiar territory to the pharmacist, whose training encompasses
the discipline of pharmacognosy (the study of natural-product
medicines). The laboratories of the School of Pharmacy at the
University of the Western Cape (UWC) are equipped to carry out
the procedures basic to monographing, which are well-documented
and span botany, chemistry, microbiology and pharmacology.
are the project participants?
project is housed in the School of Pharmacy and staffed by two
full-time scientists. Collaboration with the Departments of
Botany, Chemistry and Microbiology at UWC and the Peninsula
Technikon has boosted project progress in terms of invaluable
assistance as well as opportunity for student participation.
Much of the authenticated plant material required by the project
has been provided by the horticultural staff of the National
Botanical Institute's gardens at Kirstenbosch, Betty's Bay and
Worcester. Additional material has been made available by the
Curators of the Cape Flats Nature Reserve (UWC), the West Coast
National Park, the Tygerberg and Durbanville Nature Reserves
and the Montagu Museum Garden.