Biology » Plant and Animal Tissues » Applications Of Indigenous Knowledge And Biotechnology

Traditional Medicines

Applications of Indigenous Knowledge and Biotechnology

In this lesson and the next few, the following needs to be discussed with the learners to ensure an understanding of Life Science and the related technology.

  • Traditional Technology which includes the role of traditional healers using herbal plants and traditions passed down to members in the community over generations.
  • The advances in Medical Biotechnology and the importance of vaccines and antibiotics. Technology advance in blood transfusion to prevent complications during transfusions.
  • The cloning of plant and animal tissues and stem cell research. The moral, ethical and legal issues around cloning needs to be discussed with learners.

Traditional Medicines


Dried Chinese herbs used as traditional medicine. Image credit: public domain

In The World Health Organisation definition of traditional medicine, they incorporate a list of plant and animal product-based therapies as well as spiritual practices as part of traditional medicine. Up to \(\text{80}\%\) of people in African and Asian countries rely on traditional medicines for their basic health care needs. In South Africa, broadly, there are two types of practitioners: herbalists and diviners.

Herbalists use plants to prescribe remedies to ailments. Diviners are said to communicate with ancestral spirits in order to diagnose problems and ailments. In Africa, traditional healers rely on up to \(\text{4 000}\) plants for remedies. Pygneum, a traditional medicine has been used in Africa and elsewhere to treat early forms of cancer for example.


In 2007, a research team from University of KwaZulu-Natal found that plant extracts from 16 plants used by local healers as ‘muti’ were highly effective in treating high blood pressure.

Due to the high cost of modern Western health care systems and technologies, there has been a recent focus on researching African traditional remedies and medicines. Traditional African medicine may well have healing properties that have been recognised through generations of use, and passed on in a cultural system.

Because of the potential to reach greater masses at lower cost, there has been an attempt to combine traditional African medicine into the continent’s health care systems. An example of this a 48-bed hospital that was opened in Kwa-Mhlanga, South Africa, in 2010. The hospital treats patients using a combination of traditional methods and Western healing methods.

[Attributions and Licenses]

This is a lesson from the tutorial, Plant and Animal Tissues and you are encouraged to log in or register, so that you can track your progress.

Log In

Share Thoughts