SA's indigenous fynbos heritage has healthy benefits Picture: Pexels
South Africa is well-known for its advancement in medicine; but, with more South Africans adopting healthy lifestyles, some are opting for natural or plant-based medicine to prevent, rather than treat, diseases.

As a result, in recent years, we have seen the popularity of ancient plants and indigenous herbs such as buchu, aloe vera, echinacea and rooibos used as a preventative and alternative medicine... from soothing sunburns, calming colicky babies to making healthy smoothies and beverages that people consume as part of a balanced diet, as well as to treat skin disorders and minor ailments.

Next week (August 26-31) is recognised as African Traditional Medicine Week to raise more awareness about traditional or natural medicine.

Connie Meyer, a Durbanville physiotherapist who is passionate about natural medicine, said that while conventional or so-called Western medicine has its place in the treatment of serious diseases, these medicines are not nurturing to the human body due to side-effects.

“Alternative medicine is preventative it provides health maintenance, and is nurturing. Having said that, it's important to recognise that there is a place for both,” said Meyer.

She adds that phytotherapists use the whole plant, and not single chemical extracts of plants, to get the full benefits of medicinal properties and to minimise side-effects as much as possible.

Meyer explains that the human body is designed to recognise herbal medicine, adding that research has shown that elements of many herbs attach to the body's receptor sites.

“Herbal medicine works by making the body healthier through the provision of nutrients, as well as restoring balance,” said Meyer.

Buchu is one of the well-known medicinal plants that has been part of South Africa’s heritage for many years, but has recently gained popularity due to its many health benefits including its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

The Khoisan were the first people to use buchu for its medicinal properties and since then the herb has been known to help with the treatment of various diseases.

Professor Patrick Bouic, an independent researcher, said buchu is a natural, organic source of nature’s best antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. It can also work in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, not only as a control of the glycaemia but to provide cardiac protection.

Adele du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council, said today rooibos is one of the most popular beverages consumed globally and is increasingly being used in skin products.

Du Toit said rooibos is rich in alpha hydroxy and zinc: alpha hydroxy not only reduces the signs of ageing but also revitalises the skin, while zinc heals wounds, protects against UV rays and has anti-inflammatory properties, which could alleviate acne, pimples and sunburn. Rooibos has also been proven to remedy irritable bowel syndrome.