Artemisia afra or African wormwood is commonly known as Wilde als or mhlonyane. Picture: Johannesburg City Parks
Artemisia afra or African wormwood is commonly known as Wilde als or mhlonyane. Picture: Johannesburg City Parks

KZN lab tests popular medicinal plant mhlonyane for possible use in Covid-19 fight

By Bongani Hans Time of article published May 23, 2020

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Durban - The status of  African wormwood or  umhlonyane, as it is known in isiZulu, in traditional medicine is set to increase after the KwaZulu-Natal government asked a laboratory to test if can actually be used to cure Covid-19. 

The herb, whose potential to cure the virus was first touted by Madagascar, was among a number of indigenous plants Premier Sihle Zikalala unveiled on Saturday at a clinical laboratory, which is based at Cedara Agricultural College in Howick outside Pietermaritzburg. 

Across Africa, umhlonyane is reported to be widely used to treat various flu-related ailments.

"This laboratory will be our arsenal in the fight against Covid-19. This laboratory – which has the capacity to produce a thousand (1000) 300 ml bottles of hand sanitizers per day – has produced sanitisers for use by various departments and for dissemination to various communities," said Zikalala.

He said the laboratory had produced chemicals that had been used to sanitise more than 700 informal settlements in the province. 

"Through this laboratory, the premise of indigenous traditional healers and African medicine specialists that is a possible solution to our Covid-19 crisis will be clinically tested.  

“This will be a critical site for research so that our African scientists or traditional healers can have their experience tested,” he said. 

Zikalala said there was a possibility that a collaboration between indigenous healers and western scientists would produce a formula that would save the world from Covid-19. 

"By tapping into our indigenous knowledge we want to explore if some of our own indigenous plants and herbs cannot help us fight ailments and diseases as it was the case in the past. 

“I must stress that we are in no way suggesting that these should replace Western medicine and pharmaceutical interventions," added the premier.

He said it was high time that the African continent claimed its space in the global arena. 

“We want to come up with African solutions not only for African challenges but also for global challenges. 

"This laboratory is one of the instruments that will help us achieve that," said Zikalala.

Addressing the media on Saturday, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said South Africa had collaborated with Madagascar around the issue of umhlonyane. 

He said the country's Department of Science and Innovation had bilateral agreements with its counterpart in Madagascar to collaborate in conducting research on traditional medicines. 

“We are going to work together with Madagascar about the knowledge of our traditional healers because we are searching for the cure everywhere. 

“But through our collaboration we should check if the herb (umhlonyane) is indeed the right one (for coronavirus) so that it would not lead to disaster,” said Nzimande.

He said since Madagascar had been advised to seek independent trial of the plant, “as the country we are willing to partner with Madagascar, and we have already been in touch with Madagascan through our own science councils within the context of the World Health Organisation guideline for evaluation of traditional medicines.” 

“Which means we work with them to see if this umhlonyane they are bringing forward would indeed work or not

“This would include necessary advice on non-disclosure agreements and all related intellectual property rights requirements, which must be cleared upfront,” said Nzimande.

Political Bureau

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