The herbal medicine industry in Ghana is growing rapidly. Many people are increasingly becoming aware of the efficacy, the potency of traditional medicinal plants and herbs, as alternative treatment regimens for a number of diseases – ranging from piles, malaria, snake bite, coughs, and infertility, among others.
The use of traditional medicinal plants and herbs in the preparation of local alcoholic beverages (bitters) is also on the rise. Investments are being made in this area, creating jobs and employment for some Ghanaians.
The good thing is that, scientific preparation of herbal medicines and alcoholic beverages has boosted public confidence in the use and consumption of these herbal preparations and beverages.
The socio-economic importance of the herbal medicine industry could not be underestimated – providing employment opportunities for many Ghanaians in the value chain – researchers, marketers, distributors and consumers.
There are many out there who continue to rely on herbal medicine for the treatment of their ailments.
The other high point is the significant contribution of herbal medicines to quality health care delivery in Ghana.
Keeping the industry on the path of sustainable growth is in the interest of everybody and that is why extensive research by scientists in the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) and digitization of indigenous knowledge in the forestry sector in Ghana, is seen as critical.
Digitization of indigenous or traditional knowledge, especially in this technological world, is an ideal way of sharing, exchanging, educating and preserving traditional knowledge and culture.
As stated in the 2017 annual research report of the Institute, “in Ghana, there is hardly any system of recording, documenting and preserving traditional knowledge”.
The report noted that forests in Ghana are the stores of natural foods and traditional medicines, but the traditional knowledge about these resources appear to be going extinct.
The study was conducted to help digitize information on traditional foods and medicines in the forestry sector to ensure that the knowledge is preserved for posterity.
Doing this is very important for the herbal medicine and local alcoholic beverage industry. It would allow for access to well documented, scientifically-proven knowledge of the medicinal and nutritional value of the various plants, herbs, shrubs, stems, roots and barks of trees, something vital to aid healthy preparations.
According to the report, the study was conducted in nine communities in three administrative districts overlapping three agro ecological zones (the dry semi-deciduous, moist semi-deciduous and moist evergreen forest zones).
Data was collected from 606 people in the communities with information and understanding about the type of forest foods and medicines available in their locality, the phenology of the plants, quantities available, period of availability, uses of the species, parts used and ways of preparing the varied species for food and medicine.
The report said a total of 289 plant species were identified, out of which, 90 were established as forest foods, representing 28 families with Moraceae and Sterculiaceae, being the highest number of families recorded.
Forty-three (43) of the 90 species were identified as food products only, and the remaining 47 species, could be used for the dual-purpose of foods and medicines.
These types of information are vital tools in the selection and use of forest products in the preparation of herbal medicine or the local alcoholic beverages or the “bitters”.
The study again established 199 species as medicinal plants, representing 52 families.
The medicinal plants could be used to treat 121 diseases and ailments, ranging from skin diseases, snake bite, malaria and coughs to headache.
Converting the information into a digital format – a database which can be easily accessed on FORIG’s website free of charge is commendable. It is something that industry players should take advantage of to make sure that they manufacture their products based on scientifically proven knowledge.
This would give further assurance to the public and validate the belief among many, that, traditional or herbal medicine is efficacious in the treatment of diseases, especially in our part of the world.