African Medicinal Plants at the Baltimore Zoo
Answered by: Inge Poot and Conrad Richter
Question from: Suzanne Weber
Posted on: May 3, 2002

I am the gardener for the African exhibit at the Baltimore Zoo. I have some questions about some of the plants we ordered from Richters that I’m hoping you will be able to help me with, or point me to a resource which has the answers!

1. We ordered wild yam, the dried roots cut and sifted. I’m just a little confused about whether or not/ how we plant these? Could you enlighten?

The dried roots cannot be revived. Anything whose catalogue number starts with an H is a dried herbal product that can only be used for making preparations. You would need to buy a plant (catalogue number starts with a P) or seeds (number starts with an S). For wild yam, we sell root cuttings and potted plants for growing, as well as dried roots for making medicinal preparations.

2. Could you please tell me what the specific medicinal uses are, of the plants we ordered? I looked in three different books (Handbook on African Medicinal Plants, a book on North African medicinal plants, and one on West African...)

Our catalogue gives some of the uses of the plants but we do not purport to be complete in listing all of the known uses of the herbs – there wouldn’t be enough space! Generally, we shy away from giving more explicit details such as actual doses, treatment regimes, etc. for legal and regulatory reasons. We always steer people to books for their own research, and always we advise people who are thinking about using herbs for medicinal purposes to consult a qualified health practitioner, such as a trained herbalist or naturopath. Similarly, you will have to careful what you include in your exhibit.

Unfortunately, there is no one source that covers all herbs in detail, particularly herbs from non-Western cultures. Two books that cover most of the herbs you purchased are Deni Bown’s "Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses" and Andrew Chevallier’s "Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants." Certainly, these are good starting points.

Also, is there a book on South African medicinal plants I could order?

We don’t sell one, but one that is recommended is "Medicinal Plants of South Africa" (Van Wyk, Ben-Erik, Bosch Van Oudtshoorn, and Nigel Gericke. South Africa: BRIZA, 1997. 304p. ISBN 1875093095). It covers 132 species with color photos, maps, descriptions, part used, medicinal uses, preparation, active ingredients, pharmacological effects, distribution, and references.

We are going to use the plants in an African Healing Garden exhibit, which will be divided into biomes/eco-systems. I have not been able to properly determine which biome the plants originated from in my research, and I was wondering if you could help me with that too.

1. West African Basil, 2. African Blue Sage, 3. Camphor Basil, 4. Bdellium, 5. Neem, 6. Pig’s Ears, 7. Toothache Plant, 8. Umkkcaloabo, 9. African Wormwood, 10. Henna.

Unfortunately we cannot devote the time during this busy season to do the research needed to answer this question adequately for each of the above herbs. May we suggest that you consult the Van Vijk book cited above? Probably it will have most of the answers you are looking for. You may also need to check one of the floras for Africa for range and biome details.

3. Is any part of the African Blue Sage plant toxic if ingested?

Not that we know of. It is a medicinal plant and excess use of any medicinal plant is always a risk. All of its uses hint at astringent qualities, and there moderation is a good thing.

I realize this is much to ask during a busy spring, but any information you could send would be very much appreciated.

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