THERE is a glimmer of hope for people living with HIV/AIDS to have their immune system activated faster by taking advantage of the nutrition benefits of the African potato.
The African wild potato is a bitter plant used to check a wide variety of conditions including diabetes mellitus, haemorrhage, prostate problems and boosting immune function. Based on indirect evidence, it is said that sterols and sterolins (Any of various alcohols having the structure of a steroid) in Hypoxis (African potato, Star-grass, Star lily, Yellow stars, Yellow star-grass) root have the potential to enhance immunity.
Some believe its nutrient values are 50,000 times greater than modern vegetables. Today, sterols and sterolins are still sought after and are preferred to as immune system boosters to AIDS sufferers. The African wild potato is native to Southern African countries, including South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania etc. In Tanzania the plant grows well in Mbeya, Njombe, Iringa, Ruvuma, Mtwara, Lindi and Morogoro regions.
Traditional healers have used the African wild potato boiled into tea for its medicinal properties. In southern Mozambique, it was widely used during the Civil War (1976-1992) by both soldiers and civilians, who lost blood through injuries. The tea from the plant is said to quickly replace lost blood.
The tea is used in conjunction with other plants to combat “bad blood” in patients with diabetes mellitus. The Shangaan used African wild potato in a mixture with other plants for endometriosis and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The rootstock was one of the ingredients of an infusion taken as an “internal parasiticide” and purgative. The Manyika used the rootstock for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.
The Karanga used the rootstock as a remedy for vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pains and fevers. It was also used to treat delirium. The Acting Assistant Director, Traditional Medicine section in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dr Paulo Mhame raised concern to the ‘Sunday News’ that in the areas that grows potato in the country, there was massive harvesting.
Dr Mhame said evidence showed that the harvested potato was exported to Southern Africa under the noses of revenue authorities, who missed out in revenue collection. “My major concern though is the possibility that this wild plant will go extinct if immediate action isn’t taken. I have alerted all regional medical officers on my concern but other authorities need to come on board as well,” he said.
He said that due to high demand of the root tuber in the Republic of South Africa the plant has been depleted. Business people have entered nearby countries to search for the root tuber such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and now in Tanzania. In Tanzania many business people have entered Njombe and Iringa regions; particularly, Uwemba in Njombe and Mufindi, Ifwagi ward, Mupili A and B, Musili and Ikonongo villages in Iringa Region.
“In these villages tonnes and tonnes of the African potatoes root tuber are being uprooted, packed and shipped to South Africa,” he revealed. He said that African wild potatoes grow very slowly, thus once extinct it will cause health problems to Tanzanians, who highly depend on traditional health services for their health conditions. Dr Mhame explained that Medicinal Plant Research focuses on the agricultural aspects of medicinal plants that are highly utilised and will soon become extinct as they are harvested from natural environments.
“It is therefore important to propagate and cultivate the plant to ensure conservation and survival of the plants for future use. To support and evaluate the results of cultivation, several other research areas are explored,” he said. The traditional medicine expert said that determining the bio-active compounds, developing a standardisation method and determining pest and diseases on medicinal plants are some of the areas that are introduced to provide comprehensive information on the effects of propagation and cultivation on medicinal plants.