A survey of plants and plant products traditionally used in livestock health management in Buuri district, Meru County, Kenya
© Gakuubi and Wanzala; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012
Received: 6 June 2012
Accepted: 30 September 2012
Published: 8 October 2012
Up till now, nomadic communities in Africa have been the primary focus of ethnoveterinary research. Although mainly arable and/or mixed arable/pastoral farmers, Ameru of central Kenya are known to have a rich history of ethnoveterinary knowledge. Their collective and accumulative ethnoveterinary knowledge (EVK) is likely to be just as rich and worth documenting. The aim of the study was to document and analyse the ethnoveterinary knowledge of the Ameru.
Non-alienating, dialogic, participatory action research (PAR) and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approaches involving 21 women and men aged between 50 and 79 years old were utilized. A combination of snowball and purposive sampling methods were used to select 21 key respondents. The methods comprised a set of triangulation approach needed in EVK for non-experimental validation of ethnoknowledge of the Ameru.
A total of 48 plant species distributed in 26 families were documented with details of diseases/ill-health conditions, parts of plants used and form of preparation and administration methods applied to different animal groups. Of these families, Fabaceae had the highest number of species (16.67%), followed by Solanaceae (12.5%), Asteraceae and Euphorbiacea (each comprising 8.33%), Lamiaceae (6.25%), Apocynaceae and Boraginaceae (each comprising 4.17%), while the rest of the 19 families, each was represented by a single plant species. About 30 livestock diseases/ill-health conditions were described, each treated by at least one of the 48 plant species. Most prevalent diseases/ill-health conditions included: - anaplasmosis, diarrhea, East Coast fever, pneumonia, helminthiasis, general weakness and skin diseases involving wounds caused by ectoparasites.
The study showed that there was a rich knowledge and ethnopractices for traditional animal healthcare amongst the Ameru. This study therefore provides some groundwork for elucidating the efficacy of some of these plants, plant products and ethnopractices in managing livestock health as further research may lead to discovery of useful ethnopharmaceutical agents applicable in livestock industry.
Traditional animal healthcare system (also known as ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM)) is as old as the history of domestication of animals . EVM refers to centuries’ old inter-and multidisciplinary components of health that are holistic in application and comprises local ethnoknowledge and associated skills, techniques, practices, beliefs, taboos, cultures, practitioners and socio-economic structures pertaining to the healthcare and healthful husbandry of food-, work- and other income-producing animals [2, 3]. EVM has evolved through human civilization processes with a view to improving human well-being via increased benefits from stock raising . Amongst the Meru people, EVM has long existed in various forms and levels [4, 5] and transferred from generation to generation by word of mouth, apprenticeship and initiation ceremonies depending on ethnicity . Its documentation and storage is purely based on one’s ability to remember the acquired ethnoveterinary knowledge. This method of archiving, preserving and disseminating such important communal and individual knowledge is however challenging and unsustainable. Rapid technological, environmental, socio-economic, agricultural and cultural changes taking place worldwide, pose further challenges to the future survival and sustainability of EVM [6, 7]. For instance, the EVM of the Ameru is faced with a lot of challenges, among them is the expanded range of arable farming activities, which threaten the survival of grasslands, animals, woodlands, microorganisms, bushes and forests, which are the sources of ethnopharmacologically active agents upon which the successful practice of EVM is based . Other factors threatening the survival and sustainability of EVM of the Ameru include: - (1), untimely deaths of resource persons with undocumented ethnoknowledge, (2), extinction of specific plant and animal species and practices for ritual medicines, (3), encroachment of development on and modernization of cultural and traditional life, (4), adoption of lifestyles and education systems that do not embrace ethnoknowledge, (5), shifting bias in religious beliefs, (6), perception of certain socio-cultural practices as unhygienic, witchcraft and satanic and (7), cost- and health-related risks involved in certain socio-cultural ethnopractices. Under these circumstances therefore, there is need to develop stringent documentation and preservation mechanisms of such threatened and yet very useful ethnoknowledge of health [7–9] so that the current generations may not helplessly witness its extinction. For this reason therefore, our study was undertaken to evaluate plant-based ethnoproducts used to manage livestock health by the Ameru of Meru County in central Kenya. It was hypothesized that the findings may provide useful information for further scientific research to determine efficacies for documented ethnoproducts and practices to help improve animal health and human livelihood in Africa.
Before the start of this project, prior informed consent was sought from individual key respondents through the local administration in the office of the president, Government of Kenya.
Description of the study area
Meru people and their geographical location
The Ameru population is about 1.5 million people with a population density ranging from 100 persons per square kilometer in lowland areas to over 400 persons per square kilometer in highland areas. Ameru is a composition of Tigania, Igembe, Imenti, Miutuni, Igoji, Mwimbi, Muthambi, Chuka and Tharaka sub-tribes, which generally speak Kimîîru dialects, a Bantu language in the Niger-Congo family [4, 5]. The southern dialects of the Ameru are very close to Bantu-speaking Kikuyu people while those of the Northern part show some Cushitic tendencies [4, 5]. Although the Chuka and Tharaka sub-tribes have a slightly different oral histories and mythology [4, 5], the Imenti sub-tribe dialect dominates in the entire Meru region. The differences in the culture, taboos and language phonetics amongst the sub-tribes of Ameru reflect the varied Bantu origins and influences from the neighbouring Cushite and Nilotic people, as well as different Bantu-speaking neighbours such as the Kikuyu and Embu tribes. Nevertheless, the Meru people exhibit a much older Bantu characteristic phenomenon in grammar and phonetic forms than any other languages of the Bantu-speaking neighbours . Ameru freely combines both arable and pastoral life forms for their socio-economic development.
The Buuri district
Buuri is a Kimîîru word from which the district got its name, which means “dry land”. According to Nyaga [4, 5] much of the Buuri district is very dry due to the fact that it lies on the leeward side of Mount Kenya and thus receives very little rainfall (Figure 1). The actual population in Buuri district is not precisely known but the Meru Central District Development Plan (2002–2008) projected the population in 2008 to be roughly 276,000 people.
Vegetation and soil of Buuri district
Much of Buuri district is dominated by scattered trees, stretches of dry grass and shrubs as the main vegetation types with a number of forests in the neighbourhood, the largest being Mount Kenya forest. The topography of the district was largely influenced by the volcanic activity of Mount Kenya. The dominant soil type is the deep red loam soils, which are well drained and fairly fertile. These vegetation types are the main sources of ethnobotanical products traditionally used in healthcare systems for both humans and animals .
Ethnohealthcare system of Ameru
The traditional healthcare system of the Ameru comprised a wide range of categories of ethnopractitioners such as: - diviners (kiruria), curse detectors (aringia) and specialized medicine men (mugaa) who were considered integral to the Meru social structure of administration, but the Mugwe, the prophet and spiritual leader of each sub-tribe, fulfilled the most important role of both spiritual and physical healing [4, 5]. On other hand, mugaa was specifically trained in ethnomedicines and healing powers and was widely consulted, particularly for inexplicable illnesses affecting both animals and humans .
Sources of traditional animal healthcare information
Knowledge of ethnoveterinary medicine was surveyed and documented from a varied number of sources in the study area. The identification of sources of information, from which key respondents were selected, included local veterinarians, para-veterinarians and agricultural extension officers responsible for providing extension services to livestock farmers within Buuri district. Meetings of local administration in the office of the President, Government of Kenya were attended and got useful leading information to the identification of potential key respondents. Local livestock traders and dealers, as well as individual livestock farmers, contributed their knowledge of ethnoveterinary medicine based on their professional and economic activities, whereas church leaders, community/village/clan leaders (Koomenjoe) and Meru council of elders (Njuri-Ncheke), had also very useful leading information on traditional animal healthcare system of the Ameru. Local ethnopractitioners, including general traditional healers/herbalists (Ndagitari wa miti), diviners (Kiruria), curse detectors (Aringia), specialized medicine men (Mugaa), spiritualists/ritualists (Nkoma cia bajuju) and prophet and spiritual leaders (Mugwe), formed a particular special subset of knowledgeable people from whom key respondents were also drawn. Secondary data were also considered a very important source of leading information and at Meru County Veterinary Office (CVO), records on traditional animal healthcare system of the Ameru were accessed and utilized. All these groups were consulted because each was associated with a specific aspect of ethnoveterinary knowledge relevant to the study.
Composition of the 21 key respondents
A survey study was conducted in Buuri district, Meru County during the months of April and May 2011. Ethnopractitioners offering primary healthcare services to local livestock industry were considered the target key respondents in the study and the selection process was based on the knowledge base, experience and current practices in ethnoveterinary medicine of the target individual. The first step in this study was the generation of a purposive sample of the key respondents from a wide range of sources mentioned above. Key respondents were considered local experts or people in the study area with knowledge of a particular issue or technology of interest (in this case, traditional animal healthcare knowledge) [12–14]. They have a more extensive understanding of local social and veterinary-cultural systems than others in the community. A purposive sample referred to a particular subset of knowledgeable people in the area of traditional animal healthcare system. Intensive and extensive collaboration and interaction with these key respondents was considered an effective research strategy of accessing the relevant information [15, 16]. A probability random sampling technique would not have been appropriate for this type of socio-cultural set-up, as not everyone sampled randomly may have the required knowledge [12, 17–19]. A combination of snowball and purposive sampling methods was employed to select the key respondents. Once a few ethnopractitioners had been identified using the above sources, fruitful initial contacts were made and more ethnopractitioners were identified using their existing networks. Upon the establishment of the snowball sample, a purposive sampling technique was then employed to select a sample of 21 key respondents from Buuri district. This procedure is widely used in ethnoknowledge studies to get information from hidden populations, which are difficult for researchers to access [7, 20–23]. The purposive sampling technique ensured that only key respondents with the desired qualities and quantities of information on traditional animal healthcare system of the Meru people were selected .
Administration of questionnaire to key respondents
Each of the 21 key respondents was asked to fill a well structured questionnaire with the help of the interviewer. The questionnaire consisted of 18 questions requiring: - (1), the location where questionnaire is administered (village), (2), identity of the person being interviewed (name, sex, age, level of education, occupation etc.), (3), respondent’s consent agreement, (4), type of ethnoveterinary medicine practiced and how it was acquired, (5), the type of animals treated, (6), how the remedial products are identified, prepared, stored and administered, (7), how animals are treated and monitored, (8), how ethnopractitioners are paid for the services, (9), how ethnoveterinary medicine knowledge is shared amongst ethnopractitioners, (10), livestock diseases and/or ill health conditions treated, (11), plant and/or plant products used and their state/form, (12), state of affairs of the plant and/or plant products used for treatment, (13), factors contributing to the state of affairs of the plant and/or plant products used for treatment, (14), measures being taken for the state of affairs of the plant and/or plant products used for treatment, (15), challenges facing the profession of ethnoveterinary medicine, (16), personal opinion of the interviewee regarding the profession of ethnoveterinary medicine, (17), what should be done to improve traditional veterinary services in the interviewee’s area, and (18), personal observation of indications of practicing ethnoveterinary medicine made by the interviewer in the homestead of the interviewee.
Each time a questionnaire was administered to the interviewee, a senior relative/friend and a representative of the local administration from the office of the area sub-chief who was familiar with interviewee, were requested to accompany the interviewer. These two people engaged the interviewee into an interactive and productive discussion as the questionnaire was filled by the interviewer. This composition formed a very productive interaction that provided an enabling environment for Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) research to take place successfully. This method was considered very useful and robust because it reduced the following sources of bias: - (1) modelling bias, which was the projection of the interviewer’s views on to those studied, (2) strategic bias, which was the expectation of benefits by the subject, (3) familiar relationships between interviewer and interviewee (senior relative, administrator representative and interviewee) which would reduce resistance to questioning but could lead to rote answers and outsider bias and (4), reduction of “key personae” bias . These preconceived notions would therefore lead to incorrect filling of the questionnaire and poor documentation and analysis of the collected information [12, 13].
Personal interviews/discussions with selected key respondents
After filling of the well structured questionnaire, an interview/discussion with the selected key respondents was held. This was guided exchanges, semi-structured by a mental checklist of relevant points to confirm the validity of the information in the questionnaires of other key respondents interviewed earlier.
Collection of specimens of plants and plant products
Following a personal interview with the selected key respondents, a field trip was made to identify and collect the listed plant specimens and/or ethnobotanical products. The specimens were harvested, prepared, packaged and stored according to the herbarium rules and regulations until transported to Herbarium at The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya for botanical identification using voucher specimens and according to the Hutchinson system of plant taxonomy based on the plants’ probable phylogeny. While in the herbarium, further non-experimental studies were also conducted. For each plant species collected from the field, a voucher specimen was prepared and deposited in the Herbarium at The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.
Collection of secondary data on traditional animal healthcare system
As part of non-experimental validation process of documented plants and plant products used in traditional animal healthcare system amongst the Ameru and evaluate their potential effectiveness, a systematic collection of secondary data on traditional animal healthcare system of the Meru people from the County Veterinary Office (CVO) preceded. This was followed by an extensive literature search on the taxonomy of the plant specimens collected and their ethnobotanical applications from the internet, livestock research institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Herbarium libraries and laboratories. All these methods comprised a set of triangulation approach needed in ethnoveterinary medicine for the process of non-experimental validation .
Enumeration of documented plants and plant products
Enumeration of documented plants and plant products traditionally used in health management of livestock by the Ameru of Buuri district, Meru County, Kenya (n = 48)
Botanical name [Family]
Part(s) of plant used
Disease/ill-health condition treated and (the target type of livestock) [local name]
Method(s) of preparation
Herbarium voucher plant specimens’ number
References in literature supporting the claimed uses
Acacia drepanolobium Harms ex sjostedt [Fabaceae]
Retained placenta (c) [Kuremera thigiri]
Acacia mearnsii De Wild. [Fabaceae]
Coughing (c, g, s, p, pg, r) [Gukolora]
Acacia xanthophloea Benth. [Fabaceae]
Foot and Mouth disease (r, p, c) [Ikunguri]
Ajuga remota Benth. [Lamiaceae]
Leaves Whole plant
East Coast fever (c) [Itaa/Ng’arang’ari], Newcastle disease (p) [Kuthinka] and Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka]
Infusion Cold infusion Decoction
Ajuga remota Benth. [Lamiaceae]
Lung diseases (c, g, s, p) [Mauri]
Allium cepa L. [Liliaceae]
Bloat (c) [Kuuna]
Aloe latifolia Haw. [Aloaceae]
Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka], Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa] and Sores/Chronic wounds (c, g, s, p, pg ) [Ironda]
Decoction Decoction Leaf gel
Azadirachta indica A. Juss [Meliaceae]
Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka] and General weakness/dullness (c, g, s, p, pg) [Kuaga inya]
Cannabis sativa L.
Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa], Pneumonia (p) [Mpio], and Newcastle (p) [Kuthinka]
Capsicum annuum L. [Solanaceae]
Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa] and dullness (p) [Kuaga inya] Newcastle disease (p) [Kuthinka] and General weakness/dullness (c, g, s, p, pg) [Kuaga inya]
Capsicum frutescens L. [Solanaceae]
Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa] and General weakness/dullness (c, g, s, p, pg) [Kuaga inya]
Carissa spinarum L [Apocynaceae]
Infertility (s, g) [Kuthata] Poor milk let down (c) [Kuitha iria] Mastitis (c) [Kuimba riere] and Miscarriage (c) [Guta Njau]
Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium Vis. [Asteraceae]
General ectoparasites (c, p) [Ngumba] Specifically Mites, lice and fleas infestation (c, p) [Nthuuga] and Ticks’ infestation (as an aetiologic agent) (c, p, g, s, pg) [Igumba*]
Commiphora eminii (Engl.) J.B. Gillett [Burseraceae]
Coughing (c, g, s, p, pg, r) [Gukora], Anaplasmosis (c, r) [Ntigana*], Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka] and Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa]
Cordia africana Lam [Boraginaceae]
Eyes diseases(c) [Meetho*] and General weakness (c, g, s, pg) [Kuaga inya]
Leaves are crushed to extract juice
Crotalaria laburnifolia L. [Fabaceae]
Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka]
Croton megalocarpus Hutch. [Euphorbiaceae]
Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa]
Cucumis aculeatus Cogn. [Cucurbitaceae]
Anaplasmosis (c, r) [Ntigana*] Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka] and Loss of feathers (p) [Guta mbui]
Concoction Fruits are crushed to extract juice
Datura stramonium L. [Solanaceae]
General ectoparasites (c, p) [Ngumba] Specifically Mites, lice and fleas infestation (c, p) [Nthuuga], Ticks’ infestation (aetiologic agent) (c, p, g, s, pg) [Igumba*] Newcastle (p) [Kuthinka] and Foot rot (c, g, s, r, pg) [Maronda maguru]
Dodonaea angustifolia L.f. [Sapindaceae]
East Coast fever (c) [Itaa/Ng’arang’ari]
Dovyalis caffra Warb. [Salicaceae]
Coughing (c, g, s, p, pg, r) [Gukora]
Ripe fruits are crushed to extract the juice
Ehretia cymosa Thonn. [Boraginaceae]
Anaplasmosis (c, r) [Ntigana*] and Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa]
Erythrina abyssinica Lam. ex DC. [Fabaceae]
Bark and roots
Anaplasmosis (c, r) [Ntigana*] and Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka]
Euclea divinorum Hiern. [Ebenaceae]
Anaplasmosis (c, r) [Ntigana*] and Constipation (c, g, s) [Ntigana*]
Euphorbia candelabrum Kotschy [Euphorbiaceae]
East Coast fever (c) [Itaa/Ng’arang’ari]
Ficus thonningii Bl. [Moraceae]
Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa]
Kigelia africana (Lam.) Benth. [Bignoniaceae]
Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka] and Dystochia (an abnormal or difficult childbirth or labour) (c) [Kuremera njau]
Lantana camara L. [Verbenaceae]
Pneumonia (c, s) [Mpio] and Coughing (c, g, s, p, pg, r) [Gukora]
Nicotiana tabacum L. [Solanaceae]
General ectoparasites (c, p) [Ngumba] and Specifically Mites, lice and fleas infestation (c, p) [Nthuuga]
Olea europaea L. [Oleaceae]
Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka]
Plectranthus barbatus Andr. [Lamiaceae]
Pneumonia (c) [Mpio] and Fresh wounds (c, g, s, pg) [Gutemwa]
Decoction Leaves are crushed and juice squeezed.
Plumeria alba L. [Apocynaceae]
Fresh wounds (c, g ,s) [Gutemwa]
Leaves are crushed and juice squeezed.
Prunus africana (Hook.f.) Kalkman [Rosaceae]
Coughing (c, g, s, p, pg, r) [Gukora]
Concoction (boiled and mixed with honey)
Ricinus communis L. [Euphorbiaceae]
Leaves and Seeds
East Coast fever [Itaa/Ng’arang’ari] and Bloat (c) [Kuuna]
Concoction. Seeds are crushed to extract oil
Rumex abyssinicus Jacq. [Polygonaceae]
Eye diseases (Conjuctivitis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Meetho*]
Juice is squeezed into the eyes
Senna didymobotrya (Fresen.) Irwin & Barneby [Fabaceae]
Anaplasmosis (c) [Ntigana*] and Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka]
Senna septemtrionalis (Viv.) H. Irwin & Barneby [Fabaceae]
Anaplasmosis (c) [Ntigana*] and Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka]
Solanecio mannii (Hook.f.) C. Jeffrey [Asteraceae]
Anaplasmosis (c) [Ntigana*] and Typanosomiasis (c, g) [Mutombo]
Solanum indicum L. [Solanaceae]
Skin rashes (p) [Weere] and Loss of feather (p) [Guta mbui]
Solanum incanum L. [Solanaceae]
Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka], Lumpy Skin Disease (c) [Ngoci] and Foot rot(c, g, s, r, pg) [Maronda maguru]
Decoction Fruit extract Concoction
Stephania abyssinica (Dill. & A. Rich.) Walp. [Menispermaceae]
Diarrhoea/dysentery (c, p, g, s, pg) [Kuarwa]
Synadenium compactum N. E. Br. [Euphorbiaceae]
East Coast fever (c) [Itaa/Ng’arang’ari]
Latex is applied to the swollen lymph nodes.
Tagetes minuta L. [Asteraceae]
General ectoparasites (c, p) [Ngumba]
Tephrosia vogelii Hook. f. [Fabaceae]
General ectoparasites (c, p) [Ngumba]
Tetradenia riparia (Hochst.) Codd. [Lamiaceae]
Anaplasmosis (c, r) [Ntigana*], Typanosomiasis (c, g) [Mutombo] and Miscarriage (c) [Guta Njau]
Concoction / Decoction
Tithonia diversifolia (Hemsl.) A. Gray [Asteraceae]
General ectoparasites (c) [Ngumba] and Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka]
Vangueria infausta Burch. [Rubiaceae]
Pneumonia (c, g, s, p) [Mpio]
Warburgia ugandensis Sprague [Canellaceae]
Bark Leaves Roots
Helminthiasis (c, p, g, s, pg) [Njoka] Pneumonia (c, g, s, p) [Mpio] and General weakness/dullness (c, g, s, p, pg) [Kuaga inya]
Zea mays L. [Poaceae]
Retained placenta (c) [Kuremera thigiri]
Maize cob is burnt, grinded into fine powder and mixed with water
Authenticity of collected information and plant family use value
In order to evaluate the reliability of the information gathered, each key respondent was visited at least twice on the same idea to prove the validity of the information given out during the first visit before its final documentation. Information that significantly deviated from the original data collected during the first interview without support from the existing literature was either rejected or verified with other key respondents before being considered for use .
UVs = Use values for all the species within a given family.
ns = Total number of species within a given family.
The family use value is an important Relative Cultural Importance (RCI) index, which can be applied in ethnobotany to calculate a value of biological plant taxon. This index together with other important ethnobotanical indices can provide data that can be used in hypothesis-testing, statistical validation and comparative analysis .
Respondent consensus factor
nur = Number of usage-reports.
nt = Number of taxa used.
In addition to defining how homogeneous the documented information is in the study population based on the degree of consensus in respondents’ responses, the Frc values revealed the strength of reliance of respondents on various plants and plant products for the treatment of different livestock diseases and/or ill-health conditions . The Frc values range from 0 to 1. A high value (close to 1) indicated that there was a well-defined selection principle for certain specific plants and plant products traditionally used to treat livestock diseases and/or ill-health conditions in the community and/or there is sharing of information amongst the ethnopractitioners offering ethnoveterinary services in that particular community. A low value (close to 0) on the other hand indicated that plants and plant products used for the treatment of livestock diseases and/or ill-health conditions are chosen from a wide range of plants and plant products without relying on specific proven ones and/or the ethnopractitioners offering ethnoveterinary services do not share information amongst themselves.
Results and discussion
Respondents and their perception of knowledge of ethnoveterinary medicine
A description of the profiles of key respondents and their perception of the acquisition, services and practices of ethnoveterinary medicine (n=21)
Description of the categories of key informants
No. of respondents
50 - 59
60 - 69
70 - 79
Acquisition of EVM knowledge and experience
From parents/grandparents/extended and non-extended family members
From an experienced senior ethnopractitioner not related
From own experience-dreams/visions
Provision of EVM services
Not charging (free)
Charging under certain circumstances only
Exchange of EVM knowledge amongst professionally experienced colleagues
State of EVM knowledge/services/practices
Falling in disfavour
Naming of plants amongst the Ameru
The survey of plants and plant products amongst the Ameru showed that they had a well defined system of naming both indigenous and foreign plants in their community (Table 1). Plant ethnosystematic amongst the Ameru is based on a number of factors, more particularly on the characteristics of the plants. For example, Murema ngigi (Dodonaea viscosa Jacq var. angustifolia (L.f) Benth.) and Kirurite (Ajuga remota Benth) are local Kimîîru names given to the two plants in reference to their hardness and bitter taste, respectively. In addition, the phenomenon of giving a single name to a large group of plants such as a family because the appearance of the plants is the same is very common amongst the Ameru but very challenging to modern taxonomists studying ethnobotany of such communities. This can render the process of correct identification of individual plant species within such a large group very perplexing. For example, most of the tree species in the Acacia genus are given one collective local Kimîîru name, Miruai (singular - Muruai). Similarly, Muthuri (plural - Mithuri) is a collective local Kimîîru name given to a large group of plants especially those that produce latex whether they belong to the same family/genus/species or not. This type of naming plants pose great dangers of erroneously using a given plant and plant products to treat a given disease and/or ill-health condition . From the foregoing, it is self-evident that the Kimîîru dialects have both singular and plural forms of naming plants. For instance, a name of the plant species especially the trees starting with the prefix, Mu- normally signifies the singular form while the prefix Mi- represents the plural form (Table 1) . For example, Acacia mearnsii De Wild. is known as Muthanduku in singular form and Mithanduku in plural form. This is the same case for Cordia africana Lam., which is locally known as Muringa and Miringa in singular and plural forms, respectively.
Because of the ethnic diversity amongst the Ameru living in the study area (Buuri district of Meru County), more than one vernacular name could be used to refer to the same plant species by different sub-tribes and vice versa (Table 1). The ethnic diversity affected a great deal new plant species brought in the community as they could be found with more than one Kimîîru name such as the case of Warburgia ugandensis Sprague. Plant species that were not indigenous to the Meru region had been given local names, which are descriptive in nature or took the altered form of the name used in their original language. An example is Azadirachta indica A. Juss whose local name Mwarubaine was apparently derived from the Swahili name, Muarubaini, which means ‘the tree of the fourty’, as it is believed to be able to treat more than fourty different diseases. Another example is Cannabis sativa L. whose local name, Bangi is similarly derived from the Swahili name for the plant. According to some key respondents, a local Kimîîru name could be used to refer to different plant species by different sub-tribes. For example, among the Imenti sub-tribe, Ajuga remota Benth is known as kirurite whereas the Tharaka sub-tribe use the same name to refer to Tithonia diversifoli (Hemsl.) A. Gray. Most key respondents however, were much aware of such divergence in naming local plants among different sub-tribes and were quick to point them out for discussion and building consensus (Table 1).
Enumeration of documented plants from the survey study
A total of 48 plant species distributed in 26 families were documented to be used in livestock health management by traditional animal healthcare providers in the study area (Table 1). An extensive literature search was undertaken to evaluate literature that supports the claimed uses of the documented plants species (Table 1). Some of the documented plant species were reported in literature to be used in ethnomedicine and other cultural activities of other communities. Some plant species had very few ethnoknowledge references in the literature (only 1 or 2 references in literature) while the rest did not have any reference in literature such as Acacia xanthophloea Benth., Crotalaria laburnifolia L., Dovyalis caffra Warb and Vangueria infausta Burch; perhaps, they were truly indigenous to the Meru people or perhaps relevant references could not be accessed in literature. Those plants thought to be indigenous to the Meru community and traditionally claimed to manage animal health, were more than 14. Of the documented 48 plant species, some, such as W. ugandensis, Tagetes minuta L. and A. indica were already confirmed medicinal plants that had been studied for their use in ethnoveterinary medicine [7, 9, 28, 30, 33, 40].
Growth life forms of the documented plant species
Parts of plants used and preparation methods
Ethnoveterinarians in the study area employed a number of methods for preparing herbal remedies. These methods largely depended on the type of the plant used, parts of plants employed, type of disease/ill-health condition and the animal species being treated . Some of the most frequently used methods of ethnoformulation preparations in the study area included: - decoction, infusion, concoction and fumigation (Table 1). The survey study further found out that most of the remedies were prepared from a single plant species. Other prominent preparations however, involved the mixtures of different plant species and at times addition of one or more non-plant ingredients or additives such as milk, soup, honey, porridge, animal fat, salt etc. The use of more than one plant to make ethnoformulations are commonly used in the study area and respondents believed that such an ethnoformulation conferred some synergistic effects to the herbal remedies in certain cases where ingredients of two or more plants were considered to be more effective against a particular disease/ill-health condition than the use of individual plants separately. For example, a number of key respondents interviewed cited the use of a concoction of Tetradenia riparia (Hochst.) Codd and Cucumis aculeatus Cogniaux as one of the most effective remedy against anaplasmosis in cattle against using only one plant species for preparation and application of the herbal remedy. On other hand, the use of more than one plant to make ethnoformulations was believed to neutralize toxicity effects and/or bitterness of one part of the ethnoformulation preparation to make it palatable and easily administered. While making the remedial preparations from plants and plant products, the most frequently used solvent was water, particularly during the preparations of decoctions, concoctions and infusions with the addition of the above mentioned additives (milk, honey, animal fat and salt). However, there were some contradictions in a few cases among some informants on the type of additives used in preparations of some herbal remedies. For example, while a number of informants mentioned milk as an important additive for some of the remedies, others held the view that generally, milk reduced the potency of most herbal remedies and should not be used as an additive. However, this point of view depends largely on one’s ethnicity and cultural belief and taboos .
Many key respondents revealed that they rarely stored their drugs for future use but rather are used as soon as they are prepared from fresh plant materials. According to the key respondents, this was based on the belief that most of the remedies derived from plants and plant products lose their efficacy and curative power once stored for a long period of time following harvesting and preparation and the underlying science for this belief just goes beyond this work to speculate on. According to some respondents however, a few parts of the plants, such as the bark of W. ugandensis and Commiphora eminii Engl. were normally preserved in the roof of houses for future use though not for a very long time.
Type of livestock treated using ethnoveterinary medicines in the study area
Ethnodiagnosis, determination of causes and naming of livestock diseases
Like in most African communities such as the Maasai , ethnodiagnosis of livestock diseases/ill-health conditions (Table 1) among the Meru people took a holistic view where the cause determined the type of the management strategy and/or treatment system to be adopted. Both human and livestock diseases/ill-health conditions were believed to have a multiplicity of causes [7, 34]. Some livestock diseases/ill-health conditions were believed to be caused by pathogens and/or aetiologic agents that were ectoparasitological, endoparasitological and intraparasitological in nature while others were as a result of adverse weather conditions and were mostly seasonal. Some livestock diseases/ill-health conditions were believed to have a spiritual origin and such cases were dealt with spiritually through ritualism and exorcism by appealing to higher powers of spirits of the Ameru community. An accurate knowledge about the symptoms, signs and possible vectors of a particular disease was an important skill that preceded the choice of an appropriate treatment and management strategies. In making ethnodiagnoses, traditional animal healthcare providers based their conclusions on an in-depth understanding and comparative analysis of the general health versus ill-health signs . Ethnodiagnosis was often carried out by the use of senses such as visual, audio, olfaction and tactile [34, 37]. Depending on the nature of the disease/ill-health condition, ethnodiagnosis also involved consulting the spirits, oracles or divination and could at times involve the use of other animals . Proper ethnodiagnosis of livestock diseases/ill-health conditions required a lot of experience and expertise and was greatly based on the knowledge of the diseases symptoms and signs, knowledge of known vectors, history of the environment and seasonality of disease outbreaks in addition to the knowledge of livestock species affected .
Administration methods and dosage of ethnomedicines used
The analysis of plant family use value
Analysis of documented plant species by family use values (n = 26)
No. of species
% of all species
Respondents’ use citations
% use citations
Family use value
Consensus building amongst key respondents on livestock diseases treated
The survey revealed a wealth of preserved ethnoknowledge on plants, plant products and ethnopractices associated with the traditional management of livestock health by the Ameru. A total of 48 plant species distributed in 26 families were documented to be used in the management of livestock health by traditional animal healthcare providers. Of the 26 families, Fabaceae had the highest number of species (16.67%), followed by Solanaceae (12.5%), Asteraceae and Euphorbiaceae (each 8.33%), Lamiaceae (6.25%), Apocynaceae and Boraginaceae (each 4.17%), while the rest of the 19 families, each was represented by a single plant species. Majority of these 48 plant species were trees (41.7%) and herbs (31.2%). The most frequently utilized part of the plant was the leaf accounting for 34.8% of the total reported ethnoformulation preparations followed by the root (22.7%), bark (18.2%), seed/fruit (15.2%) and latex (3%) while bulb, flower and stem each accounted for 1.5% of the total reported ethnoformulation preparations. However, prominent ethnoformulation preparations (decoction, infusion, concoction and fumigation) involved the mixtures of different plant species and at times, the addition of one or more non-plant ingredients or additives such as milk, soup, honey, porridge, animal fat, salt etc. as this was believed to confer some synergistic effects to the herbal remedies and further make it easily administered. The most common route of administration of these ethnoformulation preparations was oral (74%) followed by dermal/topical (19.2%), through the eyes (2.7%) and other routes (4.1%) in that order. However, most herbal remedies were administered through approximation and there hardly existed dosage standardization for most ethnoformulation preparations.
Nevertheless, some of the local claims of the plants and plant products have been supported by scientific studies reported in literature. This therefore may imply that conducting in-depth scientific studies may help elucidate the science underlying the efficacy of these plants, plant products and health ethnopractices in managing animal health and this may lead to the discovery of useful pharmaceutical agents and tactics that may be integrated in livestock health management programmes for the wellbeing of livestock industry and human life in Africa. There is need therefore for the Ameru to address the challenges of sustainable utilization and conservation of these medicinal plants and plant products, more particularly educating all the stakeholders on sustainable methods of harvesting remedial products from plants and sustainable conservation mechanisms of creating woodlots in arable farming systems to relief constraints on the wild resource counterparts.
WW is currently a research scientist and senior lecturer at the School of Pure and Applied Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, South Eastern University College (a constituent college of the University of Nairobi) in Nairobi, Kenya. He holds a PhD in Resource Conservation and Production Ecology (in applied entomology, parasitology and ethnoknowledge) from Wageningen University and Research Centre, The Netherlands with a three-year laboratory and field research at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, he is actively involved in ethnoknowledge, ethnomedicine and biomedical research in Kenya. MMG has just completed his Bachelor of Education degree in science at the Department of Natural Sciences, The Catholic University of Eastern Africa and is currently preparing to start his graduate studies in African Ethnobotany.
The author wish to acknowledge the financial and material support received from The Catholic Scholarship Programme (CSP) from Tangaza University College (A constituent University College of The Catholic University of Eastern Africa) to support this research. Special thanks go to all the staff members at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) offices located in Meru County and especially Mr. Silas Muthuri, the research assistant at the centre, for his assistance in plant identification in the field and helping in identifying key respondents. Our deepest gratitude goes to all the respondents interviewed during the survey study; the ethnopractitioners of Buuri district who while responding to our inquiry for information used in this research and throughout the guided field excursions, trusted us to share the treasured ethnoknowledge that is very often jealously guarded. These are the actual owners of the information submitted in this manuscript! We wish to thank the three reviewers of this manuscript most sincerely for reading the manuscript with passion and enthusiacism and making objective comments that helped our revision a great deal.
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