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Natural Medicines

The REAP Natural Medicines programme grew out of the Stewardship programme as we became aware that many useful medicinal plants were already available but their usefulness was not known by most farmers. We began by teaching the medicinal uses of plants already locally available such as pawpaw and aloe. When we were introduced to anamed we were able to expand our teaching and add new plants of proven medicinal value, and slowly developed our own Natural Medicines programme.

We define Natural Medicine as being the combination of the advantages of traditional herbal medicine with the advantages of modern, western medicine. The advantages of traditional herbal medicine include being readily available, being affordable and being easy to prepare and use at home. The advantages of modern western medicine include the scientific basis, which includes knowing the active ingredients, good hygiene, clear dosages, good packaging and targeting specific problems. Natural Medicines that we teach are not a second best option in our opinion but are high quality effective medicine that can be made readily available in the local community.

Since many churches discourage traditional medicine for spiritual reasons, we include in our teaching relevant materials to help churches understand the value of natural medicines as a strategy for the poor with no spiritual threat.

At the start of our Natural Medicine programme in 2006, REAP held a couple of workshops with representatives of churches that we have been working with in western Kenya and from these we have developed teaching materials that churches can use to pass on the ideas. See our publication “Working Through the Local Church” for more information. As with the other programmes we have at the same time been developing practical teaching on the cultivation and use of natural medicines so that we can encourage their use in the local communities.

The focus of our teaching is on what rural families can have available at home and learn to use safely in their families. The strategy is to introduce ideas of first aid, using natural medicines for specific well-researched uses, while still encouraging the use of professional medical resources for other more complex problems. Our teaching through the women’s programme (e.g. how to distinguish pneumonia from a cold) already emphasises the need to be able to identify when professional help is needed.

Since we have been partnering with anamed, we have been actively encouraging the growth and use of Artemisia annua. An infusion of the dried leaves is a very effective treatment for malaria and has a very positive effect generally on the immune system. See our leaflet on artemisia.

Other plants that we have been actively encouraging farmers to plant include Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Moringa, Neem and the Ringworm Bush (Cassia alata). As well as encouraging the planting of new crops for natural medicines, we teach on the use of existing known plants such as Pawpaw, Guava, Ginger, Garlic, Lemon Grass, Chilli pepper, Rosemary, Mango, Passion fruit and Avocado. All of these have been well researched and are already used and we just teach extra uses of value to the rural communities.

Both Dr Roger Sharland and Mrs Rosalia Oyweka are approved anamed trainers, and conduct training in Natural Medicines based upon anamed materials, supplemented by REAP’s own experience.

The women at right are making Chilli Ointment at a recent workshop.


Guidelines for Teaching on Natural Medicines through the Church

Why are Natural Medicines relevant for the church?

  • They are Biblical.
  • When you are physically sick, your spiritual ministry is affected.
  • The good pastor is concerned about the health of his people. (contrast Ezekiel 34:4)
  • They portray God’s plan for man – working with creation (Genesis 2: 15)
  • They are using what God has given us in creation, and by using them we are also learning to take care of creation.
  • They are practical for serving one another – they help us care and so show love.
  • It is our holistic responsibility – God is concerned about the whole person and whole community. The Bible, as does African culture, sees people as a whole.
  • The approach focuses upon teaching, which is much less divisive in churches than projects are.
  • Their use is a strategy for the poor – the poor can use them for themselves without money and the Bible tells us to be concerned for the poor.
  • They are locally found and the church is strong at the local level .

When is it Appropriate to Use Natural Medicines?

  • When people cannot easily access (afford) conventional medicine.
  • They are particularly relevant for common straightforward complaints.
  • External use is particularly easy because dosage is not very significant
  • They have a particular place in “First Aid” and as medicines for home use
  • They are not second best – they are often the preferred choice (e.g. Frangipani for Herpes Zoster) – so they fit in every situation
  • It is important however to know the limitations available knowledge on natural medicines does not enable us to treat everything – they are appropriate for some conditions and for others referral should be used.
  • They need always to be linked with sharing knowledge, including when other medical help is needed.

Biblical Support for Using Natural Medicines

In the Bible we find some themes that help us use natural medicines with confidence, knowing that we are not going against God’s will:

  • The Bible has a holistic view of health. (Proverbs 13:12; Proverbs 17:22; III John v2) )
  • The pastor is expected to have concern for the health of his congregation. (Ezekiel 34:4)
  • Natural medicines are part of creation – God looked at what he created and it was ‘good’. (Genesis 1 :31 )
    • The way that creation is used and the motivation is important. (I Timothy 4:4)
    • God created variety for our use. (Genesis 1 :29)
  • The Bible recognises the healing potential of leaves. (Ezekiel 47:12; Revelation 22:1-2)
  • Natural Medicines were the medicine of Biblical times. (II Kings 20:1-7; Isaiah 38:21; Luke 10:34)
  • Jesus recognised that it is normal and appropriate to be growing herbs, being part of the garden. (Luke 11 :42)
  • We should redeem what the ungodly have taken by basing our use of natural medicines on scripture. (Acts 10:14-15; Romans 8:20-21)

A Biblical approach replaces Spiritual Problems of Traditional Medical Practitioners with Positive Christian Values

  • We must not compromise with the devil. (Genesis 3:5;Daniel; Ezra 10; I Samuel 28; II Kings 18:4)
  • Sharing open Knowledge brings freedom from fear.(Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2; Acts 15; Romans 8:18-21;II Kings 7 :9) But this freedom must be used in the right way for the benefit of others. (Galatians 5: 13)
  • As Christians we should emphasise Service not Power. (John 10:11-12; Matthew 20: 25-28; Isaiah 58:6-7) )
  • The Bible condemns Exploitation. (Mark 5 :26; Proverbs 22:22; II Kings 5 19 forward; Amos 2:7a; Amos 5:11-12; Micah 6:8b; Proverbs 29:7; Zechariah 7:9-10)
  • NB Charging for service is not exploitation: (I Corinthians 9:9; Deuteronomy 25:4)
  • God not money needs to be central. (I Timothy 6: 1 0)
  • Avoiding Syncretism. (Isaiah 56: 1-2)
  • We need to address traditions that are against God’s way. (Mark 7:6-10)
  • Jesus liberates some things that the devil or godless men have bound. (Acts 1 0: 14-15)

Integration of Natural Medicines with Food Crops in the Home Garden

In REAP (Rural Extension with Africa’s Poor) we have been working for many years with small farmers on low input sustainable agriculture. The strategy we have taken is that in order to be relevant for the rural poor, teaching should be based on what people can do for themselves rather than purchased inputs. This, therefore, links very naturally with our belief in the environmental soundness of low external input agriculture and enables a two-pronged approach towards the same end. Most of our teaching is based on replacing purchased inputs with productive knowledge-based family labour for more efficient production. This strategy is also based on the value of productive subsistence, in which farm families benefit from producing quality food for home consumption. One of the main strategies of subsistence production at any level is variety, which both reduces risk and increases the quality of life through what is consumed. We have recently come to learn that productive subsistence relates to much more than just food production and that a mixed farm can satisfy so many more of the family’s needs.
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