The media has been awash with reports of killer-flu ravaging the United Kingdom (U.K.), United States (U.S.) and Europe. Here in Africa, Nigeria is within the belt of so many infectious disease epidemics that thrive during the dry season (November to May).
Although there are vaccines for some of the diseases such as meningitis, yellow fever, cholera, Lassa fever, measles, chicken pox, monkey pox among others. But they do not come cheap and are usually not readily available.
Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO), on Monday, reported that untreatable drug-resistant infectious diseases have spread to over 500,000 persons in 22 countries.
However, scientists have validated local foodstuffs that could help Nigerians fight off these killer diseases.
Bamboo, alligator pepper for measles, yellow fever, small pox, chicken pox and polio
Also, local plants have been successfully used to treat measles in the country. The plants include: Bambusa vulgaris; Aframomum melegueta (grains of paradise, guinea grains or alligator pepper, ehin-edo in Edo, ose oji in Igbo, erhie in Urhobo, ata-ire in Yoruba); Elytraria marginata (ewe eso in Yoruba); Peperomia pellucida; Vernonia amygdalina (bitter leaf in English, oriwo in Edo, chusar doki in Hausa, atidot in Ibibio, onugbu in Igbo, ityuna in Tiv, and ewuro in Yoruba).
Others are: Momordica charantia (African cucumber/ Balsam pear, daddagu in Hausa, iliahia in Igala, kakayi in Igbo and ejirin weeri in Yoruba); Newbouldia laevis (fertility plant or tree of life, ogirishi in Igbo, akoko in Yoruba, ukhimi in Esan); and Ocimum gratissimum (scent leaf, sweet basil, efinrin ajase in Yoruba, ebavbokho in Bini, aai doya ta gida in Hausa, and nchuanwu in Igbo.
Indeed, studies conducted in laboratories around the world have shown that traditional medicinal plants provide a rich source of antiviral activities.
Researchers at the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, have studied the use of medicinal plants for the treatment of measles in Nigeria.
M. A. Sonibare, J. O. Moody, and E. O. Adesanya have conducted an ethnobotanical survey of three Local Government areas of the Ijebu area of Ogun State in southwest Nigeria for plants used in the treatment of measles.
The study was published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Nigerian researchers have also assessed the effectiveness of Bambusa vulgaris (bamboo) and Aframomum melegueta (alligator pepper) against three human viruses namely: measles, yellow fever and polio.
The study was carried out by scientists from the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, University of Ado-Ekiti, Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. The study was documented in the July 2009 edition of the African Journal of Plant Science.
Using alcoholic extracts of these plants, the scientists found that B. vulgaris can help in the prevention of measles while A. melegueta would work both for measles and yellow fever viruses.
In carrying out the study, the scientists collected the leaves of these plants, dried and powdered them before going on to soak them in 80 per cent ethanol for five days. These were then filtered and the ethanol evaporated off to produce dried extracts of the plant. The extracts were then tried on micro-organisms that cause measles, yellow fever and polio.
According to the study, “the outcome of the antiviral screenings of A. melegueta and B. vulgaris was impressive as the extracts possess activity against two of the viruses which were tested; measles and yellow fever.”
They declared that it was interesting to attempt to correlate the traditional applications of the plant extracts with the micro-organisms that caused measles and yellow fever. It was declared that the potency of these plants in the treatment of yellow fever and measles most probably was due to the phytochemicals, group of chemical substances, in the plants. Such phytochemicals include tannin, phenolic compounds, saponins and flavonoids. These chemical substances are known to activate the white blood cells of the body to fight disease causing germs and at the same time prevent these germs developing resistance and multiplying in number. Based on their finding, they recommended that application of extracts from these plants could help in the treatment of measles and yellow fever infections.
Previous studies had shown that the rhizome, leaves, fruits and seeds of alligator pepper could be used to cure worms, small pox, chicken pox, catarrh, congested chest, fractures, hypertension and cholera.
Neem for chicken pox, shingles, herpes, hepatitis
A decoction from the leaves of Neem tops the list of herbal remedies for Chicken pox and other skin diseases. Botanically called Azadirachta indica, Neem also popularly known as Dogonyaro in Nigeria belongs to the Meliceae family. The common tree tops the list of plants that have been scientifically verified to effectively treat chicken pox.
Until now, Neem extracts have been shown to possess anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, potent antiviral and anti-cancerous properties.
Neem has been found to be an effective antiseptic for the treatment of viral infection including small pox. Indian researchers in a study published in Journal of Biological Sciences noted that Neem extracts have been shown to possess potent antiviral properties against different viruses including herpes simplex virus type-1 infection and chicken pox. According to a new study published in the International Journal of Clinical Nutrition (IJCN), there are certain compounds in Neem that demonstrate a unique ability to surround viruses, which prevents them from causing infection.
The researchers wrote: “So depend upon the nature or kind microbes minimum amount required to stop the growth. Neem also inhibits viral multiplication by interacting with the surface of the cells to prevent the cell from becoming infected by the virus. Neem has been observed to be effective against a number of viral pathogens in various clinical studies demonstrating it contains unique properties to inhibit viral disease. Neem is one of just a few known antiviral agents.