Ethnobotanical Leaflets 13: 203-10. 2009.
Ethnopharmacology of Medicinal Plants used in North Kordofan (Western Sudan)
Hatil Hashim EL-Kamali
Department of Botany, Faculty of Science & Technology,
Omdurman Islamic University, P.O Box # 382, Omdurman
Issued 30 January 2009
Urban and rural people of North Kordofan (Western Sudan) inherited a rich traditional medicinal knowledge. The preservation and documentation of this knowledge is a matter of prime importance. This will not only provide recognition of this knowledge but will also help in conservation of such gradually vanishing endangered semi/arid plant species.
The present paper provide ethnopharmacological information of
48 taxa distributed into 26 families. For each plant species listed, the botanical name, family, vernacular name, part used, uses/ailments treated, preparations/administrations, use (%) and locality are given.
Among the major findings: Acacia nilotica ssp. nilotica as hypertensive; Balanites aegyptiaca for diabetes; Ceiba pentandra for relieve toothache; Geigeria alata for diabetes, cough, intestinal complaints and as antispasmodic; Guiera senegalensis for jaundice; Hibiscus sabdariffa in cases of hematuria and Justacia flava smeared on gingiva in cases of teeth pain.
Keywords: Folk medicine; North Kordofan; Western Sudan; Medicinal plants; ethnobotany; conservation.
Plants have always played a major role in the treatment of human traumas and diseases worldwide . They have been used as sources of modern drugs, either by providing pure compounds, starting materials for partial synthesis of useful compounds or models for synthesis of new drugs . Ethnopharmacological information is an important tool in drug discovery .
From the ethnobotanical point of view North Kordofan is one of the least studied regions of Western Sudan. The only work existing for a few areas of this region is compiled by EL-Ghazali et al., 1997 .
Information about medicinal plants is still passing from one generation to another by oral communication, posing the danger of loosing some knowledge. There is, therefore, a need to document medicinal plants in Sudan before both the provider of information disappear. Meanwhile most of these plants was already endangered by the arid/semi arid climatic conditions and man-made activities.
North Kordofan region (Western Sudan) lies between latitude 12º 43´ – 13º 42´ N and longitude 30º 14´ – 31º 55´ E. It is characterized by a dry, hot climate, typically tropical continental with a relatively short rainy season. The soils of the study area are mostly stabilized sand dunes “Goz” consisting of yellowish red sandy loam and loamy sand soils .
From the ethnobotanical point of view, North Kordofan is an interesting region, since in ancient times. It was subject to the cultures of several people such as Arabs and Africans. Agricultural (millet, sorghum, groundnuts and sesame), pastoral (cattle and goats) activities characterize the way of life of the people in the region. Ethnically, population composition in the region can be classified as nomadic and sedentary tribes. The major groups are all Arabs and include Kababish, Kawahla, Hamr, Hawawir and the Maganin tribes. The sedentary groups, which also are mainly Arab, include Dar Hamid, Danagla, Gawamaa and Bedaireia. A few sedentary tribes are non-Arab; they are mainly of Hausa and Fulani origin and have come from West Africa .
The study was conducted during June - September 2003 in five localities, namely, Tendalti, Umm Rawaba, Er-Rahad, EL-Obeid and Bara (North Kordofan, Western Sudan).
The information was gathered from urban and rural inhabitants knowledgeable on indigenous herbal medicine by personal interviews (56 interviewees). Questions about the use of various medicinal plants were asked using classical means of ethnobotanical analysis , . The interviews were in the form of group discussions, in groups of three or four people, except for the traditional healers who preferred confidentiality.
Plant materials of all the taxa reported were collected either by author and shown to the informants, or by the informants and shown to us or by the informants, or by us together. During fieldwork plant materials were collected for preparation of herbarium specimens and for biological and chemical testing. The plants were identified using the Flowering Plants of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan [9-11] and the Flora of the Sudan  and also by comparison with herbarium specimens in the Botany Department, Khartoum University, Faculty of Science. Voucher specimens were deposited in the Botany Department, Omdurman Islamic University.
All the data obtained have been integrated and analyzed. The results have been structured according to these categories: number of plants mentioned (with scientific Latin name, botanical familes and vernacular (popular) names; part used; uses/ailments treated; preparations/administrations; use frequency (%) and localities.
To assess the degree of originality and novelty of the uses claimed by the informants, these were compared with those reported in several works on ethnobotany, medicinal plants and phytotherapy. The complete references were given in Farnsworth, 1995 . Study of quantitative ethnobotany was also performed, the use frequency per species was estimated by calculating the proportion of plants cited and utilized in relation to the total number of interviewees.
The data recorded during this study were compared with the related literature and also published reports on the traditional medicinal uses of the plants. Some species, namely, Abutilon panosum, Blepharis linariifolia, Cassia absus, Dobera glabra, Justicia flava, Ethulia conyzoides, Xeromphis nilotica, Tinospora bakis and Striga hermonthica have never been described in the ethnobotanical literature of Sudan. For other species, namely, Acacia nilotica ssp. nilotica, Cissus quadrangularis, Geigeria alata, Hibiscus sabdariffa and Ziziphus spins-christi, new therapeutic uses have been reported.
Some papers reporting phytochemistry of the following species: Acacia nilotica ssp. nilotica, Cassia absus, Cassia tora, Guiera senegalensis, Cinchona officinalis, Cissampelos pareira and Cocculus pendulus have been published . The pharmacological studies on Croton zambesicus fruits, Geigeria alata aerial parts are probably lacking and investigations in this direction are also greatly needed. C. zambesicus extracts from leaves cytotoxic and from stem bark antimicrobial . Albizzia anthelmintica extracts have been studied in some pharmacological studies, and anthelmintic activity [15-17] has been demonstrated. Further research on Guiera senegalensis will reveal its medicinal potential and facilitate its use as a standardized herbal drug.
In the drug development research, biological activity based on ethnomedical uses seems as a better approach compared to randomly selected plants [18 & 19]. We are currently testing these plants for some biological activities to confirm the therapeutical claims indicated by informants. Any useful information from literature review and biological tests will be passed back in order to improve the proper use of medicinal plants and create a good relationship for future ethnobotanical studies.
The reasons for the frequent use of traditional medicine being (i) the strong association of people with local flora and their belief on traditional knowledge regarding plants as medicine, (ii) easy availability of local medicinal plants, (iii) relatively poor access to synthetic drugs and their high cost and (iv) lower economic profile of the people.
The data provided by our informants and analyzed in the present paper clearly show that folk knowledge on medicinal plants and plant uses is still alive in the studied region. This indicates that ethnobotanical studies constitute a valuable first step in the bioprospection process, which may lead to the development of new plant-based medicines by phytotherapeutical research.
Modern health care services provided in North Kordofan region are not adequate, since the health care centres/hospitals are few and sometimes distantly located, and most people cannot afford to buy drugs prescribed due their low income. Herbal medicine keeps working as the most popular medicine in solving health problems in the region, and people have strong trust in the efficacy of herbs. Due to limited resources, only five localities were visited and it was noted that some plants were not readily available due to season conditions during the study period. It was recommended that future work in this region should be carried out immediately after the rainy season for one to be able to record a large number of medicinally useful plants, especially the annual herbs. Teamwork consisting of a good number of taxonomists is recommended for any future ethnobotanical surveys, in order to have broad scope of study leading to a rich documentation of medicinal plants in this region.
The author is very grateful to the people and herbalists of North Kordofan region for sharing their knowledge on traditional herbal medicine.
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Table 1. Medicinal uses of plants in some localities in North Kordofan (Western Sudan).
Appendix 1: Interview Form
Date of interview …………………………
Respondents No. ………………………….
Do you use herbal medicine to treat diseases? Yes …… , NO ……
Rank Local name Part used, methods of preparation Disease/
of species and administration condition