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Medicinal plants used for the treatment of various skin disorders by a rural community in northern Maputaland, South Africa

Helene De Wet1*, Sibongile Nciki1 and Sandy F van Vuuren2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Botany, University of Zululand, Private Bag X1001, KwaDlangezwa 3886, South Africa

2 Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2013, 9:51  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-9-51

Published: 19 July 2013



Skin diseases have been of major concern recently due to their association with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS). The study area (northern Maputaland) has the highest HIV infection rate in South Africa, which made them more prone to a wide range of skin conditions. Fungal infections due to the hot climate and overcrowding households are common in this area, as well as burn accidents due to the use of wood as the major fuel for cooking. It is known that the lay people in this area depend on medicinal plants for their primary health care. However no survey has been done in northern Maputaland to document the medicinal plants used to treat various skin disorder.


Interviews were undertaken at 80 homesteads, using structured questionnaires. The focus was on plants used for dermatological conditions and information regarding vernacular plant names, plant parts used, preparation (independently and in various combinations) and application was collected.


A total of 87 lay people, both male (22%) and female (78%) were interviewed on their knowledge of medicinal plants used to treat disorders of the skin. Forty-seven plant species from 35 families were recorded in the present survey for the treatment of 11 different skin disorders including abscesses, acne, burns, boils, incisions, ringworm, rashes, shingles, sores, wounds and warts. When searching the most frequently used scientific databases (ScienceDirect, Scopus and Pubmed), nine plant species (Acacia burkei, Brachylaena discolor, Ozoroa engleri, Parinari capensis, subsp. capensis, Portulacaria afra, Sida pseudocordifolia, Solanum rigescens, Strychnos madagascariensis and Drimia delagoensis) were found to be recorded for the first time globally as a treatment for skin disorders. Fourteen plant combinations were used. Surprisingly, the application of enema’s was frequently mentioned.


The preference of traditional medicine over allopathic medicine by most of the interviewees strengthens previous studies on the importance that traditional medicine can have in the primary health care system in this rural community. Studies to validate the potential of these plants independently and in their various combinations is underway to provide insight into the anti-infective role of each plant.

Medicinal plants; Skin disorders; Lay people; Northern Maputaland; South Africa