Researching Medicinal Plants in Ethiopia

In spring 2019, Katharina Vöhler, a Geography bachelor student at the TU Dresden, went to Ethiopia to do field work under the framework of the Phyto-Wood Synergies project. In the following, she reports her experiences doing research on medicinal plants. 


Farmer’s homegarden in Chefasine Kebele, Ethiopia (©Vöhler)

Due to rapid population growth and land use change in Ethiopia, many medicinal plants that used to grow in the wild have become scarce or even disappeared. Traditional healers have difficulties finding the plants they need for their remedies or have to travel long distances to do so. At the same time, the health care system in Ethiopia is not (yet) able to supply everyone with “modern” western medicine – many still rely on readily available and affordable traditional medicines.

Cultivating medicinal plants in homegardens could thus be a way to improve the health of the population while preventing the plants from extinction. This applies not only to the plants themselves, but also the knowledge around them: With modern medicine on the rise in Ethiopia, the younger generation is losing interest in traditional medicine and the healers cannot pass on their extensive experience and knowledge.

The objective of the project entitled Phyto-Wood Synergies (part of the WoodCluster) is to develop innovations in the cultivation of pharmaceutically usable plants at the farm level. My research is focused on establishing fact sheets of selected medicinal plants the project partners agreed on. During my stay in Ethiopia I collected ecological as well as ethnobotanical knowledge on these plants from academics (botanists, pharmacologists), farmers, traditional medical practitioners and vendors of medicinal plants.

Interviewing traditional healers is challenging, because they are very secretive about their practices. I was lucky to be supported by Dr. Birhanu from the Gullele Botanical Garden in Addis Ababa who introduced me to traditional healers he had worked with for years.

The fact sheets will lay ground for the cultivation trials of the selected medicinal plants in Chefasine Kebele in southern Ethiopia that will begin with the rainy season. I assessed these sites in Chefasine for their suitability taking soil samples and shade measurements.

I want to thank my supervisors Dr. Fritz Haubold and Prof. Dr. habil. Arno Kleber, Jens Weber, Dr. Birhanu Belay, Melaku Wondafrash, Mesfin Sahle, the association of traditional healers in Addis Ababa, Prof. Tsegaye Bekele, Kinfe Welay and Sintayehu Tamene, the farmers in Chefasine, especially Adanech Girma, and Dr. Maxi Domke from TU Dresden for their support in writing this thesis. I am also grateful for the financial support of Promos/DAAD and the Association of Friends and Sponsors of TU Dresden e.V.

By Katharina Vöhler


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