Reviving traditional African wellness for modern self-care

In 2005, a groundbreaking study unveiled a significant trend: the majority of Africans turned to traditional herbal medicine, a cornerstone of traditional African wellness, for treating HIV/AIDS. Although further investigation is essential to fully understand the efficacy of these traditional herbal treatments in curing the disease, the role of traditional African wellness practices in supporting recovery and enhancing immune systems remains undeniable.

For reasons like this, in 2022, the WHO African Region called on African governments to invest more resources and funding to institutionalise African traditional medicine and maximise its impact. By doing this, the WHO African Region amplified the need for traditional African medicine and its integration into modern medicine.

African traditional practices, known for their effectiveness, affordability, and little to no proven side effects, have consistently provided relief to millions of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora.

Modern medicine has grown significantly since its inception in the 18th century. However, despite its popularity and promise of effectiveness, people still crave holistic wellness alternatives that fulfil their needs, much like African traditional wellness practices.

African traditional wellness practices fully and wholly provide all the necessities to attain wellness. These practices are widely recognized for their strong connection to herbal medicine and the use of organic materials for treatment and healing.

A holistic approach to wellbeing

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African traditional medicine, interwoven with cultural and religious practices, thrives across Africa’s 3000 tribes and 2000 spoken languages. But in modern times, people find new ways to adopt these wellness practices in contemporary facilities. Spas like The Henna Place and skincare brands like Mint Organic Care consistently adopt traditional beauty practices in their products. Still, through thorough research and proper testing, care systems refine and adopt these practices.

African traditional wellness encompasses the body, mind, and spirit. Traditional African practices not only involve healing the body but also involve healing the mind and creating community through recipes and shared experiences. Traditional African wellness practices offer so many holistic benefits, including:

Connection to Nature

People have always turned to nature for healing and rejuvenation, finding remedies, rituals, and spiritual practices in the natural world that promote well-being and balance. Throughout history and across cultures, connecting with nature has been a vital source of physical and spiritual renewal.

Community and Support

Social connection and strong community ties are integral to wellbeing, providing individuals a sense of belonging, support, and mutual understanding. In many African cultures, traditional healers and spiritual leaders serve as vital pillars of community support, offering guidance, counselling, and healing practices that address physical and emotional needs.

Ancestral Wisdom

Ancestral wisdom encompasses traditional knowledge and practices passed down through generations within a community or culture. These teachings form the bedrock of healing practices and spiritual connections, drawing upon ancestors’ wisdom and experiences. Through rituals, ceremonies, and oral traditions, individuals tap into this ancestral wisdom to address physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, seeking guidance and insights from those who came before them.

Above all, African women primarily pass down traditions related to healing and community cohesion through generations. These women play crucial roles as healers and key connectors within their communities.

Women’s active participation in African traditional practices contributes significantly to women’s empowerment and the preservation of cultural heritage. Through their involvement in rituals, ceremonies, and communal activities, women play essential roles in passing down ancestral knowledge, preserving cultural traditions, and reinforcing collective identity.

Additionally, participation in traditional practices provides women with opportunities to assert their agency, voice their perspectives, and challenge gender norms within their communities. By actively engaging in these practices, women empower themselves by exchanging their knowledge of traditional practices for money.

That’s why, when we were looking for people to speak to about traditional wellness practices coming back in the 21st century, more women had much to say about their personal experiences.

How are women adopting traditional wellness practices?

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Often, women adopt certain traditional practices as caregivers and healers. Although these practices may seem archaic or medieval, these women still religiously believe in and practice them. Speaking to three mothers, ages 59, 52, and 34, they shared the African traditional wellness practices they imbibe in their daily lives.

Garden picking

When picking herbs and leaves from the garden for tea or treatment, experts recommend the best time as between sunrise and sunset (6 a.m. and 6 p.m.). They believe that the leaves “go to sleep” at sundown and lose their potency during the sleep hours. However, from sunrise to sunset, the leaves are most potent.

A study backed up by horticulture experts found that the best time to pick herbs is early morning after the dew dries and just before the day’s heat. This is because the herbs are most potent during this time.

Fertility treatments

Based on her experience, Selia (59) has never failed her or any of her daughters by using guava and soursop leaves for fertility treatment. Boiling the leaves or consuming their fruits can help boost fertility chances and soothe issues like endometriosis, fibroids, and PCOS. Soursop, specifically, is highly beneficial for the production of spermatozoa in men.

A 2022 study found that soursop juice can considerably improve semen quality in men. The benefits of soursop are almost endless. The fruit contains cancer-killing properties, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce blood sugar. Rose Wellness listed soursop as a natural remedy for fibroids alongside turmeric, lemon juice, garlic, and green tea in an article.

Bitter leaf sticks for pregnant women

For women suffering from hyperemesis, keeping a bitter-leaf tree stick in your mouth can help reduce and even stop the symptoms of hyperemesis. Joy (34) used this method throughout her pregnancy, giving her significant relief compared to her first pregnancy.

Science hasn’t officially tested the bitter leaf stick, but pregnant women benefit from drinking bitter leaf extract. It eases stomach aches, lowers blood pressure, regulates hormones, and provides essential vitamins during pregnancy.

Using boiled herb steam for treating illnesses

Going to the local herbalist to find a solution for sicknesses like the flu or even malaria is one step to achieving total wellness. One of the steps to achieving this is to steam. To steam, you must create a sauna-like space using boiled herbs and a blanket covering you. Doing this would help the boiled herbs’ steam penetrate your pores, quickly healing fever-like symptoms.

Homemade beauty treatment

Moriamo (52) mixes turmeric, lemons, carrots, and camwood in a family recipe passed down to relatives. These ingredients in products or boiled concoctions promote smooth skin and wellness.

The beauty benefits of turmeric, carrots, and lemons have been evident since the beginning of time. Turmeric contains anti-inflammatory properties, and carrots contain vitamin C, carotene, and many more, so the benefits are endless. You will undoubtedly get the best from juicing or applying them directly to your skin.

Wellness is the effectiveness of nature.

While proper research is still being conducted on the effectiveness of African traditional wellness practices, many wellness practices have been tried and trusted. Like the effectiveness of turmeric and lemon for skin and soursop for improving sperm count in men, many traditional wellness practices have been tried and tested from generation to generation, proving nature’s timeless effectiveness.

There’s an old saying by Peter Drucker that goes, “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” This saying applies directly to modernising and popularising traditional African wellness practices.

Incorporating traditional West African wellness techniques into modern life can be our secret ingredient to achieve holistic wellness As Africans. As we move forward, we must ensure these customs are valued and protected against cultural appropriation.

How can we do this?

  • By crediting the origins of these practices, we can pass them down to the younger generation.
  • Ensuring that mass opinions on the internet do not water them down.
  • Collaboration between traditional healers and modern healthcare practitioners also holds enormous promise for a more holistic and culturally sensitive approach to wellbeing.

Traditional wellness practices are gaining recognition, from beauty to health. What practices were passed down to you that you still use?


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