Introduction

Authored by: Maurice M. Iwu

Handbook of African Medicinal Plants

Print publication date:  February  2014
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9781466571976
eBook ISBN: 9781466571983
Adobe ISBN:

10.1201/b16292-2

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Abstract

Africa is a huge continent that straddles the equator, extending from 37° N and 35° S and endowed with an enormous wealth of plant resources. Over 50,000 distinct species are known to occur in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and the continent is home to more than a quarter of recorded angiosperm taxa in the world. Of the known species, more than 25% have been used for several centuries in traditional medicine for the prevention and treatment of diseases. With over 1000 languages spoken in about 3000 dialects and with individuals living in more than 50 independent countries, Africa presents a veritable treasure of cultural and genetic resources, including medicinal plants. Its unique and diverse indigenous cultures have produced a rich heritage of traditional knowledge on the uses of plants for healing, for communications with the gods, and for food. The enormous biodiversity in its tropical forests, savannas, veldts, and unique environments of sub-Saharan Africa is due to its peculiar geography. It has no marginal oceanic trenches and subduction zones, so it lacks the extensive mountain ranges found in the Americas, but much of the southern half of the continent rests on a high plateau close to 1000 meters above sea level, broken only by the southern extension of the Great Rift Valley and the slightly lower basin of the Congo River. It has been suggested that it is the great latitudinal range that gives it an enormous variety of climates, and that this variability is responsible for the continent’s extreme diversity of ecosystems and biodiversity. 1

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