Approximately 80% of South Africa’s population depends on medicinal plants for their healthcare needs, leading to an increased interest in the commercialisation of plant-based remedies.

Research by Tshepiso Ndhlovu, a PhD candidate at the North-West University (NWU), is shedding light on the potential of medicinal plants in the skincare market and in the treatment of childhood diseases.

The use of medicinal plants in treating childhood diseases is the current focus of Tshepiso, who is busy with his PhD on the topic. This follows his master’s research, which showed that VhaVenda women in Limpopo have the potential to develop and sell low-cost medicinal plant skincare products that can improve their socio-economic well-being.

Making a living out of plants
His initial study, completed in 2018, was conducted across 16 villages in four municipalities in the Vhembe District Municipality. It aimed to understand the use of natural-based cosmetics and cosmeceuticals, and to explore the potential economic impact.
Tshepiso interviewed 79 VhaVenda women, most of whom were married, with an average household size of five members. The majority of the participants were not formally employed and only 34% of them had formal high school certificates.

The study identified 49 plant species from 31 families as natural-based cosmetics and cosmeceuticals. It found that Dicerocaryum senecioides (stud plant or museto), Ricinus communis (castor oil plant or mupfure), Helinus integrifolius (soap bush or mupupuma) and Acanthospermum hispidum (goat’s head or tshidavhula) were the plant species mostly used by the participants for skin related issues such as wounds, burns, a substitute for soap, repair and to beautify the skin.

According to Tshepiso, the study revealed that the herbal-based cosmetic and cosmeceutical enterprise is profitable and could ensure a better future for South Africa’s rural communities.
Given the identified ageing, capital, knowledge and educational challenges of the current vulnerable operators, he says this marginalised herbal-based enterprise must be looked into ands considered as a remedy for improving the welfare of rural South Africans.

This will also help meet the increased demand for commercial products that have natural plant-based ingredients.
Through his research Tshepiso is not only looking at the livelihoods and physical well-being of rural communities, he is ensuring that indigenous knowledge is preserved for the benefit of all.

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