Hardly a day passes without an advert in the newspapers about traditional herbs and the wonders they can work on human bodies broken by disease and affliction.
Traditional healers who purport to cure all kinds of ailments splash their adverts in the newspapers, proclaiming solutions to a range of problems. These include good luck, employment and disease charms targeting those battling cancer, stomach aches and HIV, among others.
NewsDay recently toured some of the traditional healers facilities where many people had made a beeline anticipating solutions, having lost faith in conventional scientific medicines.
I have tried all the medical doctors but they could not diagnose my ailment, let alone cure it. I heard someone saying he was helped here and I hope I will be too, said an elderly woman in Norton.
Some people travel from afar in search of herbs.
We came from Gokwe and my son encouraged me to come here so that I could be attended to. He said the herbalist had assisted many people and I just pray that I will be cured, said another woman.
A snap survey shows most people are given traditional herbs such as leaves, roots and powders. However, these reporters noticed that some herbalists are prescribing the same herbs for different ailments.
Godfrey Gahadzikwa, a herbalist, explained that some herbs work for more than one ailment.
I can find herbs with healing properties for different ailments, that one herb may cure high blood pressure and diabetes at the same time, explained Gahadzikwa.
Due to the high demand for herbs, especially in Harare, many people who purport to be herbalists have sprouted. In a single street in Glen Norah, for instance, there are two herbalists. Some of the herbalists have nailed placards on trees advertising their healing prowess.
Market stalls such as Mupedzanhamo in Mbare and Mukambo in Machipisa are awash with traditional herbs and the stall owners said demand for herbs had increased over the past few years.
We are surviving on selling these herbs because many people now prefer traditional herbs, said a vendor at Mupedzanhamo.
Foreign herbalists have also joined the bandwagon with some coming from as far as Malawi and Cameroon. Some of the herbalists have offices in the central business district and use pamphlets to advertise their merchandise and skills.
A medical doctor, Mlungisi Ndebele, said if used properly the herbs could improve health.
Whether used to improve health or heal wounds, they work best used as nutritional supplements. Herbs feed every part of the body.
They improve health due to their vitamin and mineral content. Herbs provide essential elements and dietary minerals lacking in bodies. The body needs reserves of these elements to cope with the everyday demands of life, said Ndebele.
Ndebele added that often nutritional deficiencies were the origin of disease. The best way to redress nutritional imbalance in a diet is with natural healing herbs.
They restore the integrity of the body, correcting problems instead of suppressing them.
A traditional healer registered with regulatory body Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha) said the secret of herbs lies in knowing how well they work in different forms.
The most common, convenient and preferred is capsule form. But they are also effective in the form of teas and herbal extracts.
There are many forms of herbal preparations. People should also learn the actions of herbs to improve their understanding of how herbs work.
However, Ndebele said people should be wary about the origins of some of the herbs being sold on the market.
Unlike conventional drugs, herbal products are not regulated for purity and potency. Thus, some of the adverse effects and reactions reported for herbal products could be caused by impurities such as allergens, pollen and spores or batch-to-batch variability. In addition, the potency of a herbal product may increase the possibility of adverse effects, he said.
Because physicians are likely to encounter patients who are using herbal remedies, they need to be aware of the purported effects of these products. They also need to be cognisant of the adverse effects of herbal remedies and the possibility of deleterious drug interaction, said Ndebele.
President of Zinatha, Professor Gordon Chavunduka, said all herbalists should register with his organisation to regularise their operations.
We are aware that many herbalists are proliferating and we should know about their operations, said Chavunduka.
He said traditional herbs were very popular with people living with HIV and studies have shown their intake does have a positive effect. He, however, noted that there was still need for more research on the herbs so that their long-term effects can be determined, he added.
Charles Maulana, a herbalist from Morebridge resettlement area in Musana, has seen herbs working wonders in his community and testimonies abound.
Although herbs have for long been associated with black magic and voodoo, Maulana said he derived inspiration from God and regarded the use of herbal medicines as biblical.
One of his patients, Onias Mukombwe, confirmed that after suffering from a strange skin disease, Maulana attended to him the disease disappeared. Maulana said he used a herb called guava cancer saururius.
I was not sure whether or not it was going to work because I had always been suspicious of people who dabble in herbal medicines, said Mukombwe.
The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) last year said it was developing statutory registration requirements for herbalists to register herbal medicines as complementary drugs.
MCAZ assistant director Richard Rukwata said they were mandated to register conventional medicines.
We were only mandated to register orthodox medicines, but because of the number of people now using herbal drugs, we have decided to regularise the use of these medicines in the country before Zimbabwe becomes a dumping ground, he said.