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Carleton College

Publication Date

Fall 2006

Program Name

Botswana: Ecology and Conservation


Traditional medicinal techniques in southern Africa are under-studied, but they continue to play an important role in many people’s lives. In addition to its anthropological value, traditional medicine also has the potential to lead to new treatments for diseases. This study proposed to document the plants and methods used by a traditional healer in the village of Goo-Tau, Tswapong Hills region, Central District, Botswana.

The study was conducted over a period of three weeks through a series of interviews. Samples were collected of selected plant species. Plants were identified both during and after the study through field guides and consultation with the Botswana National Herbarium.

The role of a traditional healer was found to be broad, addressing physical and spiritual symptoms as well as a few veterinary treatments. Seventy-six plant species and their uses were documented, and of these, fifty-three were tentatively identified by scientific name. Seventeen plants were used for various forms of pain relief, from headache to stomach pain, and the most common administration method was boiling a root and drinking the decoction. One plant found in villages near Goo-Tau, Hydnora johannis, had a documented range that only touched on the northern parts of Botswana, so its presence in the Tswapong Hills region is a significant extension of its range.

The study successfully recorded many traditional medicines and their preparations and began to record the beliefs and reasoning behind the uses. It was by no means comprehensive and does not claim to be representative of healing techniques for the region. The plants and treatments documented in this study should be further tested and screened for medicinal activity, and both survey and in-depth ethnographic studies are needed to adequately record the wealth of cultural, botanical, and medicinal knowledge held by traditional healers.


Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Anthropology


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