Dr Masimba Mavaza
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as “the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness”.
But some people believe traditional medicine is contrasted with scientific medicine.
In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic Zimbabwe and indeed Africa have been gripped strongly by what we call Patriotic Medical Fever. This is when the call to use locally made medicine has become a national pride.
Indeed, in most if not all local medicines there is indeed healing particles in them.
There is a general belief that Zumbani is our African wonder vaccine. Many people are using Zumbani as the all-out medicine to heal Zumbani. The word moves fast and Zumbani has become a national vaccine for COVID 19. Zimbabweans are very believing people anything can pass as long as it gets support on media. Not long ago Chihuta was a bird of wonder thousands of Zimbabwean believers lost thousands of dollars on these birds in search of the healing properties. Believed to be in these birds.
Now with this pandemic people have been made to believe that Zumbani can heals Covid-19. But what is Zumbani?
Common names: fever tea, lemon bush (English); koorsbossie, beukesbossie, lemoenbossie (Afrikaans); mutswane, umsutane (Swati); inzinziniba (Xhosa); umsuzwane, umswazi (Zulu); musukudu, bokhukhwane (Tswana)
Zumbani / umsuzwane as is locally known, is scientifically known as Lippia javanica (Burm. f) Spreng.
Lippia javanica is used for a wide variety of traditional uses. Based on literature, the most important traditional applications include its uses as herbal tea and ethnomedicinal applications for (in descending order of importance) colds, cough, fever or malaria, wounds, repelling mosquitos, diarrhoea, chest pains, bronchitis, and asthma.
Zumbani as it is known in Zimbabwe has multiple uses. It is taken again in treating Respiratory Problems; Gastrointestinal Diseases; Fever, Malaria, and Insect Repellent; Wounds, Injuries, Pain, and Skin Infections; Ethnoveterinary Uses; and Other Uses.
Lippia javanica (Zumbani) occurs naturally in central, eastern, and southern Africa and has also been recorded in the tropical Indian subcontinent. The potential of Zumbani as herbal or recreational tea and herbal medicine and its associated phytochemistry and biological properties are reviewed. The extensive literature survey revealed that Zumbani is used as herbal tea and has ethnomedicinal applications such as in colds, cough, fever, malaria, wounds, diarrhoea, chest pains, bronchitis, and asthma.
Multiple classes of phytochemicals including volatile and nonvolatile secondary metabolites such as alkaloids, amino acids, flavonoids, iridoids, and triterpenes as well as several minerals have been identified from L. javanica (Zumbani)Scientific studies on L. javanica indicate that it has a wide range of pharmacological activities which include anticancer, antiamoebic, antidiabetic, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiplasmodial, and pesticidal effects. Although many of the traditional uses of L. javanica have been validated by phytochemical and pharmacological studies, there are still some gaps where current knowledge could be improved. Lippia javanica is popular as both herbal and recreational tea, but there is need for more precise studies to evaluate the safety and clinical value of its main active crude and pure compounds and to clarify their mechanisms of action.
The danger Zimbabwe is getting into now is to let the money mongers make a huge profit from Zumbani by overeating its usefulness against Covid-19. Zumbani can heal effectively some Covid-19 symptoms but cannot be used as full and final treatment of COVID 19.
Lippia javanica (Burm.f.) Spreng. (Verbenaceae) (Zumbani)has a long history of traditional uses in tropical Africa as indigenous herbal tea or tisane refreshing beverage, or food additive based on its perceived health and medicinal properties. Lippia javanica (Zumbani)is rich in volatile oil, particularly caryophyllene, carvone, ipsenone, ipsdienone, limonene, linalool, myrcene, myrcenone, ocimenone, p-cymene, piperitenone, sabinene, and tagetenone Research by Viljoen revealed that the essential oil profiles of L. javanica are characterized by inter- and intraspecies variations because they are produced by different metabolic pathways. Using cluster analysis, Viljoen
identified five chemotypes of L. javanica in South Africa and Swaziland, myrcenone-rich type (36–62%), carvone-rich type (61–73%), piperitenone-rich type (32–48%), ipsdienone-rich type (42–61%), and linalool-rich type (>65%). The relative proportion of the chemical constituents of L. javanica essential oil is important as this determines the biological properties of the species chemotypes.
So before we take this as COVID 19 as the wonder vaccine let us understand what exactly is this COVID 2019. It is a new infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that belongs to the coronavirus family. The first case was reported in December 2019, and the disease has become a pandemic. Impaired immune regulation is one of the factors that play a role in its pathogenesis and results in poor outcomes of Covid-19 patients. There have been many studies with drug candidates used as antivirals or immunomodulators.
However, the results of these investigations showed that the drug candidates were not significantly effective against the disease. Meanwhile, people believe that consuming herbal immunomodulators can prevent or even cure Covid-19. Unfortunately, specific preclinical and clinical trials to evaluate the effects of herbal immunoregulators have not been conducted. Certain natural compounds might be effective for the treatment of Covid-19 based on general concepts from previous experiments. For the avid herb gardener with an interest in medicinal plants Lippia javanica with its dense creamy white, flower heads and aroma is a good candidate.
This Zumbani flower is one to two metres high woody shrub stands erect and is multi-stemmed. The stems have a square appearance when looked at in cross-section. The leaves are hairy with noticeable veins and when crushed gives off a strong lemon-like smell. It is said to be one of the most aromatic of Zimbabwe’s indigenous shrubs.
The small cream flowers can be found on the shrub from summer to autumn in some areas and in others are produced all year. These flowers are arranged in dense, rounded flower heads. The fruit are rather inconspicuous, small and dry.
It grows in open veld, in the bush, as well as on forest margins. Derivation of name and historical aspects The family Verbenaceae is a family of herbs and shrubs or small trees often with aromatic leaves. There are 36 general and approximately 1035 species in tropical and subtropical regions, with just a few representatives in temperate areas. There are 8 general and approximately 40 species in Southern Africa. There are 6 indigenous species of Lippia in South Africa.
Lippia was named after Augustin Lippi 1678- 1701, an Italian traveller and natural historian who was killed in Abysinnia. This plant also occurs in Java, hence the epiphet javanica, meaning ‘from Java’.
It is possible that its aromatic leaves protect this plant as animals do not usually browse it, except in exceptional circumstances.
This plant is well known medicinally to many African people and to many avid herbalists and herb gardeners.
Different parts (the leaves, twigs and occasionally the roots) of the plant are used for different reasons. The Xhosa people are known to drink it in a weak infusion as a tea substitute and in a stronger infusion for the treatment of coughs, colds and bronchial problems in general. They use the leaves and stem and drink it with milk or water. In addition the Xhosa people also use Lippia javanica for the disinfection of meat that has been infected with anthryax.
This herb is also said to be affective against fever, especially in cases of malaria, influenza, measles, and as a prophylactic against lung infections. In these cases Lippia javanica is often mixed with another herb Artemisia afra.
The smoke from the herb has proven to be affective, if inhaled, against asthma, chronic coughs and pleurisy. The leaves and stems are burned.
Skin disorders, such as heat rash and other rashes, as well as scratches, stings and bites can also be treated. Here the tea is usually cooled and then applied like a lotion. Even lice and scabies can be treated with it.
Apart from its medicinal uses Lippia javanica is also used ritually in a cleansing ceremony when someone has been in contact with a corpse and apparently for protection against dogs, crocodiles and lightning. The Masai make a red ointment from it, which is used to decorate their bodies.
For those gardeners who are pot-pourri lovers and are looking for a good cupboard freshener, then Lemon bush is the perfect addition to your bouquet. Some people even use it to make perfume.
There may be a commercial purpose for a volatile oil that is produced by Lippia javanica. Apparently it repels and controls Bark Beetles from the genus Ips who can become a plant pest.
We should remember that Current recommendations for the self-management of SARS-Cov-2 disease (Covid-19) include self-isolation, rest, hydration, and the use of NSAID in case of high fever only. It is expected that many patients will add other symptomatic/adjuvant treatments, such as herbal medicines like ZUMBANI.
A novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) outbreak causes viral pneumonia that is extremely infectious and pathogenic. The Chinese government proposes that both Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Western medicine can be used in combination to treat pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV2, and TCM effectively provides continuous prevention and treatment.
On April 14, 2020, a Chinese official announced at a press conference that indications of three patent herbal drugs were approved to be expanded to include COVID-19 symptoms.
The official claimed the patent herbal drugs can effectively relieve symptoms, such as fever, cough, and fatigue, and reduce the probability of patients developing severe conditions, but without giving further details.
So far, no high-quality, rigorously peer-reviewed clinical trials of herbal drugs such as Zumbani have been reported in internationally recognised journals.
The approvals, of Zumbani in Zimbabwe is not official but it is based on cultural and traditional approval not in-vitro investigations and anecdotal clinical data. This leads to several worrisome consequences.
The best interest of general Zimbabwean population must be considered. Those promoting Zumbani must have safety as the top priority.
Advocates argue that herbal drugs are widely used and safe, but the truth is that all drugs carry risks.
Without proper scientific testing ZUMBANI can be a danger to society. Although these patent herbal drugs have been used clinically for several years, when we apply them to a novel disease like COVID-19, especially in combination with other antivirals, antibiotics, and immune suppressants, the safety should be cautiously evaluated.
Again more evidence is required through controlled clinical trials to support the efficacy of these herbal drugs. Many traditional medicine practitioners believe that herbal remedies cannot be tested because they are tailored to each individual’s syndromes. This argument is simply not convincing.
Because the patent herbal drugs are produced in advance of any treatment and their composition is fixed, clinical endpoints including mortality, time to clinical improvement, and number of days in an intensive care unit can be used to evaluate the efficacy of the herbal drugs for Covid-19.
Standardised trials might have methodological challenges, consuming time and effort, but that should not be the reason for lowering safety and efficacy standards. Thousands of years of usage and faith cannot be taken as evidence for efficacy of traditional herbs.
Third, the basic molecular mechanism is obscure. Zumbani has been shown to have wide-spectrum antiviral effects and anti-inflammatory activities, but the active ingredients and the underlying mechanism of action are unknown. Herbal drugs usually contain many active ingredients, and it is important to better understand which ingredients are functional, and how they work. Historical use of Zumbani cannot guarantee safety and efficacy.
Finally, the public can easily purchase herbal drugs without a doctor’s prescription. Driven by the claim that Zumbani can effectively treat Covid-19, some patients with flu symptoms who fear quarantine measures are likely to self-medicate with Zumbani and avoid going to hospital, thus delaying the proper diagnosis and treatment of the disease, and hampering the government’s testing, tracing, and quarantining efforts.
In the midst of this savage pandemic rumours started circulating on social media suggested that a Zumbani , is used routinely in traditional medicine to treat influenza and the common cold, helps ward off or even cure Covid-19. Millions of people nationwide crowded into BUSHES and places where herbal drugs are sold to buy the Zumbani as a just-in-case remedy.
The current COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for the Zimbabwean Government and the general public. Doctors and researchers are desperately seeking a proven cure for it. When the conventional drugs are not as effective as expected, screening potential active components from traditional herbal medicine is a viable strategy that should not be dismissed.
Our ministry of health must give more attention to testing traditional herbal medicine for the treatment of Covid-19. We must be cautious to avoid rushed judgements. A rushed judgment without sufficient scientific evidence should be cautioned against. Those promoting Zumbani giving people false hope must be discouraged.
Given the formidable morbidity and mortality of Covid-19, it is understandable to see emergency use of unproven drugs, but the approval of a new indication for herbal drugs should still build on evidence.
This Covid-19 must prompt our Government to invest huge sums of money to promote the modernisation and standardisation of traditional medicine, carrying out sustainable basic and clinical research to get international recognition, but the rushed approval seems to be a backward step. The attempt to develop rigorously tested drugs from traditional herbal medicine should not be given up. It is the only way to protect our vulnerable patients.
The ministry of Health must provide a benefits/risks assessment of selected herbal medicines traditionally indicated for “respiratory diseases” within the current frame of the Covid-19 pandemic as an adjuvant treatment.
Zumbani is indeed a wonder plant as it is popularly known for several beneficial nutritional and medicinal components which make the plant both food and medicine.
“Plants that are both nutritional and medicinal are called nutraceuticals. Thus, zumbani may qualify as both a recreational and a medicinal caffeine free tea.”
zumbani is a good source of phenolic compounds which act as antioxidants when consumed.
The types of antioxidants which are found in zumbani are very useful in mopping out toxic chemicals (radicals) which naturally accumulate in the body when it is stressed out by a fever, disease, overthinking or even intense physical exercise.
It has been proved scientifically in the laboratory that zumbani has higher antioxidant potential than the popular commercial brand Rooibos™️ which is on the shelves.
There are multiple classes of phytochemicals found in zumbani which include flavonoids, alkaloids, iridoids and essential oils which contribute to its medicinal properties.
“Scientific reviews carried out so far indicate that the plant has a wide range of pharmacological activities, which include antioxidant, antidiabetic, antimalarial, antiplasmodial and pesticidal effects. “
Zumbani has nutritional properties such as amino acids and minerals such as zinc.
Dr Bhebhe has described Zumbani “as fever tea because it has been effectively used as an ethnomedicinal cure for fevers and chest related ailments such as sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, sinuses, pneumonia and asthma. Zimbabweans in most cases use zumbani either as dried or fresh leaves brewed into an herbal tea / tisane and drunk as is or in some cases with sugar or honey to taste. It is more beneficial to drink without milk as the milk proteins and fats may mask some of the health beneficial phytochemicals. “
There are also some volatile medicinal phytochemicals found in the plant which explains why it is has also been effectively used for steaming to clear out nasal passages.
In communal areas where it grows abundantly, it is also commonly used as a mosquito repellent and for treating skin infections because of its antimicrobial properties.
In some parts of Zimbabwe, the leaf ointment is rubbed on the chest and abdomen as remedy for pneumonia.
So far no comprehensive clinical study has been published to confirm zumbani as a solution to the raging corona virus pandemic.
Most Zimbabweans who are using it have latched their hopes on the plant because of its effective respiratory healing properties which have stood the test of time in ethno medicine.
Dr Bhebhe warned: “It would however be prudent for Zimbabwean scientists to conduct clinical studies to vindicate circulating claims about the plant’s potential to treat or reduce the onset of corona virus disease 2019.
“While there is still a need to unravel more magical properties of the plant, medical scientists and agronomists must form collaborative linkages with both local and international partners in order to grow a viable nutraceuticals industry in the country.” Dr Michael Bhebhe is a Zimbabwean Scientist and researcher.
Due to the emergence of the propagation of the disease, our health system and worldwide Health Systems have become overloaded, even having sufficient diagnostic capacity and hospital facilities to handle such an outbreak. In the most vulnerable regions, the Covid-19 epidemic effectively paralyzes health systems at the expense of primary health care Some measures, such as lock-down of communities, social distancing, and quarantine-type for those suspected to be infected can, at least in part, slow the Covid-19 spread.
However, these measures are palliative, and people tend to ignore them after a few days of isolation, mainly those in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.
Importantly, at this stage, we must start to build up an evidence-base for the best strategy to treat, mitigate, and prevent the diseases. Currently, none of the approaches used is evidence-based.
In the worldwide search for a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, news about “alternative remedies against Covid-19” have been disseminated the evidence-base for such treatments is often limited if not non-existent. However, often strong, unsubstantiated claims are made about the pros and cons of herbal medicines, which will also result both in false hopes or strong fears of those at risk or ill with Covid-19.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Based on the situation on the ground we must conclude that zumbani might have the capabilities to regulate the production and release of proinflammatory cytokines, interfere with the development of the virus in host cells, and modify certain molecular pathways related to the RAA system. Herbal agents might be useful as treatments to fight Covid-19. Finally, a suggestion for the patients is that it is still not recommended to use Zumbani to prevent Covid-19 or to heal the disease without the specific advice or under the direct supervision of a clinician.
A suggestion for the clinician is that administration of these herbal medicines must be given carefully to patients, even if they are healthy. This is because various inconsistent data have been reported about these agents.
Thus, there is a possibility that these treatments might be associated with the induction of harmful effects. In addition, preclinical and clinical trial evaluations of these herbal agents for Covid-19 have not specifically been conducted, so further investigations related to this are warranted.
For a Zumbani to be recommended as adjuvant therapy for respiratory diseases in the context of Covid-19, it must be determined that the treatment is effective and that its expected benefits outweigh its potential risks to patients. This assessment must also be informed by a number of other factors, including the severity of the underlying condition and how well patients’ medical needs are addressed by currently available therapies.
The decision must reflect current applicable laws, regulations, and healthcare recommendations, taking into consideration the uncertainty associated with Covid-19.
We must always remember that infectious diseases are the demons with which human beings have been fighting since the beginning of human history. Several epidemics have occurred in the history of Zimbabwe and the world.
But, fortunately, no large numbers of casualties have occurred, due to the prevalence of traditional medicine.
We must remember that zumbani is used as a good luck charm, to treat persons experiencing bad dreams, to ward off evil spirits, to protect one from lightening, and to protect the home. In Zimbabwe, zumbani L javanica leaves are prepared as an infusion to treat persons experiencing nightmares.
In both South Africa and Zimbabwe, evil spirits are cleansed by washing the body of an affected person by leaf infusion of Zumbani L. javanica. In Swaziland, 50g leaves of L. javanica and C. molle are ground into a powder and 5 litres of water is added and face and hands are washed to remove bad luck when exposed to a corpse.
In South Africa, the whole plant is placed on a patient’s bed after the circumcision ceremony to prevent odours and freshen surrounding air.
A mixture of Zumbani L. javanica leaves and roots is used to clean tools and hands before and after funerals, the stems and leaves are used as brooms to sweep grave sites, and the entire plant is also used when coming from the mortuary to remove bad spirits.
The corpse is washed with Zumbani L. javanica infusion after death to prevent odours forming or if the corpse has an odour, women place pieces of Zumbani L. javanica in the nostrils of the corpse and sweep the room with twigs where the person was sleeping.
In KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, if the meat started to smell it will be boiled with Zumbani L. javanica leaves to take away the smell.
The Xhosa people in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa, use Zumbani L. javanica leaves for the disinfection of meat that has been infected with anthrax. In KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, leaves are sprinkled in toilets to prevent odours Leaves of Zumbani L. javanica are sprinkled in houses for pleasant smell in the Limpopo province, South Africa and Kenya.
In KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, it is believed that a person can repel snakes by placing a small stem with leaves on his or her head.
In Malawi, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, people showing sign of mental disorder, madness, or hysterical outbursts are required to wash their bodies with leaf infusions.
With all these extra use zumbani becomes a wonder plant. However, it needs to be interrogated further in the laboratory to check for the side effects.
It must be made clear that zumbani alone is not the final cure of Covid-19 even though it has properties which can treat some of the symptoms of the Covid-19. Despite having zumbani you must follow the rules to prevent the virus from infecting you. Mask up and sanitise.