Researchers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have and continue to develop commercial products using indigenous plants, and have helped the holders of indigenous plant products, communities and traditional healers to produce these products at the same scale, safety and quality standards.
CSIR process technologists Lucia Sethunya and Trishen Reddy, during a media briefing on June 28, detailed the approach the team used to identify and develop the use of indigenous plants and plant-based remedies to full and safe commercial use.
The plants the team have worked with are endemic to the Southern African countries and most regions of South Africa; Aloe ferox (Cape aloe) was used to produce gels and cosmetic lotions, Hoodia gordonii was used to produce an appetite suppressant, Lippia javanica was used to produce a mosquito repellent, Siphonochilus aethiopicus (African ginger) and Sutherlandia frutescens (cancer bush) were produced as teas to be used in traditional medicine and to aid in treating colds and flus.
"In the case of Lippia javanica, traditional healers approached the CSIR to help them develop the plant for use as a mosquito repellent. The CSIR developed a technique to extract and enhance the compounds found in the plant on a commercial scale, and it is available on the market at the moment," said Reddy.
The team conducts literature reviews focused on the plant materials, compounds and traditional uses, as well as toxicity of the compounds. The team identified the genotype of the compound used for the mosquito repellent, he explained.
After extracting the compound from the plant, using custom-made CSIR processing technology, the team performed a chemical profile of the compound using gas chromatography, which confirmed it as a novel chemical compound. It was then registered in South Africa.
The team also subjects products to regulatory and safety tests and certifications to ensure they are safe to use.
Further, the team then helps local communities to sustainably farm and process these plants. The team invites the stakeholders to see what equipment is needed and how it must be used to ensure that the products are produced to the same quality and safety standards required. The team trains communities and stakeholders in the use of the equipment.
"This is part of the knowledge transfer we do. We also do detailed studies of the soils and growing conditions of the plants, most often informed by traditional healers and practitioners who know the plants, and advise stakeholders of these conditions when helping to develop local agroprocessing enterprises to ensure they are sustainable," said Reddy.
The team conducts its work in partnership and alongside other institutes and organisations, including food safety councils, universities and other science councils, as well as industry and safety organisations, said Sethunya.
"As a research council, the CSIR exists to create innovative technology that can add value to communities and the science world. We investigate the indigenous knowledge and create protocols and processes to produce products that are known to and interpreted by science," she said.
It was important for the CSIR to align its research agenda to the needs of consumers and the team has developed two cosmetic products that were already in the market, said CSIR technologist and cosmetic product developer Vivey Phasha.
The team made a jelly using Aloe castanea (Sekgopha or cat's tail aloe) that is used in skin remedies, which moisturises and protects the skin.
Additionally, the team used Moringa oleifera (tree of life) to develop a tissue oil that has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and is used to smoothen, soften and moisturise skin. The oil is available as a commercial product, she said.
"The tissue oil was developed in partnership with a private company that wanted to improve its product and ensure it meets regulatory requirements and is safe for use," she said.
The indigenous knowledge systems team at the CSIR agroprocessing group's aim is to work with indigenous people to acquire knowledge and to see how these plants can be processed to produce products.
This can then be implemented through a technology transfer in communities to assist with sustainable enterprise development and economic development, said Sethunya.