Plants used traditionally in Ghana to heal wounds have proven beneficial compounds, said a research team from the UK and Ghana last week.
The researchers, investigating the properties of some plants used by the Ashantis, one of the largest ethnic groups in Ghana, have identified two plants with considerable antibacterial and antioxidant activity, they reported at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Harrogate.
A literature search and interviews with traditional healers showed that the stembark of Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) and the shoot of Secamone afzelii are commonly used as wound healing agents, being applied as a paste to the wound.
To assess whether there was scientific justification for these treatments, the researchers tested the plant extracts onprotection against infection and protection against tissue damage caused by oxygen free radicals, two actions key to the wound healing process.
Dr Abraham Mensah, from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, said that extracts from the two plants were tested against four bacterial species and the yeast Candidaalbicans. Both showed considerable activity against C albicans. Spathodea campanulata also showed a wide spectrum of antibacterial activity.
In addition, both extracts showed antioxidant activity in chromatographic tests.
Further examination showed that the major compound in Secamone afzelii was vitamin E, a natural chemical with established antioxidant properties. The activecompounds in Spathodea campanulata are currently being analysed.
Professor Peter Houghton, from the King's College research team, said: "Medicinal plants complement more orthodox medicines and it has to be accepted that there is little alternative for many people in countries like Ghana. We are aiming to identify those plants that have a scientific rationale for their reputation, and this should help local people to know which plants to recommend."
The research was funded by a Tropical Development Research Grant from the Wellcome Trust.