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Of Plants and People: From the Past to the Present

January 20, 2021


South Africa is world renowned for its biodiversity and many have recognized that its botanical wealth presents with unique opportunities for conservation and commercialization which can drive economic development. It is a country with many varied indigenous knowledge systems. Having developed within a hyper-diverse floral region, the various practices for utilization of medicinal plants have led to a wide range of ethnic pharmacopeias which are uniquely South African in character. There is certainly enormous scope for this indigenous knowledge combined with the many medicinal plants to contribute both to human health at both locally and at the global level.

Through a historical account, this talk will relate how the different cultural practices of the exploitation of plants for health likely arose in southern Africa. Thereafter, by using various examples of indigenous and endemic plant species, Dr. Makunga will explore how biotechnologies are integral to our better understanding of these plants and their unique phytochemistry. Finally, the ways in which such approaches can add a new value to traditional plant knowledge and its custodians will be discussed.

Teacher’s Resources

This lecture comes with a complete lesson plan and accompanying Google Slide deck for you to customize for your class. To make an editable copy of the Google Slides deck for your classroom, click the link and select File > Make a copy.

Learn more about the teacher resources here

Nokwanda P. Makunga

Nokwanda P. Makunga

PhD. Associate Professor at Stellenbosch University, Department of Botany and Zoology

Dr. Makunga’s research in the field of medicinal plant biology focuses plants of South Africa, using an interdisciplinary approach that combines medicinal chemistry approaches investigating the genetics and molecular biology of secondary metabolites, with ethnobotanical studies investigating local plant knowledge and practices, with a goal to better understand potential medicinal value of South African native plants. Dr. Makunga’s research investigates some well-known horticultural species such as pomegranate but is also actively uncovering the wealth of traditional uses for South African plant species. Her work documenting traditional uses combined with laboratory and clinical assessments of the active compounds and their effects has been foundational in bringing African medicinal floral to the forefront of medicinal chemistry. Dr Makunga was a Fulbright Research Scholar (2017/2018) at the University of Minnesota.

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