Time to harness potential in traditional medicine

WHO would ever thought zumbani/umsuzwane (lippia javanica) would dominate discussions on home remedies for the coronavirus in the world of developed pharmaceutical industries?

This might look like an isolated incident, but it is not.

A few years ago, there was a rush across the country for quail birds, which were touted to have properties to treat a wide range of illnesses.

What started as an informal economic activity ended up in the formal sector, with some established retail chains selling quail birds and eggs for easier access to consumers.

Going back even almost two decades ago, Zimbabweans were introduced to the benefits of consuming moringa, blackjack and wild plants as immune boosters especially for those living with HIV/AIDS.

These events are not only unique to Zimbabwe as, across the world, consumer patterns are shifting towards traditional medicine and herbs — which in most cases are known to have less side effects than purified drugs.

The International Trade Centre (ITC) says that the changing consumers’ preference for natural health products has presented a niche that exporters in many least developed countries are looking to develop for sustainable production and export trade.

Traditional health care practitioners, traditional healers and consumption at the household level are all factors that have contributed to the demand for traditional medicinal plants and herbs.

Apart from household level use, ITC says that “there is a clear industrial demand for medicinal and aromatic plants, thanks to the increased production of herbal health care formulations; herbal based cosmetic products and herbal nutritional supplements.”

There is therefore an emerging market for traditional medicine and herbs in regional and international markets that could offer opportunities for Zimbabwean businesses and rural communities.

As the international market for traditional herbs and medicine is still small — although with potential to grow — there is no better time than now for local businesses and communities to identify ways they could export traditional medicine and herbs and secure markets, which could be soon saturated by suppliers from the rest of the continent.

As most of the traditional medicines grow in the wild, the cost of producing related export products is lower, which makes it easy even for rural communities, women, and youths to take part in economic activities that will earn them foreign currency.

There is also a need to establish strong synergies between businesses and communities that will create upstream and downstream economic activities around exporting traditional medicine and herbs.

Currently, ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation is running programmes to capacitate women and youths so that they produce competitive products from traditional medicine and herbs.

The interventions are focusing on issues such as value-addition, packaging, branding, and marketing, which will improve the competitiveness of local products in international markets.

As conversations around this subject grow, it is perhaps important to understand some of the products with export potential for local businesses and exporters.


Whilst the focus around the world is now on vaccines as the reliable response to the pandemic, there is already a market for zumbani/umsuzwane that will not “die with the times”.

This is because the plant has been used to treat an array of ailments for a long time, which will continue solicitating demand for the product.

According to an article by Dr. Masimba Mavaza published in The Herald recently, the most important traditional applications of zumbani/umsuzwane include its uses as herbal tea and ethnomedicinal applications for colds, cough, fever or malaria, wounds, repelling mosquitoes, diarrhoea, chest pains, bronchitis, asthma, and skin infections.

The number of applications of the product alone confirms a sustainable demand for the product around the world, which local exporters and communities can tap into.

Already, zumbani/umsuzwane grows naturally in abundance across the country — usually in forest, hillside grassland or stream banks and does not require specialised equipment to harvest and handle.

The low cost in the production of the product means this is a viable business that does not require heavy investments for those seeking to export zumbani/umsuzwane and could provide lucrative revenue streams.

There is potential to earn more revenue on value-added zumbani/umsuzwane such as crushed tea leaves and oil

Coming up with competitive packaging options will also increase the price on the exported zumbani/umsuzwane products.

What is also important to note is that the harvesting and post-harvest processes consider the environment as some concerns have been raised over those who destroy forests instead of picking leaves only.


Moringa oleifera is a drought-resistant plant/tree, that is widely grown across the country.

Many parts of the Moringa tree are edible, from the immature seed pods, leaves, mature seeds, oil pressed from seeds, flowers and roots.

The plant’s dried leaves have increasingly become popular as a food supplement due to its wide-ranging health benefits. Moringa is known to contain high levels of antioxidant chemicals, with the leaves being the most nutritious part of the plant being rich in Vitamins B, C, K, manganese, and protein.

Moringa is generally marketed on the premise that the plant increases energy levels, improves immune health and supports weight management amongst other benefits.

Because of the plants’ health benefits, demand for Moringa has increased in the European market, largely Germany, United Kingdom, Austria, and The Netherlands.

According to Netherlands-based Centre for Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI), “there is high demand for high-quality nutritional supplements, providing an opportunity for moringa suppliers in developing countries.”

Although the share of African moringa is still low in the European market, the growing market for nutritional supplements in Europe — projected to reach US$20.9 billion by 2026 — creates opportunities for Zimbabwean producers to export moringa.


Tsine/Blackjack grows naturally in abundance across Zimbabwe, often looked at as a weed.

In Zimbabwe, the plant is consumed as a vegetable or tea and is reportedly an antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, and anti-cancer herb.

Currently, the demand for Zimbabwe’s blackjack is driven by the nation’s diaspora, who could help in internationalisation of the product.

There are opportunities to export dried blackjack to Europe, United Kingdom, and the Americas.

Like most natural herbs, the investment required for production of export ready blackjack is small, which offers export opportunities for small businesses and local communities.

Exporting herbs to Europe

The regulations governing trade of natural products and herbs in Europe is strict, hence potential suppliers need to ensure they meet regulations and buyer requirements to access the market.

For natural ingredients used in herbal products, local exporters must comply with the rules governing medicinal products in the European Union.

If the herbs are used in food supplements, they must be compliant with EU food supplement legislation and the European General Food Law.

For natural herbs used in cosmetics, exporters need to comply with the Cosmetic Regulation (EC 1223/2009), which is the main regulatory framework for cosmetics products on the European market.

The regulation affects manufacturers and importers of cosmetics products as well as suppliers of cosmetics ingredients.

For those seeking to export herbs as the final product, they need to comply with the European General Food Law.

They also need to ensure that if all exported products are food, they must be traceable throughout the entire supply chain.

To achieve this, all food business operators need to implement the Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) system in their daily operations.

There are further rules and regulations that govern handling, packaging and transportation of natural medicine and herbs to Europe.

Local producers seeking to export the products to Europe, or any other market can obtain market pointers and other reliable information from ZimTrade.

Allan Majuru is the CEO of ZimTrade. This article was first published on February 21, 2021 and has been republished due to demand.



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