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Acanth Fact of the Day

One of the major morphological characteristics found in many (but not all) acanths are the "explosively dehiscent capsule" method of seed dispersal.
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The Nandi people of Kenya

Summary provided from “An ethnobotanical study of medicinal plants used by the Nandi people in Kenya” by Pascaline Jeruto, Catherine Lukhoba, George Ouma, Dennis Otieno and Charles Mutai

The Nandi people are one of 42 tribes located within Kenya who inhabit the districts of Aldai and Kaptumo. They utilize subsistence agriculture and the production of livestock for survival and also participate in some forms of commercial agriculture (mostly tea farming) to supplement their income. Their way of life is in threat of decline due to encroachment of industrial activities such as: logging, commercial agriculture as well as urban expansion. However, some encouraging signs of preserving traditional culture have been demonstrated, as the use of traditional medicine is now being promoted by the Kenyan ministry of health and culture. In this study, 63 individuals (40 women and 23 men) from the Nandi tribe who specialize in traditional medicines were interviewed about the plants they use for medicinal purposes. Some common conditions which are treated for using native plants are: malaria, schistosomiasis, respiratory diseases and diarrhea. In the Nandi community, 40 species of plants comprised of 17 different families were documented; of the 40 species, 25% belonged to the acantheaceae.

Table 1.  A list of ten acanthaceae species described by local healers as effective medicines.

Common Name

Scientific Name 


Conditions For Use 


Asystasia schimperi

Liquid Mixture/Ingested 

Respiratory problems, skin disorders

Chemurguiwetab suswek

Dyschoriste radicans

Liquid Mixture/Ingested & topical

Skin disorders, lacerations, eye infections

Chemurguiwetab tegeltet

Acanthus eminens 

Liquid Mixture/Ingested & topical

Skin disorders, lacerations, eye infections


Dyschoriste thumbergiiflora

Liquid Mixture/Ingested & topical

Skin disorders, lacerations, eye infections


Lepidagathis scariosa 

Liquid Mixture/Ingested

Anti-diarrhea, lacerations, swelling, livestock medication, pneumonia


Barleria grandicalyx


Snake bites


Thunbergia alata 

Liquid Mixture/Ingested & topical

Respiratory problems, fetal position while in womb, back pains 


Justicia betonica 

Ashes w/ liquid mixture/Ingested

Respiratory problems, anti-diarrhea, orchitis 


Acanthus pubescens 

Ashes w/ liquid mixture/Ingested

Dry cough, pneumonia, asthma, cancer, tonsillitis, flu 


Justicia flava

Ashes w/ liquid mixture/Ingested

Witch craft, magic imbuing, ulcers, pneumonia

  Here, a listing is shown of the acanthaceae used medically by the Nandi people.  The exact preparation used to prepare each plant for medical purposes varies greatly across healers, though the aliments they treat are consistent.  The leaves of the plants are used predominantly, with less common structures being: flowers, roots, bark, sap, seeds or bulbs.  The leaves or flowers were used exclusively when preparing the medication from acanthaceae species. Most treatments are applied once or twice per day, although this also varies according to respondent. The exact dosage used along with the efficacy of each medical concoction warrant further investigation. 

It is estimated that up to 70% of rural populations in third world countries such as the Nandi use traditional medicine; with over 400 species of plants used medicinally throughout East African tribes, local healers comprise a major component of the treatment of common diseases.  Though many treatments may provide only a placebo to their patients, the availability of medication is high. If the treatments used in native tribes could be proven at least somewhat effective, it would behoove local governments to encourage the domestication of plants used as remedies to disease to shift pressure off of local ecosystems.  

Jeruto, Pascaline et al. "An ethnobotanical study of the medicinal plants used by the Nandi people in Kenya". Journal of Ethno-pharmacology.  116. 1. (2008). 370-376.