Berberis species are medicinally important due to the presence of alkaloids with different pharmacological activities. There are about 500 species of Berberis worldwide and only two are present in Africa namely: Berberis vulgaris (also present in Europe) and Berberis holstii(the only African endemic). The present study investigated utilization practices of B. holstii,a plant on high demand in northern Malawi but restricted to Nyika National Park. During the study ‘focus group discussions, in-depth interviews and questionnaires’ were employed.Based on the results obtained, B. holstii was ranked as number 1 priority species and its demand extended beyond Nyika as far away as 580 km. During survey, 34 medicinal uses were documented. The most common uses were as infusion for coughs, malaria, stomachache, sexually transmitted infections and pneumonia. The major difficulty recorded was that mainly the roots of this plant are employed to cure different disease states. During plant collection, the whole plant is dug out leaving no chance of its growth again. The medicinal uses of leaves and stem bark of B. holstii are reported for the first time in the present communication. Given the variety of ailments that B. holstii is reputed to cure, pharmacological investigations would be required to verify these popular claims. Since use of roots has detrimental effects on the survival of the plant, it would be desirable to investigate if properties that exist in roots are also present in aerial parts.
Key words: Berberis holstii Engl. (Berberidaceae), ethnobotany, Nyika National Park, medicinal plants, ethno-medicine.
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