5 Incredible Plants and the Hidden Stories of Indigenous Flora Among Kenya’s Communities

By National Museums of Kenya

Fernandoa magnifica Seem. - Bignonaceae by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Step inside Kenya's spectacular natural heritage


Kenya’s natural vegetation types vary between ecosystems, some with extreme climatic conditions. On one end lie the arid and semi-arid ecosystems of the north-eastern regions of Kenya, while on the other lie the tropical and humid forests of the southern and coastal regions of Kenya.

Thespesia garckeana F.Hoffm.(Exell & Hillc.) - Malvaceae by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

The practical and symbolic applications of Kenya's indigenous flora


Irrespective of the location, Kenya’s communities have always adapted to the natural habitats around their settlements, and have found unique ways to use the plant life in their immediate surroundings to improve their quality of life. This exhibit shows some of the applications, both practical and symbolic, of indigenous flora among Kenya’s communities.

Warburgia ugandensis Spraque - Canellaceae by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

1: Warburgia ugandensis


The bark of this plant was used to treat stomachache, constipation, chest pain and coughs, fever, general body pain and weak joints. Today, most of these symptoms are associated with malaria. The roots were also used for treating diarrhoea, skin diseases and headache. However, the root induced vomiting.

Croton macrostachyus Hochst. - Euphorbiaceae by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

2: Croton macrostachys


The roots of this croton were used to clear warts and treat fever, chills, nausea and muscle pain – symptoms that are today associated with malaria.

Acacia drepanolobium by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

3: Acacia drepanolobium

The Acacia's bark was traditionally used for treating sore throats, while the roots were administered to women after birth to clean up the womb, as a diuretic and for gastrointestinal problems.

The fresh reddish galls at the base of the thorns are edible – they have a sweet flavor.

Aloe sp. by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

4: The aloe


The aloe is a genus of plants traditionally known to heal a variety of afflictions. These range from skin infection to internal ailments.

Aloe secundflora Engl. - Aloaceae by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

The ritual application of the aloe


Among the Kamba, the aloe was used to pronounce a curse upon someone. To do this, one would plant an aloe on the doorstep of the intended recipient. Once a curse had been pronounced this way, it could only be reversed through a cleansing ceremony where a sheep was slaughtered on the spot where the aloe had been planted. This was usually after amends had been made between the offended party and the recipient of the curse.

Vigna schimperi by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

5: Vigna schimperi


The Vigna Schimperi is closely related to the cowpea (Vigna unguiculata), also known as 'nthoroko' by the Kikuyu. The leaves and grain were traditionally cooked as food. The plant was also used as forage for cattle. However, the roots of the Vigna are known to contain toxins capable of causing human fatalities in minute quantities.

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curators:
Immelda Kithuka,
Archivist.
imuoti@museums.or.ke

Nicholas Muema,
Illustrator/ Design Artist.

Photography and Creative Direction:
Gibson Maina and Muturi Kanini.
Gibs Photography

Acknowledgements
The National Museums of Kenya would like to thank the following people for their contribution to this exhibit:

Exhibit Layout: Barnabas Ngei.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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