What's in a plant?

On 15 November 2011 staff from Nature Seychelles visited renowned herbalist Mr. Ferdinand Vidot at Val d’En D’Or. Mr Vidot, is a treasure trove of information on medicinal plants of Seychelles. He has in the past helped Nature Seychelles propagate knowledge of medicinal plants at the Heritage Garden at Roche Caiman, where a small area of the garden is dedicated to growing a number of local medicinal plants.

On this occasion we were seeking him out for information to help us update the medicinal section of the Grow and Eat Your Own Food book, which we published last year. The book is aimed at reviving the tradition of growing and eating locally beloved food, and includes a chapter on the use of local plants and herbs for medicinal purposes.

Mr. Vidot is quite famous and many people come to see him. When we arrived to talk to him, he was being interviewed by SBC Radio. This is one way, he told us, through which he shares his knowledge and ensures that it is preserved. Mr. Vidot began his career as a herbalist after recovering from a long illness that was cured by a plant found in his own garden. After this experience, he decided to help others with the power of plants.

Traditional medicines have been in use around the world for hundreds of years. Many modern-day medicines are plant based and hundreds of species of plants have been used by pharmaceutical companies for medicines.

In Seychelles too there is a long-lived tradition of using plants for various maladies. People knew which plant to pick for anything from a rash to a fever.

Herbalists keep extensive gardens of medicinal plants and Mr. Vidot’s home is filled with many different plants whose medicinal value he explained to us. A medley of locally available herbs, to be infused and used to wash, is a remedy for skin problems. Flowers from the yellow alder can be used to make a solution to wash the eyes; and the very common periwinkle is packed with medicinal goodness. It is in fact believed to have the potential to cure cancer - two chemicals in the periwinkle leaves, vinblastine and vincristine, have active anti-cancer agents used in chemotherapy.

Although very important, the knowledge that Mr. Vidot holds is in danger of being lost. Various local and international institutions such as are in the business of safeguarding this cultural heritage.

They encourage the transferring of this knowledge, skills and meaning through different means such as books, the media, and inter-generational communication. Mr. Vidot who is well-travelled, said he was keen to pass this knowledge to the next generation and that he would want to write a book about his experiences.

The Heritage Garden was started to help contribute to the safe-guarding of this knowledge. Through the garden, and the Grow and Eat Your Own Food book, we encourage people to grow useful local plants in their own spaces.

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