The evaluation of ethnoveterinary medicines for treating gastrointestinal nematodes in working equids

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Date presented: 
Wednesday 2 July 2014

Introduction: Herbal medicines have been used in human and animal medicine for centuries to treat parasitic diseases; few examples have been investigated for genuine anti-parasitic activity. In developing countries access to effective anthelmintic treatment for livestock is often limited by cost, availability and variable quality. Reports of resistance to benzimadazoles in ruminants in Ethiopia serve as a warning that anthelmintic resistance may also be an emerging problem [1,2]. In light of these issues there is increasing interest in plant remedies as alternatives to synthetic anthelmintics. This study used a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) to identify plants with potential anthelmintic activity in the Oromia region of Ethiopia; five plant extracts were shortlisted and tested for efficacy against cyathostomins using in vitro assays. Current attitudes to ethnoveterinary medicine were discussed.

Methods: Focus group discussions with 29 groups of donkey owners from the Oromia region of Ethiopia explored the use of plants to treat GI parasites in livestock. Current attitudes to herbal medicines were discussed and recorded using thematic analysis. Plants of interest were collected and identified at the National Herbarium, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Plants were shortlisted for in vitro tests based on four criteria; ranking in the PRA, supportive literature, no evidence of toxicity and availability. Hydro-alcoholic extraction of dried plant material from shortlisted species was performed. The efficacy of extracts was evaluated in the egg hatch assay (EHA) using cyathostomin eggs recovered from the faeces of donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary, UK. Dose response curves were produced and ED-50 values calculated using probit analysis.

Results: The focus groups identified 21 plants used as anthelmintics in livestock. A general move away from traditional medicines in the younger generation was observed, although when asked if they would use plants in future many would consider this if they had been tested scientifically and were approved by professionals. The five plants shortlisted for in vitro analysis were Acacia nilotica, Cucumis prophetarum, Rumex abysinnicus, Vernonia amygdalinia and Withania somnifera. Three showed efficacy in the EHA; Acacia nilotica, Cucumis prophetarum and Rumex abysinnicus , with EC-50 values of 0.7, 1.1 and 1.3mg/ml respectively.

Conclusion: Three out of five of the plants identified in the PRA showed efficacy in vitro suggesting that plant remedies used by livestock owners in the Oromia region of Ethiopia may contain compounds with genuine anthelmintic activity. Evaluation of current attitudes suggests that plant remedies are not used unless there is no other option, but that they would be considered should scientific evidence of efficacy and safety be presented to them by animal health professionals [3]. It is therefore essential that a randomised controlled trial is used to verify whether in vitro anthelmintic activity can be translated in vivo and thus whether the plants identified in this study have potential as safe alternatives to synthetic anthelmintic drugs. This study has highlighted that local practices pertaining to the health of working equids are a rich source of information that may help to inform sustainable and effective treatment strategies in future.

Online references

Participatory study of medicinal plants used in the control of gastrointestinal parasites in donkeys in Eastern Shewa and Arsi zones of Oromia region, Ethiopia


Claire Scantlebury, Laura Peachey, Jane Hodgkinson, Jacqui. B. Matthews, Andrew F. Trawford, Mulugeta Getachew, Gebre Tefera, Gina L. Pinchbeck. September 2013. Participatory study of medicinal plants used in the control of gastrointestinal parasites in donkeys in Eastern Shewa and Arsi zones of Oromia region, Ethiopia. BMC Veterinary Research. 9:179. 1-12.

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Publication date: 
1 September 2013
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Gastrointestinal nematode infections constitute a threat to the health and welfare of donkeys worldwide. Their primary means of control is via anthelmintic treatments; however, use of these drugs has constraints in developing countries, including cost, limited availability, access to cheaper generic forms of variable quality and potential anthelmintic resistance. As an alternative, bioactive plants have been proposed as an option to treat and control gastrointestinal helminths in donkeys. This study aimed to use participatory methodology to explore donkey owner knowledge, attitudes and beliefs relating to the use of plant-based treatments for gastrointestinal parasites of donkeys in Ethiopia.


In focus groups, 22/29 groups stated they knew of plants used for the treatment of gastrointestinal parasites in donkeys. All groups volunteered plants that were used in cattle and/or small ruminants. In total, 21 plants were named by participants. ‘Koso’ (Hagenia abyssinica) ‘Grawa’ (Vernonia amygdalina) and a mixed roots and leaves preparation were the most frequently named plant preparations. ‘Enkoko’ (Embelia shimperi) and ‘a mixture of roots and leaves’ were ranked highly for effectiveness in donkeys. However, ‘Grawa’ and ‘Koso’ were the highest ranked when taking into account both the rank position and the number of groups ranking the plant.

Thematic analysis of participants’ current attitudes and beliefs surrounding traditional plant-based remedies for gastrointestinal parasites revealed that anthelmintics obtained from clinics were generally favoured due to their ease of administration and perceived higher effectiveness. There was doubt surrounding the effectiveness of some plant-based treatments, but there were also perceived advantages including their low cost, ease of cultivation and availability. However, plant-based treatments were considered a “past trend” and people favoured “modern” medicine, particularly among the younger generation.


There was extensive knowledge of plant-based treatments for gastrointestinal parasites in livestock in Ethiopia. In donkeys, Koso (Hagenia abyssinica), Grawa (Vernonia amygdalina), Enkoko (Embelia shimperi) and ‘mixed roots and leaves’ were the most frequently named and/or highest ranked plants with reported efficacy against gastrointestinal parasites. Further in vitro and in vivo investigation of these plants is now required to determine viable alternatives for the treatment and control of gastrointestinal parasites in Ethiopia.

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