The invasive shrub, Prosopis juliflora, locally known as mathenge, may not be as toxic as previously thought, and has traits that can treat stomach and skin infections.
A study by scientists at Kenyatta University has discovered that mathenge is a suitable candidate for advanced medical research which could lead to new breakthroughs in treating bacterial and fungal infections in both humans and animals.
This discovery could herald a change in fortunes in counties where the plant grows. In Baringo County, mathenge is already being used to generate energy at a recently built factory in Marigat. “The shrub’s pods are nutritious to both humans and livestock,” argues researcher, Kenneth Sano. “In some parts of the country they have actually been used as food.”
The shrub was introduced in Kenya about three decades ago to stop desertification. But communities have blamed mathenge for the death of their livestock, with claims that it is poisonous. Sano said tests on bacterial and fungal samples taken from patients and from the environment indicate that treatment with mathenge doses is even better than some of the first line anti-microbial drugs available in the market.
The shrub’s toxic levels are above 1,000 miligrammes per kilogramme body weight, making it non-toxic to humans and animals, argues Sano.
According to universal guidelines, any substance that has toxicity above 1,000 milligrammes per kilogramme body weight can be used normally by animals or human beings. “But if the toxicity is below 1,000 miligrammes per kilogramme body weight it should always be checked before such a substance can be used by a human being or animals,” explains Sano.
In the study, scientists used rats in a limit test with doses of 2,000 miligrammes per kilogramme body weight.
Three of the five rats used survived, confirming that the substance is less toxic according to set universal guidelines, argues Sano.