The trade in African medicinal plants in Matoge-lxelles, Brussels (Belgium)

Tinde van Andel, Marie Cakupewa C. Fundiko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Maintaining cultural identity and preference to treat cultural bound ailments with herbal medicine are motivations for migrants to continue using medicinal plants from their home country after moving to Europe and the USA. As it is generally easier to import exotic food than herbal medicine, migrants often shift to using species that double as food and medicine. This paper focuses on the trade in African medicinal plants in a Congolese neighborhood in Brussels (Belgium). What African medicinal plants are sold in Matonge, where do they come from, and to which extent are they food medicines? Does vendor ethnicity influence the diversity of the herbal medicine sold? We hypothesized that most medicinal plants, traders, and clients in Matonge were of Congolese origin, most plants used medicinally were mainly food crops and that culture-bound illnesses played a prominent role in medicinal plant use. We carried out a market survey in 2014 that involved an inventory of medicinal plants in 19 shops and interviews with 10 clients of African descent, voucher collection and data gathering on vernacular names and uses. We encountered 83 medicinal plant species, of which 71% was primarily used for food. The shredded leaves of Gnetum africanum Welw., Manihot esculenta Crantz, and Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam were among the most frequently sold vegetables with medicinal uses. Cola nuts, shea butter, Aloe vera (L.) Burm.f., and Mondia whitei (Hook.f.). Skeels were the main non-food medicines sold. Women’s health, aphrodisiacs, and rituals were the most important medicinal applications, but culture-bound ailments did not entirely dominate the plant uses. While most clients in Matonge were Congolese, most vendors and plant species were not. The Pakistanis dominated the food trade, and typical Congolese plants were sometimes replaced by West African species, creating confusion in vernacular names. African-managed shops had significantly more species of medicinal plants in stock than shops managed by Pakistanis. Almost all non-food herbal medicine was sold by Africans. Apart from informal shops, non-food herbal medicine was also sold from private homes and by ambulant vendors, probably to reduce costs and escape taxes and control by the authorities. We expect that in the future, increasing rent, strict regulations, and decreasing investments by the Congolese community will force the medicinal plant trade in Matonge to go even more underground.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-415
JournalEconomic Botany
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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