Two decades ago, primary mathematics teacher Boniface Ndura put down the chalk to focus on running the private Kitale Nature Conservancy, for the love of nature. Having come from a family of herbalists, he had set up the botanical garden in 1983 after acquiring a two-acre piece of land, in which he grew various plants over time.
After teaching for 27 years, the now 71-year-old decided to immerse himself in the study of herbs.
“I travelled all over the country to collect various plants, some of which are almost extinct.”
African mahogany, myrianthus holstii, sandalwood… he has lost count of the number of plant species he has collected and planted in his garden, but he puts it at between 600 to 700.
Slowly but surely, he became a herbalist, conducting clinical trials on himself, sipping various concoctions in nearly fatal experiments. He focused on Capparis tomentosa, which he stumbled upon after years of researching various plant species. He sampled different Capparis species, boiling the roots and sipping the extracts to test their safety and efficacy to treat general body ailments.
“I was not ill, but I wanted to know if my research on the plant was accurate, but instead of making me whole, I developed severe diarrhoea and became extremely weak. I was rushed to hospital by a family member, where I was admitted for a month.
“Were it not for the timely intervention of doctors, I might not have been here to share my story. I was seriously ill,” he recalls.
But the experience did not faze him. As soon as he was discharged, he picked up his experiments where he had left and finally concluded that out of the six different Capparae species in the country, most of which are highly poisonous, Capparis tomentosa was the variant with medicinal value.
After risking it all and facing near-death experiences, he warns Kenyans not to rush to use any plant as medicine.
“It requires an expert to establish the right species with medicinal properties,” he says, noting that most people cannot distinguish various Capparae.
Mr Ndura believes that Kenya is sitting on an unexploited gold mine, which can be used to boost the wellbeing of Kenyans suffering from various non-communicable diseases, if only it would go mainstream.
“It is high time that the government came in to assist me…And I don’t need any money. All I want is for Kenyans to access treatment, which is often a huge (financial) burden for many families,” the septuagenarian explains.