New research offers scientific evidence on the healing properties of a common plant used in Samoan traditional medicine.
Beyond superstition: The matalafi plant, which has been used for generations in Samoan culture as a remedy for a variety of illnesses, can produce anti-inflammatory effects similar to ibuprofen, a new study spearheaded by an Indigenous Samoan scientist suggests, according to The Guardian.
- Also called by its scientific name, Psychotria insularum, the small plant bears red berries and is commonly found in coastal and tropical forest environments.
- Samoans have long used the leaves of the matalafi to treat inflammation that result in fevers, body aches and illnesses which traditional healers have attributed to supernatural causes.
- After conducting experiments on the plant’s extracts, the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa concluded that the plant reduces inflammation just as effectively as the popular anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.
- Indigenous Samoan scientist Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni, who led the study, was quoted as saying: “There was a lot of superstition around this plant particularly, even in traditional medicine, but I was keen to find out if I could provide scientific merit to the traditional medicines of the Samoan people.”
Behind the research: The study, which acknowledges the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Samoans, was conducted as part of Molimau-Samasoni’s Ph.D. studies at Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, according to ScienceAlert.
- With some help from traditional healers, Molimau-Samasoni collected native Samoan plants, including matalafi, and then sent their extracts to a laboratory in New Zealand for chemical genomic analyses.
- Using certain yeast cultures with genes that resemble those of humans, Molimau-Samasoni determined that matalafi interacts with iron inside cells.
- She then compared the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties to that of ibuprofen in immune cells cultured in the lab.
- In the tests, the extract, along with its bioactive component rutin, helped to reduce fever and inflammation.
- While its application in general pain relief needs further investigation, the findings have established scientific potential in traditional knowledge.
- The researchers are now looking into matalafi’s potential anti-cancer properties and efficacy against other inflammatory diseases.
Scientists and traditional healers made a similarly significant discovery in 1992 when they identified prostratin, extracted from the bark of mamala plant, as a potential retroviral agent against HIV. The discovery resulted in agreements, enforced under international law, that ensured better access, protection and benefit-sharing between traditional healers and researchers.
Featured Image via Te Herenga Waka — Wellington Uni