Ethnobotany of the Samburu of Mt. Nyiru, South Turkana, Kenya

J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2006 Sep 6;2:35. doi: 10.1186/1746-4269-2-35.


Traditional plant use is of extremely high importance in many societies, and prevalent in African communities. This knowledge is however dwindling rapidly due to changes towards a more Western lifestyle. The influence of modern tourism cannot be neglected in this context. This paper examines the plant use of the Samburu of the Mt. Nyiru area in Northern Kenya. The Samburu pastoralists of Kenya are still amongst the most traditional communities of the country and have retained most of their knowledge about the use of a large part of the plants in their environment for a wide variety of purposes. The results indicate that the local population has a very high knowledge of the plants in their surroundings, and attributes a purpose to a large percentage of the plants found. 448 plant species were collected, identified and their Samburu names and traditional uses recorded. 199 species were reported as of "no use". The high proportion of 249 plant species however had some traditional use: The highest number (180 species) was used as fodder, followed by 80 species that had medicinal use. Firewood (59 species), construction (42 species), tools (31 species), food (29 species) and ceremonial use (19 species) ranked far behind. Traditionally the Samburu attribute most illnesses to the effect of pollutants that block or inhibit digestion. This can include "polluted" food, contagion through sick people as well as witchcraft. In most cases the treatment of illness involves herbal purgatives to cleanse the patient. There are however frequent indications of plant use for common problems like wounds, parasites, body aches and burns. The change from a nomadic to a more sedentary lifestyle, often observed in other areas of the country, has affected the Samburu of remote Mt. Nyiru to a much lesser extent and did so far not lead to a major loss of traditional plant knowledge. However, overgrazing and over-exploitation of plant resources have already led to a decline of the plant material available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Ecosystem
  • Ethnobotany*
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use
  • Plants, Edible
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Transients and Migrants


  • Plant Preparations