Out of 93 medicinal plants used in south-central Zimbabwe, 83 species (89. 2%) have proven biological and pharmacological activities (Table 1). The presence of these active ingredients in herbal medicines is directly linked to their ability to prevent or treat ailments. Analysis of the biological and pharmacological activity data (Table 1) shows the wide variety of biological activity of plants used as herbal medicines in south-central Zimbabwe; and the presence of these active ingredients in utilized plants as herbal medicines corroborates the popular traditional knowledge and medicinal uses of the documented plants.
The identification of biologically active compounds in herbal medicines needs to be interpreted in the light of the traditional uses of the plants as well as herbal medicine preparation and dosage . It is worth mentioning that most of these activities, mainly the antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic and analgesic properties; and the presence of alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins and tannins confirm the different popular applications of extracts obtained from traditional medicines.
The majority (82.8%) of the 93 plant species used as traditional medicines in south-central Zimbabwe have similar applications in other regions of Zimbabwe as well as other parts of the world (Table 1). The medicinal uses of 49 species (52. 7%) are supported by reports of similar uses elsewhere in Zimbabwe and 40 species (43%) have similar uses in the other parts of the world (Table 1). Such similarities in the cross-cultural usage of the traditional plant remedies are a strong indication of the bioactivity potential of the documented plant species.
The following 16 medicinal species (17. 2%) appear not to be popular for the ethno medicinal uses documented in Zimbabwe: Androstachys johnsonii (aphrodisiac), Brachystegia boehmii (sexually transmitted infections), Bridelia mollis (cough), Carissa bispinosa (cough and diarrhoea), Coleochloa setifera (pneumonia), Commiphora marlothii (sexually transmitted infections), Corchorus tridens (backache).
Entandrophragma caudatum (genital warts), Indigofera setiflora (diarrhoea), Pellaea sp.(chest pains), Prunus persica (diarrhoea), Searsia dentata (ulcers, diarrhoea and stomach problems), Searsia pyroides (cough), Spirostachys africana (venereal infections), Strychnos madagascariensis (sore eyes) and Vitex payos (cough) (Table 1). These findings of new ethno medicinal plant uses in south-central Zimbabwe shows the importance of the documentation of such traditional indigenous knowledge.
Some of these species can therefore be targeted for phytochemical and pharmacological studies with the aim of identifying active ingredients contained by such plants resulting in them having unique therapeutic uses. This review showed substantial commonality in the general use of medicinal plants in south-central Zimbabwe, the other regions of Zimbabwe and the rest of the world.
For example, ten plant species used to treat at least four ailments in south-central Zimbabwe include Albizia antunesiana (six ailments), Annona stenophylla (four ailments), Cassia abbreviata (five ailments), Elephantorrhiza goetzei (four ailments), Flueggea virosa (four ailments), Kirkia acuminata (five ailments), Peltophorum africanum (four ailments), Pterocarpus angolensis (four ailments), Sansevieria hyacinthoides (five ailments), Strychnos cocculoides (five ailments) and Ziziphus mucronata (four ailments) (Table 1).
With the exception of Sansevieria hyacinthoides, the other nine species have been documented by Gelfand et al.  as valuable medicinal plants in most regions of Zimbabwe with at least six medicinal applications each. Literature search showed that the roots of Albizia antunesiana are widely used in tropical Africa to treat abdominal pains, cuts, depressed fontanelle in infants, gonorrhoea and other sexually transmitted diseases, infertility in women, painful and swollen legs, pneumonia, prevent abortion, sore eyes, sore throat, tonsillitis, tuberculosis and ulcers .
A bark infusion of Albizia antunesiana is taken to treat constipation and applied externally to cuts; whereas crushed leaves are used as an enema for their purgative action and as a dressing to treat oedema of the legs . Previous research by Gelfand et al.  showed wide use of Annona stenophylla in traditional medicine in Zimbabwe. Infusion of Annona stenophylla root or bark is used to treat abdominal pains, boils, chest pains, constipation, diarrhoea, dysmenorrhea, hiccoughs, oedema, sexually transmitted diseases and sprains .
All plant parts of Cassia abbreviata are used in tropical Africa to treat gastro-intestinal disorders, bilharzia, diarrhoea, dysmenorrhea, eye problems, haematuria, headache, malaria, pneumonia, snakebites, toothache and venereal diseases . Decoction of all plant parts of Cassia abbreviata are used as aphrodisiac, abortifacient, purgative, tonic and vermifuge . Root infusion of Elephantorrhiza goetzei is widely used in Zimbabwe as remedy for abdominal pains, backache, bilharzia, constipation, depressed fontenelle, diarrhoea and gonorrhea .
Flueggea virosa is an important medicinal plant in tropical Africa, used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments, alone or in combination with other plants. All plant parts of Flueggea virosa are used to treat frigidity, liver, bile, kidney, testicular inflammation, sterility, urinary and venereal diseases . All plant parts of Kirkia acuminata are used in traditional medicine in Zimbabwe as herbal medicine for abdominal pains, antidote, cough, emetic and wounds .
The bark and root extracts of Peltophorum africanum are traditionally used in southern Africa to treat acute and chronic pains, boosting resistance to diseases, depression, diarrhoea, dysentery, infertility, intestinal parasites and wounds . The bark of Pterocarpus angolensis is widely used in tropical Africa as an astringent to treat diarrhoea, heavy menstruation, nose bleeding, headache, stomachache, schistosomiasis, sores and skin problems .
Leaves, rhizomes and roots of Sansevieria hyacinthoides are widely used in tropical Africa to treat ear infections, haemorrhoids, intestinal worms, measles, prevention of miscarriage, sexually transmitted infections, stomach disorders, toothache and ulcers . All plant parts of Strychnos cocculoides are widely used in Zimbabwe to treat abdominal pains, amenorrhoea, cough, diarrhoea, gonorrhea, hydrocele, infertility, sore eyes and sore throat .
Medicines obtained from infusion of the roots, bark, leaves and/or fruits of Ziziphus mucronata are used to treat bilharzia, boils, chronic cough, depressed fontanelle, diarrhoea, dysmenorrhoea, infertility in women, menorrhagia, oedema, pneumonia, snake bite, toothache, venereal diseases and wounds . Future research and perspectives This review showed that local people in south-central Zimbabwe rely on traditional medicines to treat a wide spectrum of human ailments and are knowledgeable about the identities and applications of medicinal plants.
Many people in south-central Zimbabwe are still dependent on medicinal plants, at least for the treatment of basic human ailments like cold, cough, diarrhoea, fever, skin infections, sexually transmitted infections, sore eyes and tooth infections. Data collected in the present review illustrates that gastro-intestinal disorders and sexually transmitted infections are treated with the highest number of medicinal plant species. These findings correlate strongly with observations made by Ribeiro et al.
 that cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery are a major concern in Mozambique and southern Africa as well as findings made by Van Vuuren and Naidoo  that sexually transmitted infections are a major public health concern in developing countries. Reports of similar medicinal applications of the documented plants in south-central Zimbabwe, other regions of Zimbabwe and the rest of the world indicate that these species are valuable sources of ethnomedicines.
This comparative analysis strengthens the firm belief that traditional indigenous knowledge represent not only an important heritage, developed over the centuries, but also considerable mass of data that should be exploited in order to provide new and useful knowledge on plant resources. It is therefore, necessary to preserve this indigenous knowledge on traditional medicines by proper documentation, identification of plant species used, herbal preparation and dosage. This inventory will assist future workers on the selection of herbal plants to evaluate for phytochemical safety and pharmaceutical efficacy.
There is also need for more research on the active compounds of these herbal medicines, some of which have already shown interesting biological and pharmacological activities as shown in Table 1. There is need to establish the link between the biological activity and particular compounds responsible for the wide use of these medicinal plants. The documented indigenous knowledge in south-central Zimbabwe and available scientific literature strongly suggests that at least some of the plants used as herbal medicines can be potential sources of newer drugs.
At the present moment, phytochemistry and pharmacological analysis of traditional medicines occupy a key position in medicinal plant research and indigenous knowledge systems. Sharing of such knowledge is crucial for maintaining options for the use of traditional medicines, particularly as use of alternative medicine is growing because of its moderate costs and increasing faith in herbal medicines. Significant levels of global knowledge on conventional pharmaceuticals originated from indigenous traditional knowledge.
For example, many of the conventional drugs available on the market today have a long history of use as traditional medicines, among them are aspirin, opium and quinine. While south-central Zimbabwe is endowed with a strong culture of herbal medicine usage for primary health care, there is need to standardize the drug preparation, dosage and route of administration. Validating the correlations of the ethno medicinal uses, bioactive substances, biological and pharmacological effects is of special importance and is still the primary task for future research.
Efforts are also needed to investigate the physiological and biochemical functions demonstrated by these species, identifying the individual bioactive natural products and illustrate their mechanisms of action. Like most African countries, Zimbabwe is an important repository of medicinal plants usage in primary healthcare. This is reflected in the great diversity of plants used for medicinal purposes in south-central Zimbabwe as well as in the wide range of their applications and associated traditional medicine procedures. There is a growing upsurge in demand for traditional medicines in Zimbabwe for various human ailments.
As demand for medicinal plants continue to accelerate, awareness creation should be made among local communities to ensure sustainable use and conservation of the medicinal plants. A collaborative approach for sustainable use, conservation and management of medicinal plants should be put into place and involve all stakeholders. Communities in south-central Zimbabwe should be actively involved in plant resource management as they depend on these natural resources for their primary healthcare needs. It is hoped that this will strike a balance between meeting their health needs and wise use of plant resources to ensure sustainable development.
The most serious threats to medicinal plants, like any other forms of biodiversity are habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change and invasive species. It is not known whether over-exploitation of medicinal plants is an issue in south-central Zimbabwe. However, future studies in south-central Zimbabwe should focus on how local communities use and manage medicinal plants. Such studies will help in understanding how local communities relate to the plant resources that they use as medicines. Competing interests The author declares that he has no competing interests.
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