Botanica Ethiopia

On the wireless: Herbs, health and biodiversity

Our very own Lizzie d’Avigdor spoke on Ethiopian radio recently about her research, biodiversity and the development of the Botanica Ethiopia project in Fiche.

From household gardens to a flourishing community ‘pharmacy’ of medicinal herbs, hear how a group of passionate home herbalists are documenting and preserving Ethiopia’s precious healing plants for future generations.

“All around the world, we’re losing herbs before we know their value,” says d’Avigdor.  “This is a small, grassroots project but I think it’s demonstrating how small grassroots projects can actually work very well and make a real contribution to conservation.”


All abuzz in Fiche

Seated against the rammed-earth walls of Werkalemahu and Banchi’s home, we’re handed a plate of thick yellow honey with chunks of dabo bread straight from the fire.

Enebela (Let’s eat)!” says Werkalemahu. “This is the purest, from the new hives.”

We’d just arrived in Fiche with the last truck load of modern beehives from Addis; part of our contribution to the Etse Fewus Association’s work to build an integrated herb and honey business with their medicinal garden.

In the corner, Banchi was making coffee from newly roasted beans as the rest of the group filled the small room with us to sample the first harvest of liquid gold; honey from the first modern hives we delivered earlier in the year.

It tasted like flowers and ran down our wrists!

“We want to be known for our honey too.  It’s different to honey from the market because it has all the herbal properties,” says Gule, explaining how the new hives will be set among the many different medicinal plants at the communal garden site.


The hives arrive: Workalemahu and Etse Fewus members check out the new equipment in Fiche.

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Who makes the best tella in town?

In Fiche, many women make tella beer or areke, a spirit similar to Italian grappa, to supplement the family income. While caring for young children, tending the home and family land, they will boil and ferment barley and teff grain, gesho (local hops), kosso and other herbs in huge clay pots to make the traditional drinks for the tella houses in town. As well as being popular beverages, tella and arake are often administered medicinally or in combination with certain herbs to treat upset stomachs, worms or fever.

When Etse-Fewus ‘Healing Herbs’ Association members were asked recently ‘Who makes the best tella in town?’ – the answer was unanimous:  A woman named Beletech is famous for her brew.

76-year-old Ato Abe, one of the group leaders and a respected local herbalist, confirmed he had sampled all the tella in Fiche.

“Belatech’s is by far the best,” he said. “Before she offers you the tella, she gives you two handfuls of injera (flat bread made of teff). Then, whenever I am in need of two handfuls of injera in my mouth, I go to her place!”

The discussion was part of a five day basic business skills course we organised in January with Ethiopian micro-enterprise organisation Women in Self Employment (WISE).


Etse-Fewus members completed a basic business skills course in Fiche with Ethiopian micro-enterprise organisation WISE.

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Honey and herbs: How Etse Fewus are working for a sweet future in Fiche

Some time ago, the Etse Fewus cooperative put to us the idea of bringing bees to their medicinal herb garden in Fiche.

A healthy swarm could help pollinate the herbs, they said, and provide an important extra source of income for members and their families.

Ethiopia is a country with a long tradition of beekeeping and some of the group already owned a few traditional beehives or ‘kafo’: long, cylindrical baskets, usually made of eucalyptus twigs, mud, woven bamboo and false banana leaves.

Members said they would combine their old Kafos at the garden site if Botanica Ethiopia could help them obtain some modern beehives. The new, more expensive box hives would yield better quality honey – and much more of it.

We loved the idea and so were excited this week to be able to deliver the first batch of brightly-painted modern hives to Gule and Werkalemahu at the garden.


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From the ground up: growing herbs with altitude

High above the Jemma River,  three hours from Addis Ababa, we walk a rocky path between houses made of mud and young eucalypts. Gule, one of the founding members of the Etse Fewus ‘Healing Plants’ association is leading us off-road to the medicinal garden.

We pass resting donkeys and loops of white cotton, hung up to dry outside people’s homes. It feels closer to the sun in Fiche and at lunchtime, everything looks dusty and heat-struck.

Everything, except a group of  women coming up the path behind us, who are laughing into white gabis flicked over their heads against the heat. We realise it’s the Etse Fewus women and their children, and it’s big greetings and more laughter on the road. The Sunday market was packing up for the day and they’d left to find us on the ridge above town.

We walk together until our little path opens up to yellowed farmland where a family and their cows are threshing newly cut teff. Below them, neatly fenced, is the garden we’d started three years before. P1030068


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Cool runnings

Thanks to all who supported the Botanica Ethiopia team at the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival recently.

This time we joined 34,000 runners across beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge to raise money for the Living Pharmacy project in Fiche. And thanks to you, we raised more than $500!

Special gratitude to Kerrie Carroll, Will Birkett, Kathryn Lee, Andrew Key and Darrien Wise for your generous donations.

And a special mention of Cameron Wise for his stellar, somewhat surprising performance on race day, beating the rest of the team across the finish line. As he warned us: A natural athlete!

Money raised was used to provide the Etse-Fewus ‘Healing Plants’ Association members with permaculture training at the Fiche garden in October.

Botanica Ethiopia organised for Alex McCausland from the Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge in southern Ethiopia to conduct a five-day workshop on sustainable land management, which included techniques for soil improvement, bio-fertilizer production, natural pest control, water retention and seed-saving.

You can READ HERE how the group is now using permaculture to manage an organic medicinal herb garden that is truly flourishing!

In February, the Rift plateau country around Fiche town is coloured with red aloe flowers and eucalypts. It was market Sunday, and after meeting Gule and Emayu for a raw meat lunch, we left the spices, tuktuks and sheep on the main street to see the Etse-Fewus Association’s ‘Healing Herbs’ garden on the escarpment behind town. It had been a year since we’d last visited.

We saw bushes of orange marigold, wild rosemary and lemongrass.  A guardhouse of mud-brick and grass, a concreted dam to capture water in the rainy season. Young Kosso trees and Yeferes Zeng were growing along the new fence lines.

The Kosso will shelter the more delicate herbs from the wind and rain, and will one day be used to treat tapeworm infections. The Yeferes Zeng, Gule told us, is for headaches and ‘to protect the property’. The handgun on Gule’s belt? To keep thieves and hyenas away when he’s on night guard duty.

“If people come in the night to steal even one herb, this is a big problem for us, we have worked so hard to collect these plants,” he explained.  Like most of the Etse-Fewus Association men, Gule works on his farm plot or as a share cropper most days; he sleeps in the guardhouse heremost nights.

Gule told us the next step is for Etse-Fewus is to link the project to market. The group want to be able to process and package the herbs themselves – as dried herbs, ointments and essential oils –  to generate income.

To do this, he explained, they’ll buy chickens to build the quality of the soil with manure. Some of the members will bring their private beehives to the communal garden to help pollinate the herbs and increase honey production for the group. They will work together to keep growing.

Here’s a short clip from February …

Granny goes extra mile for Botanica Ethiopia

Granny and the Yankers, aka Kristin and Erin, at the finish line.

She did it! With a little help from her friends, Granny Emmie made it across the finish line and came THIRD in her age group.

Being 89 was no deterrent to her determination or stamina.  A little credit needs to go to her stalwart supporters Erin Semon and Kristin Gomes – the Granny Yankers who pushed Granny 9 km in the Bridge Run at the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival at quite a respectable speed.

Granny was not convinced they were always going in the right direction but she maintained her equanimity and laughed most of the way.  She is very proud of her medal, and the fact that she raised $600 to support the sustainability of traditional herbal medicine in Ethiopia.

Lizzie and winners

Lizzie and marathon winners!

Granny racing for Ethiopia this Sunday!

Emmie and the 'Granny Yankers' warm up!
Emmie and the ‘Granny Yankers’ warm up!
Lizzie’s 89-year-old mother has registered in the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival this weekend to raise money for Botanica Ethiopia.

But she isn’t actually running! Two crazy Americans, Kristin Gomes and Erin Semon, are going to wheel Granny Emmie across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and beyond:   9km of sweat and struggle, hopefully no tears, with Granny waving the Ethiopian flag.

Calling themselves the ‘Granny Yankers, Kristin and Erin came up with the novel idea so that we can continue to support the group in Fiche to build a model traditional medicine garden.  They are so nearly there – funds will go towards buying beekeeping hives to keep at the garden site.

Help Emmie and the Granny Yankers cross the line on Sunday 22 Sept!

DONATE ONLINE at Go Fundraise here

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