Botanica Ethiopia

In the very South of Ethiopia is Karat-Konso and we were to stay at a small permaculture farm in the highland town to gather ideas for our garden in Fiche.

Konso is named after the ethnic group of the area and is unique in that its people have maintained a tribal culture, dating back 1000 years and unlike any in Ethiopia. Governed by clan chiefs and councils of village elders, the Konso live in nine different walled villages on the arid hilltops surrounding the town. At this time of year it looked dry and scrubby, but the area receives two rainfalls a year and the locals are re-known for their productive terraced farming systems and hard work.

Like lava from the volcanoes that formed this land, Konso town looks to have sprung from the middle of nowhere. In fact, it is the gateway to the Omo Valley and receives a healthy flow of tourists travelling the southern route to Kenya. The kids of the region have learnt to milk a birr or two from tourists by breaking into the Konso dance when they spot a car along the plateau road. The road itself felt remote and the landscape unforgiving – until these children jumped out or we were engulfed by a rally of soccer celebrations, trophy held high amidst a crowd of men, women and children, singing and running to the next village “Ethiopia Number 1 Champion!”

Karat-Konso village

We found Strawberry Fields on the hill into town and were shown along a path of papaya and cotton trees to our mud and straw Gojo Bets (traditional round huts). Dusty from the unsealed road, we each had a cold shower outside (one of the showers is heated through pipes from compost pits in the garden – but we didn’t know this then, and were happy just to be clean!)

From our spot on the hill, we watched the sun set over the valley and the farm below before enjoying a delicious meal under the stars of vegetables and rice, ginger tea and mangoes we’d brought along the road that morning. Vegetables have been difficult to find and our spoilt and sensitive ferenji stomachs were struggling from all the meat and bread!

Washed and fed, we took our solar lanterns to bed early. But up in town, the lights went out and a food strike began – the government had set prices on food and drink in an attempt to control inflation and store owners throughout the country were protesting. We didn’t know this until the next day, when we realised the reason busloads of tourists were descending on the eco-farm at breakfast, was because it was the only place around that could provide food – it came out of the garden.

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Finding Fiche

Lizzie d’Avigdor

We set off on the road North from Addis Ababa to see the garden site in Fiche for the first time, and to meet with local herbalists to introduce ourselves and the Living Pharmacy project.

As we drove further into Oromo territory the landscape changed to broad, sweeping valleys of farmland, hugged by distant hills and forests of young eucalyptus trees.

The high central plateaus, which cover half of the country, are some of the most fertile land in East Africa – and Oromia is said to be the breadbasket of Ethiopia, producing more than half of the nation’s crops.

We passed fields of grain and pasture for cattle, and started to see garies or horse-drawn carts and little tuk tuks along the road. Women, some quite old, walking bent-double with bundles of sticks for firewood on their backs, children herding cows and goats, and then random groups of young men by the road,  jumping together in circles with tall sticks in the air. It’s still Orthdox epiphany time here, and this is the traditional Oromo dance to celebrate. The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, with their own culture and language, Oromingna.


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Merigeta the medicine man

I’d been told that an old and well-known herbalist was willing to meet me to talk about his work. He lives at a monastery 18 km out of Addis, so Lakew picked us up early one morning and we traveled north to Menagasha.

Print: Adelaide Slater

On the outskirts of the city we passed acres of huge flower greenhouses, which are taking up so much land and apparently rendering it useless for growing anything much at all in the future.  Past these,  Lakew pointed to one densely treed area with cottages in the distance and said it belonged to the Fistula Hospital – I think it may have been the Desta Mender Centre for permanent residents, who have been treated for the injury but who cannot return to a normal life in their village or community.

We arrived at the home of Merigeta,  a herbalist/priest who has built a church near his home and sees many patients a day.

Before he appeared, we met his assistant, who asked us to sit on a long bench under a plum tree and brought us a plate of the small fruit, inviting us to eat.  Lakew looked at me and said “Ah well, let us pray they are ok,” and we wiped off the dust and hoed in.

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New Flower

Where better to begin a study of Ethiopia’s healing plants, than a city whose name means ‘New Flower’ – Addis Ababa.

Elizabeth d’Avigdor 16/1/2011

After a long flight, with a host of delays to do with visas and extra aid baggage, we stepped out of the sparkling airport in Addis at six in the morning and were very nearly knocked off our feet by a mad donkey, tearing at fast trot between the taxis along Bole road and headed goodness knows where… We’re in Africa!

And I’d forgotten how much there is to love about this place; even dusty, chaotic Addis Ababa.

Many things look as they did five years ago, though the recent investment and development in the city is obvious. Those construction sites with wonky tree-branch scaffolding now share parts of the road with rows of expensive looking houses and office buildings. There are new sealed roads, but still of course, the dusty grey bundles of rags and tarps by the side of them. Sadly, this is still how many live here.

After just a few days, I feel like I’ve been here for a long time. It’s familiar, I feel quite at home out and about, producing a lot of laughs with my feeble attempts at Amharic.  I’ll always stand out as a Ferenji (foreigner) but I’m getting the hang of the language again and the Ethiopian ‘way of doing things’ – nothing much is organised ahead of time here; almost everything is done face-to-face.

But a bit like the manic traffic and the road rules (or seeming lack thereof), most things somehow just work and our first week has been a full and productive one.

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In flight

This week, the project spreads its wings.

Lizzie, Alemayehu and sister Bizunesh touched down safely in Addis Ababa on Tuesday; they’re busy immersing themselves in all things Ethiopian,  adjusting to the altitude, making connections and preparing for travel to Fiche next week.

Botanica Ethiopia also received more generous (and public) support from home and afar. South Australian author (and part of the family), Phillipa Fioretti, wrote this lovely, personal post about the project…

Shifting the Gaze from the Navel

Sometimes I get impatient with the continual inward focus and isolated lifestyle writing demands. It’s a relief to get away from myself and be around others who are doing interesting and worthwhile things – it always helps to put that editing trauma or plot hole in perspective.

Over the Christmas break I spent time with one side of my extended family and, as usual, everybody is getting on with interesting activities, work or personal interests, and not writing related. My sister’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth d’Avigdor, a herbalist and naturopath with Blackmores, is flying to Ethiopia today to establish a herbal healing garden in Addis Abbaba. Now that’s interesting. Read more here

And for those who prefer their news in portuguese, the very beautiful journalist, Deni Ferreira, writes from Brazil…

Para quem não sabe, meu irmão mora na Austrália há 7 anos. Já deu tempo de ter até uma família adotiva (uma step-family mais precisamente) por lá: Lizzie, Michael, May, Adelaide e Alemayehu Slater.

A família Slater tem uma história muito legal: o Alemayehu é etíope e foi adotado aos 11 anos pela Lizzie e o Michel, depois que outro casal da família tinha adotado os seus irmãos, aos 3 e 5 anos. Hoje, os três irmãos crescem juntos, criados como primos-irmãos. Ler mais aqui

Freshly pressed

Traditions of herbs to flourish

Manly Daily (Sydney, Australia) – Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Author: Peter Bodkin

A MANLY naturopath will travel to Ethiopia to help locals preserve their rich history of herbal remedies before the generations of knowledge are lost forever.

Fairlight resident Elizabeth d’Avigdor, who has been practising in Manly for about 14 years, will journey back to the African nation this week with her daughter, May, and adopted son, Alemayehu.

She plans to establish a medicinal herb garden in the rural town of Fiche as part of the Botanica Ethiopia project, with the aid of locals who can pass on their understanding of traditional medicine and indigenous herbs.

See the full article here, Page 8.















East to Abyssinia

In less than a week, Lizzie, Alemayehu and Bizunesh head off to Ethiopia.

Good news is that Addis Ababa University is now collaborating with  Elizabeth on the research side of the project. Lizzie has been working with the Biology Department; she will have access to the Library and Herbarium when in the capital, and will also have a research student working with her throughout the project; interviewing men and women in Fiche and recording the use of indigenous herbs as medicine.


Image: May Slater

Amaseganallo – Thank you!

The project has received so much support, and such thoughtful and generous donations from friends and colleagues here in Australia. We’ve raised a total of $1,450.

Special thanks to all those who have provided encouragement; to Kristen and Erin for their time and their talent, to AACASA (Australian African Children’s Aid and Support Association), Hope for Children, Kidest Nadew, Nathanael Moges, Rebekah Russell, Christine Kavanagh, David Cunnington, Amanda Brinkman, Pauline Roberts, Karen Bridgman, Elaine Searle, Natasha Larkin, Sarah Culverhouse, Shellie Blake, Kim Robertson, Cath Cooling, Lewis d’Avigdor and to all at Blackmores.

Ethiopian jewellery fundraising

On our return to Australia in March, we’ll hold a jewellery fundraising night in Sydney. Ethiopia is re-known for its bright yellow gold, quality silver, beads, amber and exquisite Filligri craftsmanship.

Stay tuned to the blog to follow the project ‘on the ground’ from next week. Unfortunately, less than 10% of Africa is connected to the internet, and while Information and wireless technology  use is growing,  Ethiopia ranks one of the poorest countries in the world for access. So….while we will most likely have limited internet outside of Addis, we’ll post updates, stories, film and photos as regularly as possible.

Elizabeth will be in Ethiopia from 10th January to 10th March 2011.


When we talk of Ethiopia in the West, we think of famine and drought, civil war, an HIV epidemic, and phenomenal runners like Haile Gebrselassie.

All of this is real. Impressions from a visit to the country in 2006 were of all these things. And so much more.

Ethiopia is dusty and poor, with striking landscapes, bustling cities and a rich and ancient history.  It is also home to waterfalls that feed the Great Nile in Egypt, to lions, elephants and hippos and 13th century rock-hewn churches. Most of the country is more than 2000 metres above sea level, but Ethiopia also has the lowest and the hottest place on Earth, the Danakil Depression.

The Capital, Addis,  smells of coffee; roasted over charcoal with frankincense. Of eucalyptus trees, and injera pancakes, of goats and donkeys on the footpaths and diesel from old blue taxis on the roads, of incense from the churches, of burning rubbish in the marketplace and firewood stoves in people’s homes.

You hear church bells, roosters and prayers to Mecca at dawn. Reggae and hip hop through the day and night.

You see soccer in the Piassa, children on the streets, potholes and Polio. Men in cafes by the road, boys hanging from open taxi-van doors, advertising their destinations to the public; ‘Bole, Bole, Bole’!

You see beautiful women on their way to church in traditional white dress, colourful religious ceremonies that take over the main streets, rows of gold and silver jewellery stores, Coca Cola billboards, early morning athletes, shepherds and open trucks of soldiers.

Ethiopia is a land locked country in the Horn of Africa, which shares borders with Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti.

Lake Tana church paintings. Image: May Slater

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The Good Earth – Fiche

The small town of Fiche, in the Oromia region of central Ethiopia, is where we will be planting the medicinal herb garden.

Fiche is about four hours drive North of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Our partners in Ethiopia have been successful in securing land for the project in Fiche, and have already begun work preparing the soil for planting – here are some photos!

View from the road to Bahir Dar. Image: L Gebayehu

Fiche, Ethiopia. Image: L Gebayehu

Bore hole. Image: L Gebayehu

A Living Pharmacy in Ethiopia

For Australian Naturopath, Elizabeth d’Avigdor, the connection with Ethiopia began with the adoption of her son 14 years ago. But the seed of an idea for a project to support health in rural Ethiopia using indigenous herbs, was planted in her kitchen in Sydney some years later.

“An epiphanal moment for me was when I was brewing up some Fenugreek tea and my son said ‘I know that smell, I know that smell – my mother used to make that for me when I had a stomach ache,'” says Elizabeth.

“I felt this huge connection with his mother, and with Ethiopia, and being a herbalist, I thought I really wanted to know more about how herbs are used there everyday for common ailments and preventable diseases.”

In January next year, Elizabeth and her son will travel back to Ethiopia to research and record traditional herbal medicine use and establish a medicinal herb garden in Fiche, a rural town North of the capital, Addis Ababa.

The project, ‘Botanica Ethiopia – A Living Pharmacy’ was developed by Elizabeth as part of her Masters in Clinical Science (Complementary Medicine). It will be delivered in partnership with the Fiche community and Global Development Group, with funding from Australian natural healthcare company Blackmores Ltd.

Elizabeth says native herbs can provide a very cheap, safe and accessible means of health care in Ethiopia, and in rural communities in particular.

“These plants are immensely important. Many Ethiopians don’t have access to a doctor and this is often their first port of call, if you like, in medicinal approach. ”

But according to the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and the United Nations, herbal medicine practice is in danger of being lost due to lack of documented knowledge, and the threatened extinction of medicinal plants.

Interview with Naturopath Elizabeth d’Avigdor

Botanica Ethiopia is proud to be a partner for project ‘J655N Botanica Ethiopia – A Living Pharmacy’ with Global Development Group (ABN 57 102 400 993), an Australian AusAID approved NGO carrying out quality humanitarian aid and development projects with approved partners to relieve poverty and provide long term solutions. Global Development Group takes responsibility for this project according to AusAID rules, providing a governance role and assisting in the areas of planning, monitoring, evaluating and auditing to ensure that project J655N Botanica Ethiopia – A Living Pharmacy is carried out to Australian requirements.

For more information about Global Development Group, visit

Click here to make a donation to the Botanica Ethiopia ‘Living Pharmacy’ project.