Add another species to the long list of plants and animals being eaten out of existence so men can try to get it up in the bedroom.
This time, instead of medically useless tiger penises or sea turtle eggs, it's an African plant called White's ginger (Mondia whitei ), often wrongly referred to as "white ginger." It goes by many names in Africa, most notably mukombero in Kenya, where it is said that chewing the root of the plant or drinking it in tea form can boost virility and stamina in the bedroom
"It never disappoints, my wife is one happy woman," one Kenyan man told Radio Netherlands Worldwide . "Mukombero allows me to go the extra mile and be naughty with other women as well, it has guaranteed results.
According to Radio Netherlands, mukombero is available in Kenyan markets for as little as one euro, making it much cheaper than Viagra or other pharmaceuticals, which are too expensive for most users in Kenya.
M. whitei was used as a virility aid in Africa for centuries, but modern times saw it being overharvested in the wild. A study in 1998 (cited by Infonet-biovision ) found that the plant had disappeared from South Africa and central Kenya
Now, according to the very people who are harvesting it in the wild, it is getting rarer still. "I am overwhelmed by the demand," a man who collects and sells mukombero told Radio Netherlands. "Even in the forest where I get it from, I have to go in much deeper to get a mature plant. It is running out." Another vendor told Kenya's Daily Nation that he has to walk deeper and deeper into the forest to find the precious plant: "These days, it takes many hours of painstaking searching to get a mature plant.
Even as the plant is disappearing from the wild, foreigners are studying it and, if you believe the hype, preparing to sell it back to Kenyans. Kavaka Mukonyi Watai, head of bioprospecting for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), told the Daily Nation newspaper that mukombero is being grown as a " cash crop " in Florida and China. He did not identify any actual companies growing the plant to back up his claims. "The Chinese must have obtained it from the region without informing communities that they could benefit from commercialization of their natural resource," he said. The KWS itself runs a small factory to commercialize the plant.
Now here's the unexpected part of the story: Unlike tiger penises and sea turtle eggs and so many other species used for so-called traditional medicine, there might actually be a grain of truth to the myth of mukombero's virility-enhancing powers. An article published June 19, 2010, in the Journal of Pharmacology and Toxicology (available on Science Alert ) suggests the likelihood of using M. whitei as a treatment for erectile dysfunction, although the study did not detail any mechanism. The study was funded by the Tianjin Science and Technology Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation, both of China.
The Kenya Wildlife Service does not list mukombero as an endangered species, but as a " priority" wildlife species for which farming may be allowed with special permits.
Photo: Mukombero ( Mondia whitei) for sale in a Kenyan market, via the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations