By Cosmas Omegoh
More and more Catholic priests are veering into herbal medicine. The latest is Rev Fr (Dr) Paul Okoromi of the Oblate of St Joseph. Based in Abeokuta, he says it is no longer enough to win souls by preaching the gospel alone. He wants to do more of soul-winning by using herbs to cure common ailments. In this encounter, he narrated his journey into the world of herbal medicine.
Drive and motivation
I always wanted to do something new. But as a priest, often, people come to me with various challenges. I always wish there was a way I can help aside from praying for them.
Now, I discovered that if someone tells you to pray while they are ill, and there is no medication given, that’s not enough. God has blessed us with herbs; we can use that for healing. Therefore, when I enrolled to study herbal medicine, my motivation was to do something to help people aside praying for them. Now, I pray for people, and where I can, give them what to use.
How the journey started
What I have learnt is called pyhtho-medicine. That is the professional name. But for the lay person, it is herbal medicine. Here, people have a wrong idea of what phytho-medicine is all about. The dictionary tells us that a herbal doctor is one who treats people using herbs. But because we are Africans, when you introduce yourself as a herbal doctor, there is this connotation that follows. But there is nothing diabolical about being a herbal doctor. It is about using leaves to cure. God has blessed the leaves and others around us to be used as cure.
Indeed, what we are doing goes back in the day. In the scripture, God asked the people of Israel: “Are there no more physicians in Gilead?” Recall that the balm of Gilead was a source of healing. And who were the physicians God was talking about? They were the herbal doctors at that time; they used herbs and plants.
Now, my journey into herbal medicine started this way. While I was working in Abuja, I always contemplated on what to do to touch lives the more. Then shortly, I was transferred to Abeokuta. Not long after I resumed in Abeokuta, I was driving one day when I saw this sign post reading “African College of Traditional Medicine, Abeokuta.” I became curious. I’m an adventurous person; I always want to learn new things. So, I just drove into the premises. Instantly, I told them I wanted to know about what they were doing. I discovered that they train herbal doctors. Coincidentally, the owner of the institute is the chairman of herbal medicine practitioners in Ogun State, and also member of the National Association of Traditional Medicine Practitioners.
In the school, I saw students, dressed in their white lab coats; some were receiving lectures.
Then I told them I wanted to enroll as a student. I didn’t tell them I’m a priest because there are some details they hide from me if I disclosed my full identity.
The day they knew I am a priest was the day of our graduation.
There, they teach everything herbs: sourcing, processing, and combination, dosage, packaging, NAFDAC approval processing and many more. It is a whole lot of experience.
How he goes about it
Right now, I don’t have a clinic; rather, I’m running an online clinic. But I produce my mixtures in my house in Abeokuta. My brand name is PDO Herbal Clinic. I go into the bush often to source leaves; some are very difficult to get; some have even gone extinct because of deforestation. I When I cannot get such, I call on some people to help; I have volunteers working with me. When you have a dream, there will always be those who share the idea.
Link with the past
After I went into herbal practice, one day, an aunt told me that my great grandfather was a herbal doctor. I didn’t grow up to know him; so I cannot draw a line between us. I just feel there is something I can do to help people and what comes handy is herbal medicine.
What he treats
I attend to different types of illnesses. I don’t do tests. When people come to me, I tell them to go and run a test. That done, the patient brings the result to me; I then administer medications. In modern tradition medicine, we don’t treat based on observation alone; we treat scientifically. That is why test is important. A part of our training is to interpret test results of illnesses within our purvey.
Right now, I am registered with the national body that controls herbal medicine practice in Nigerian. I’m also a licenced member of Ogun State Alternative Medicine Board, and Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board.
Last year, I was issued with a licence by the Ministry of Health Lagos State, the same for Ogun State government. You must attend an institute of herbal medicine to get that; it is no longer about claims of inheriting the knowledge from a family member. That era is gone. The government wants to see your certification. You need to have formal education to obtain a license. We are trying to birth a forum that will integrate orthodox medicine and traditional medicine. There is always a conflict between us. But whether we like it or not, we need each other; they need us and we need them for the good of the society. Sometimes, there are medical needs the orthodox medicine practitioners cannot treat. Such could be handled traditionally. We need them too. So we are trying to advance a forum which will integrate the two. We want to strike a balance. Towards the end of January, we are having a forum at the University of Lagos Teaching hospital, Idi Araba for that purpose.
Successes in practice so far
Currently, I’m treating a woman of rheumatism and arthritis. All the testimonies I receive I post on my whatsapp status. The woman throughout last year, was not going to church; she could not walk. She started my medication late last year, and now, I was told she has started going to church again. I have a couple who has infertility issues and had not been able to have children years after their marriage. I placed them on medication; the woman is now three months pregnant.
So far, I have treated several infections. I treat people suffering from fibroid. We don’t operate to remove fibroid. When fibroid is removed medically, after a while it grows again. But when you use herbal medicine, you shrink it. It dies off naturally. It is a whole therapy that takes between three to nine months.
Herbal medicine and dosage
Herbal medicine has dosage. You will know that when you go into it. Anyone who gives you a preparation without dosage is a quack.
Between native doctor and priest
In this field, we have those who are spiritualists. We have all manner of persons conjuring things. Everybody is doing their thing. I don’t cross their paths. That is it.
Hiding his identity
Sometimes when I go to our forum, I don’t tell anyone I‘m a priest. The reason is because if there is anything that needs to be taught, they want to give me special consideration. They might not let me into certain things. The irony is that since they discovered that I’m a priest, things are no longer easy for me. Once I’m around, they say oh, our priest is around ooo. That’s not giving me the room I require to operate. At the Lagos State Traditional Medicine Board, they don’t know me as a priest; when we had a programme the last time, I was chosen as class governor. I suck all the insults that come with it. Right now, I’m doing a post graduate programme in my school.
NAFDAC approval for products
It comes gradually. For now, I’m operating online; the world is going online. But I need to also talk to my superiors first on the way forward. They know I’m doing some stuff. So, they must know what I’m doing. But once I have a physical presence, it is a boom! However, when you sell medication officially, you must have NAFDAC certification. But I’m doing more of treatment now. For now, my online engagement is marvelous. Most times, I turn off my phone to engage in other activities. The majority of my clients are middle-aged people; I have younger ones too.
Between priesthood and herbal medicine
Both of them are works for humanity; each is geared towards saving souls. In our world as Catholics, we visit the sick to help them come back to life. When I administer herbal drugs to patients, it is intended to make them well again because it is when one is well that they will be able to worship God well.
I’m just four years in the priesthood. I was ordained as a priest of Oblate of St Joseph. My first love is priesthood. Herbal medicine is just an addition.
I don’t have any inspiration from Fr Adodo. I have not even met him before. Going into herbal medicine is purely based on my instinct. I let people know that I’m not the only priest practising herbal medicine; we had the late Fr Arasu in Onitsha. There is one in Enugu State now. He is really doing well; there is also a revered sister doing well.
I see herbal medicine leading me far. For me, it is all about touching lives. That is the motivating factor. Whether there is any money coming from it is a remote addition. It doesn’t even take care f my running around. I’m looking at being like Fr Adodo, and setting up a plant in the nearest future. They tell us in the college that no one person can take care of all the ailments in the country. I also look forward to being like Yem Kem International who has been in the work.