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Use green Leaves as an Alternative to Toilet Paper

Updated on October 8, 2012
Toilet Paper; The reason we lose so many trees
Toilet Paper; The reason we lose so many trees | Source

Green alternative to toilet paper

I once watched a reality television show where an American family flew to West Africa to live with an African family for a while. The first question that the American mother asked on arrival was “Do you use Toilet Paper here?” To her relief, the African mother replied in the affirmative. If that question had been asked in the early 1900’s, the answer would have been very different. In this article we shall explore a green alternative to Toilet Paper.

What did people use before Toilet Paper (TP) was invented? I don’t know about the rest of the world. What I know is that the Kikuyu used a certain plant with feathery leaves and a great scent. Perhaps that is what most Africans used. As a young boy, when I visited my rural folk, I was lucky enough to find some homes still using the plant. Today, the plant is only of interest to botanists. In early times, every home had the plant growing near the place designated for private business. When the building of pit-latrines came into vogue, the ‘green’ toilet accessory was always nearby and one picked a few leaves on the way in. The plants botanical name is Plectrunthus barbatus orMaigoya in the Kikuyu language.

The fleshy stem and feathery leaves of Plectrunthus barbatus
The fleshy stem and feathery leaves of Plectrunthus barbatus | Source

Did I ever use the Green Alternative? Fortunately yes.When I visited my upcountry folk, who still had the Green Alternative next to the latrine, I had no choice but to do as ‘the Romans did’ – and I lived to tell the tale.

Was the experience uncomfortable? I have only fond memories of the plant, and as a matter of fact, I miss it. I remember it as an evergreen plant, nice to the touch with a sweet odour.I recall that the leaves were soft, almost soothing. Even bees visited its purple flowers for some nectar. One time I visited and the plant had been replaced by course newspaper. Later still, the newspapers were replaced by toilet paper – products of felled trees.

TP has absorbent properties. Did the Green Alternative really work? Goodquestion. Modern man would expect that the absorbing property of TP is really necessary.Perhaps it is, but in its absence, repeated action did the trick. One needed about four large leaves, which isn’t extravagant since the plant is luxuriant and fast growing.

TP is recyclable. What about the Green Alternative? Nothing can be more bio-degradable than a green fleshy plant. Hardly any effort will be required on your part except to remember to flash, something you do mechanically anyway regardless of the kind of TP. I wouldn’t have any doubts that the leaves would agree to be flushed either.After all, they are as biodegradable as the stuff preceding them.

A bee visiting Plectrunthus barbatus for nectar
A bee visiting Plectrunthus barbatus for nectar

Advantages of going back to the Green Alternative

There are numerous advantages of going green. Global Warming is continuing unabated and greening the environment could help. Some experts claim that increasing the forest cover will create carbon sinks besides other benefits. This may be a tall order when we need the same trees for our printing and packaging industries besides the TP needed by every soul on the planet. Perhaps if human beings stopped using TP altogether, so much of the forest-cover would be saved that only a small planting effort would bring the world closer to the desired 10% forest cover. According to David Braun in a National Geographics blog, the world loses 27,000 trees in a single day to TP alone.


The lush green will soon disappear
The lush green will soon disappear | Source

Think of all the trees that have been cut on your behalf in all the years that you have used TP! Loss of trees also means loss of biodiversity when certain organisms, birds and animals that were dependent on the trees just give up the ghost and die! Humans on the other hand are experiencing a population explosion which in real terms means relying more and more on shrinking resources.

One more reason against TP that is often overlooked is that TP may have impurities and skin irritants in the dyes. The fluff may cause allergies when the TP is put to other uses like blowing the nose. This is unlike Plectrunthus barbatus whichas we shall see, has several other uses

The sweet smelling purple flowers Plectrunthus barbatus
The sweet smelling purple flowers Plectrunthus barbatus | Source

How will the Green Alternative get to consumers? Thesame way that Kenyan roses get to their customers in Holland; the same way that tropical plants are grown in green houses in the northern hemisphere; the same way that many households have potted tropical plants growing indoors. People would naturally need less Plectrunthus barbatus than vegetables such as spinach and Kale, which are available in abundance. In other words, where there is a will, there is a way.

And who said that Plectrunthus barbatus is the only plant in the world that can serve as TP? Surely there must have been a species for the Incas in the Americas. We haven’t asked the Chinese peasants or the American Indian what they used before the advent of TP. But wait - Plectrunthus barbatus is known in Brazil where it is used as a tea! Wonders will never cease about this wonderful plant. Perhaps it is more widespread globally than earlier imagined.

Other uses of the Plectrunthus barbatus

In Kenya - This wonderful planthad many other uses besides the private one discussed above. According to information from the Herbal Gardens of the National Museums of Kenya, Plectrunthus barbatus was used to treat the following:

1. Blood clots

2. Stomach aches

3. Malaria

4. Measles - Fresh leaves were pounded into a pulp. The pulp was soaked in warm water after which the sick child was bathed in the water. That was all that was needed to effect a cure for measles.

In Brazil - the authors of a paper on the essential oils of Plectrunthus barbatus claim that the plant is widely used as a tea for stomach and liver problems. Evidence from Pharmacological studies on animals apparently confirms the plant’s “effectiveness in reducing gastric secretion.”

In conclusion, going green with a Toilet Paper alternative is within the reach of everyone in the tropics. For the rest of the world, a strong will is all that is needed. Plectrunthus barbatus is a plant that will serve you in more ways than one. When you don’t need it as TP, you can refresh with a tonic that has several health benefits. What’s more, you get to effortlessly save the world’s forest cover.

So next time you wonder what life was like before toilet paper was invented, read this through again. And while you are at it, consider planting a few trees every year. Better still, plant Plectrunthus barbatus and make a difference. You will be contributing to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially number 7 which aims to ensure environmental sustainability.

Disclaimer – I have no proof that Plectrunthus barbatus really cured the stated ailments but the advantages are overwhelming and further research is necessary. I know first-hand that it is a fairly good alternative to Toilet Paper.


· The Botanical Gardens, National Museums of Kenya - For information on the uses of Plectrunthus barbatus

· Marta Regina Kerntopf, Roberto Lima de Albuquerque, Maria Iracema L. Machado, Francisco José A. Matos & Afrânio A. Craveiro (2002): Essential Oils from Leaves, Stems and Roots of Plectranthus barbatus Andr. (Labiatae) Grown in Brazil, Journal of Essential Oil Research, 14:2, 101-102

· - authored by David Braun


Submit a Comment
  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    7 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    I captured it here so that the memory is never lost to humanity - Thanks DDE

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Those days I have never experienced but it must have been very different thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    8 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Patkay, the maigoya plant is still available in the villages but not in homes. One would have to scout the bushes. So if you want to revive the tradition, plant some along the fence - again.

    Paul, I would like to know the name of that velvet plant plant in Wisconsin. Even Plectrunthus is velvety and may have a bigger geographical range than I imagined. About the hose, never heard of it and thanks for that info.

  • Paul Kuehn profile image

    Paul Richard Kuehn 

    8 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

    Emmanuel, This is a very interesting hub and it brings back memories of my youth when I was growing up on a farm. On many occasions while helping my father in the fields in Wisconsin, we would go into a wooded area and use the broad green leaves of a velvet plant when we had to relieve ourselves. Since living in Thailand I have stopped using toilet paper. Instead, I use a water hose gun which is common in most houses. I think it is cleaner and more hygienic than using TP. Voted up and sharing.

  • Patkay profile image

    Patrick Kamau 

    8 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Emmanuel Kariuki, thanks for sharing this and reminding me of those days we used maigoya. We also used it for fencing, but what I doubt is if we still have it in plenty back in the villages.


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