Ms Reshika Ramasar is celebrating achieving her masters cum laude after taking on a study of the phytochemical constituents, biological activity and morphology of the indigenous Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa) leaves in the summer and winter seasons.
The shrub, known colloquially as Amathungulu, umThungulu oBomvu, or “noem-noem”, is known to have many applications in traditional medicine; it is used to treat diarrhoea in livestock, and coughs and venereal diseases in humans, and displays anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant, antipyretic, and anti- inflammatory activity.
Ramasar’s research aimed to close the gap in knowledge about this species. She examined C. macrocarpa for its micromorphological features, histo-phytochemical properties, and antioxidant and antibacterial potential of the plant’s extracts.
Supervised by Professor Yougasphree Naidoo in the Laboratory for Medicinal Plant Research, her study was the first to relate the phytochemical composition and medicinal properties of C. macrocarpa to changes between winter and summer. Ramasar discovered that in winter, the leaves have chemical constituents that show more pharmacological activity than in summer.
Ramasar hopes her results will stimulate interest in and trigger the development of clinically effective medicines from this species that are affordable and have fewer side effects than synthetic medications. Her work was published in the international, peer-reviewed, open-access journal Horticulturae.
Ramasar, who is from Durban, chose to study at UKZN thanks to its international reputation, proximity to home, well-equipped research laboratories and promotion of research of relevance to societal problems.
Her honours and master’s studies were supported by scholarships from the National Research Foundation (NRF), and she is continuing with PhD studies, also supported by the NRF. Ramasar is an invited member of the Golden Key International Honour Society.
Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdowns, which restricted access to campus and laboratories, Ramasar was able to complete her studies in the minimum time of two years.
Aiming at a career in clinical research and drug development, Ramasar hopes to gain experience in a pharmaceutical company working on plant-based medications.
She thanked her family for their unconditional support and love, as well as her best friend and colleague Mr Arvish Maharaj for being an integral part of her journey. She expressed appreciation to her partner Mr Thashil Tuckooriah, who she called her biggest supporter and motivation to always aim higher. Ramasar also thanked her supervisor for her guidance and encouragement.
Words: Christine Cuenod
Photograph: Sandile Ndlovu