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How one woman’s pain launched a business

PERIOD pains led investment banker Harriet Chebet to herbal products after her return to Kenya. Now, the herbs are the basis of her thriving herbal products business.

A cloud of aromatic steam and the happy sound of bubbling fills the tidy, tiled room in Karen, a suburb in Nairobi, as Harriet Chebet shows off the machinery that helps her produce a range of medicinal herbal products. The remedies, which Chebet promotes as herbal solutions to health issues ranging from endometriosis to joint pain, are delivered daily to women across Kenya. As to their effectiveness, Chebet should know – she started the business after herbal remedies rescued her from a lifetime of pain.

“Every month for one week, I was in a lot of pain, throwing up, constipation and on strong painkillers,” Chebet said of her life before she discovered a herbal remedy.

At the age of 16, Chebet started to battle with endometriosis, a painful condition where the inner lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. With each menstrual cycle, the tissue thickens, breaks down and bleeds. When Chebet left Kenya for the UK to study and work as an investment banker, the condition continued. For years, she endured the challenges of a demanding corporate job and chronic pain.

Even when she was finally diagnosed with endometriosis, there was no solution and no end to the pain. She sought alternative medicines but could not find a remedy for her debilitating pain.

Chebet relocated to Kenya in 2017, losing her father the same year. During his funeral, she encountered a woman who, after witnessing her struggle with menstrual pain, introduced her to herbal remedies long used by women of her ethnic group.

“I took it back home and boiled the herbs and for the first time in over 20 years I experienced a painless period,” Chebet shared.

Inspired by the result, Chebet shared the experience with a friend struggling with similar challenges.

“The friend I shared with was on her way to get a hysterectomy and she had been bleeding for around 3 weeks and I advised her to try the product first for pain before getting the procedure. When she took it, she stopped bleeding and shared her experience to a WhatsApp group and that’s how the business, Harriet Botanicals, started,” Chebet said.

Chebet realised she could tap a range of herbal remedies through her heritage as part of the Kipsigis tribe of Kenya. Traditionally, the Kipsigis were semi-nomadic pastoralists, raising livestock and cultivating sorghum and millet in the fertile highlands of southwestern Kenya. The tribe’s traditional healers, called ‘Il-Koibatik’, used their expertise to prescribe herbs.

“The Kipsigis hold over a thousand years of traditional ancient remedies for helping women who have reproductive issues,” Chebet explained.

A year later, Chebet established Harriet Botanicals as an official institution by obtaining certification from the Culture Ministry, which governs businesses and products of this nature.

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She then took the crucial step of subjecting her products to safety testing at the University of Nairobi’s Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. This evaluation confirmed the suitability of her products for mass production.

Chebet sources her herbs from the South Rift Region of Kenya and ingredients include the roots, bark, and leaves from approximately 30 different tree and herb species. These herbs are then transported to her Karen-based ‘headquarters’.

Her facilities include a drying room, a manufacturing plant and a front office where packaging labelling and distribution take place before products are transported to retailers all over Kenya. Chebet currently employs 20 full-time and more than 50 casual workers.

Harriet Botanicals has a range of 12 products that focus on overall body health for both women and men. The prices vary, ranging from 700 to 2000 Kenyan shillings (about US$5 to US$15), ensuring accessibility to a wide range of customers.

Mosipchot is one of these products, a traditional indigenous remedy. Sold as a blood purifier with anti-viral properties, it is said to help eliminate joint pain, lower blood sugar levels for patients suffering from Type 2 Diabetes and manage high blood pressure. It is also advertised as a kidney cleanse and diuretic.

The product has a ‘please consult your health provider on the use of this product’ advisory on their products and online store website.

“Harriet Botanicals is a company that retails traditional, indigenous medicine for the urban, African and diaspora market. These are 100% organic medications with no side effects. It is not processed and there are no preservatives added. Additionally, these herbal products contain bio-active components that are actually found in pain medication, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial medications,” Chebet explained.

Arorwet is Chebet’s flagship product and perhaps her most famous product. It is advertised as an organic product used to alleviate the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fibroids and urinary tract infections, among other female reproductive disorders.

Arorwet contains anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial elements like Phytoestrogens. According to Healthline.com, Phytoestrogens are compounds that naturally occur in plants and which can possibly regulate oestrogen levels in humans.

Gachege Kongo is one of Chebet’s frequent customers. She struggled with menstrual pain that was so bad she couldn’t carry out her day-to-day activities. It wasn’t until she started using Arorwet that her story of pain changed.

“I experienced immediate relief once Harriet introduced me to Arorwet which had also helped her. The pain and heavy bleeding stopped and through the years I have continued to use it and I have continued to feel much better,’’ she said.

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Harriet Botanicals has garnered a wide following across social media platforms. On Facebook and Instagram alone, they have a combined 100,000 followers. Posts include hundreds of positive reviews from people, especially women who previously suffered from the impact of reproductive issues, from painful menstrual cramps to infertility issues.

One excited social media user shared her experience after using Arorwet.

“I am proud because, since 2018, I developed PCOS, irregular, painful and prolonged periods, hoarse voice, primary infertility, HTN, DM and obesity. A friend introduced me to Harriet Botanicals and after using Arorwet and Mosipchot I realised I was pregnant,’’ she said.

Brenda Nyongesa, another customer of Harriet Botanicals, shared her struggles of trying to conceive for more than seven years

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“I was diagnosed with adenomyosis, fibroids and cysts and I had visited many doctors and gynaecologists before I learnt of Harriet Botanicals herbal remedies to issues like mine. After taking around 15 bottles of the famous Arorwet I found out I was pregnant.’’

With a monthly customer base of 5,000 to 6,000 individuals, the company has established a strong presence with over 14 outlets nationwide. Their products are distributed through respected Kenyan health stores such as ‘Healthy U’.

Researchers estimate that 80% of the world population uses herbal drugs in primary health care because they are readily available and less expensive.

“Traditional medicine has been used in Africa for centuries to address reproductive health concerns and health concerns in general. While I am yet to prescribe them myself, I am always eager to explore well-researched herbal medicine like Harriet Botanicals because they provide options alongside conventional treatment. However, it is important to discuss your interest in herbal remedies with a doctor or qualified herbalist first. They can help you determine the appropriate dosage based on your individual needs, health history, and any medications you’re taking,” said Dr Simon Juma, a gynaecologist and reproductive health specialist.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Chebet and Harriet Botanicals. At the beginning of her journey, she encountered a significant hurdle in the form of the societal stigma surrounding traditional medicine. She had to confront accusations of engaging in illegal activities and taking advantage of people, which led to a lack of credibility and not being taken seriously.

However, as time passed and customers started to witness the positive effects of her remedies, Harriet Botanicals gradually gained credibility and began to overcome the challenges posed by preconceived notions.

Now more confident and experienced, Chebet has plans for the company that will keep her busier than would ever have been possible before her life-changing experience with herbal medicine.

“My future plans are to continue formalising my company by taking branding initiatives to another level while working with industry giants. I would also like to rebrand by changing the bottles so that they are high-density pharmaceutical plastic. I am also working on creating a new product for malaria and fever. I would also like to continue expanding our markets abroad,” she shared.

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By CYNTHIA ROTICH, BIRD STORY AGENCY

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