In this section we provides well-researched content on a variety of topics relating to South African Medicinal Plants.
Traditional Uses of South African Medicinal Plants
The medical and recreational use of indigenous plants and oils were introduced to the early Dutch settlers by local tribes and included plants like buchu, Aloe ferox (the African cousin of Aloe vera) and Cape chamomile.
These plants were chewed (Sceletium tortuosum as a mood enhancer), steeped in alcohol or vinegar for digestive complaints and worms (buchu), burned and the smoke inhaled (camphor bush for headaches) or brewed as a medicinal tea and tonic (Sutherlandia frutescens and Athrixia phylicoides). Indigenous essential oils are very effective. Wild rosemary oil is an antiviral and helichrysum oil is used to treat snake and spider bites, while buchu oil is used for its anti-inflammatory properties.
The Sotho people use raw leaves of the Cape rose geranium as a poultice to heal wounds and abscesses, the powdered leaves of the sourplum (Ximenia caffra) are used to treat infertility and fever while its powdered root is a reputed aphrodisiac. Local plants can be eaten raw (sour fig, marula, num num), made into jams, nuts roasted and eaten (baobab seeds and green cowpeas) and leaves eaten as vegetables (bitter melon, morogo and cowpea leaves).
Healing Properties of Indigenous Plants
The potency of South African medicinal plants have been recognized by the international pharmacological, food and cosmetic industries and are used in a variety of applications. Devil’s Claw is famed for its anti-inflammatory properties in treating arthritis, Buchu is used to give a blackcurrant flavour in the food industries, while African cold-pressed oils such as Baobab and Mongongo (also known as manketti) are widely used as excellent moisturizers and skin-regenerating agents.
The healing properties of South African indigenous plants extend to more serious diseases. Cornell University Medical College has found that African Ginger may prevent strokes, Sutherlandia frutescens (‘cancer bush’) and African Wormwood (Artemisia afra) are reputed to help fight cancer and diabetes, while the endangered Pepper-Bark Tree is used for venereal diseases and malaria. A mixture made from Lippia javanica and the Knysna lily is used by the Zulu people to treat cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS symptoms and TB. Recent studies have found sage be a possible herbal treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Southern African medicinal plants and indigenous food crops are often easy to grow, can be sustainably wild-harvested and can be incorporated into home gardens and in farming systems. It can relieve symptoms of diseases when added to diets to increase diversity and nutrient intake. It can also benefit the health and well-being of those who use it.
It should be noted, however, that the use of medicinal plants and oils should not replace sound medical and dietary advice.
Information is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment offered by healthcare professionals.
See the list below:
- African Ginger Oil
African Ginger (Siphonochilus aethiopicus) is a popular Zulu herbal medicine that was believed to offer protection against snakes and lightning. Benefits of African Ginger Oil include…more
- Aloe Ferox
The versatile aloe is known for being the healing succulent. Its fleshy leaves hold nourishing properties that facilitate the healing and improvement of many ailments, most commonly skin-related….more
- Anti-inflammatory African Potato
Not related to the household potato, the African wild potato (Hypoxis hemerocallidea) is associated with the lily and is a very hardy and drought resistant plant native to South Africa….more
- Baobab Tree
Benefits of Baobab and Baobab Oil. Baobab provides food, water and fibre but also have medicinal uses. Young leaves are used in cooking or to treat fever….more
- Buchu Health Benefits
Buchu has long been described as a “miracle herb” and medicinal plant in South Africa, being used for centuries as a folk remedy or “boereraat” for anything from urinary tract infections to nervousness….more
- Buchu Oil
Buchu (‘boegoe’ in Afrikaans) is a generic name for members of the aromatic Rutaceae family and is prized for its medicinal properties worldwide. Used in South Africa for centuries by the San and Khoi people…more
- Bush Tea
Also called Bush tea (Eng.) Boesmanstee (Afr.), Icholocholo, itshelo, umthsanelo (isiZulu), Athrixia phylicoides with its soft dark green foliage and purple daisy-like flowers is a popular garden plant with health benefits…more
- Camphor Bush
Camphor bush, Tarchonanthus camphoratus is also known as leleshwa, African wild sage or ‘vaalbos’ (Afrikaans). Camphor bush helps treat fevers, wounds and cuts and acts as a natural preservative…more
- Can African Wormwood Cure Cancer?
Known as African wormwood or sagewood – Artemisia afra – is a highly aromatic plant. Used for its multitude of medicinal properties artemisia helps in the treatment of malaria, headaches, intestinals worms…more
- Can Mongongo Nut Prevent Hair Loss?
Mongongo trees (Schinziophyton rautanenii), also known as manketti, are found in southern Africa especially in the deep sandy soils of the Kalahari. The high protein and oil content make Mongongo nut oil an excellent treatment…more
- Cape Chamomile Oil is for Anti-inflammatory
Cape chamomile (Eriocephalus punctulatus) is one of the lesser-known ‘camomile’ plants used for its oils healing properties. Cape Chamomile oil is praised for its calming properties…more
- Cape Rose Geranium for PMS
Cape rose geranium essential oil – Pelargonium capitatum x radens (rose) – is the preferred one of 700 varieties of cultivated geranium and a hybrid of two of the three oil-producing pelargoniums….more
- Cape Snowbush
This small shrub with silver leaves and white flowers are called Eriocephalus africanus and is of the Asteraceae family. Named after the fluffy seed tufts, the Cape snowbush is also called kapokbos in Afrikaans…more
Cannabis is most often associated with the high one gets from smoking the flower buds or resin of the plant. However, there is so much more to this healing plant than its popularized intoxicating effects….more
- Damask Rose Oil
Extracts of rose oil contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and are suitable for use on all skin types, including sensitive and oily skin. It helps to reduce redness and has excellent moisturising properties….more
- Devils Claw for Arthritis
The Southern African Khoisan and Bantu-speakers have used devil’s claw for indigestion, blood diseases, fevers, sprains and boils. Modern applications of the plant include a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and natural pain relief for arthritis…more
- Eucalyptus Oil for Mental Exhaustion
Eucalyptus was originally used by Aboriginal Australians for its antiseptic properties – healing wounds, fungal infections and also to break fevers…more
- Helichrysum Oil
Helichrysum essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which is ideal for tendonitis, tissue pain and rheumatism. It is also antifungal, antiseptic and due to its regeneration properties can aid the healing of scar tissue…more
- Hoodia for Slimming?
Sought-after for its medicinal properties, curious-looking Hoodia gordonii is also called ‘Bitter Ghaap’, Kalahari cactus, ‘bokhorings’ (goat horns in Afrikaans) or Khobab (in Khoisan)….more
- Kalahari Melon Oil
Kalahari melon fruit is used by the San (Bushmen) people as a source of water, as well as a moisturiser and sunscreen. It is eaten by livestock and game. As a human food source, the seeds are high in protein…more
- Lippia Javanica Against Insects
Rich in a volatile oil with a lemon-like fragrance, Lippia Javanica repels insects and rodents. Grown commercially in South Africa for essential oil production, a mosquito repellant candle…more
- Marula Oil – Rich Skin Hydrator
Marula oil is rich in essential fatty acids and its fine molecular structure is the key to its effectiveness as a skin hydrator and protector making it ideal for most of all skin types…more
- Moringa – Miracle Medicine
Moringa is now considered a ‘super-food’. The powdered leaves, roots, bark and immature pods are used for its nutritional, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and tissue-protective benefits….more
- Parsley Tree
Plants such as the parsley tree are valuable in this time of great societal stress where there is a great need for natural relaxing remedies….more
- Pepperbark Tree – Endangered Medicine Plant
The bark and leaves of the pepper-bark tree contain various compounds with antibacterial, anti-fungicidal (particularly against Candida yeast infections), anti-ulcer and diuretic properties….more
- Pineapple Lily – Popular Traditional Medicine
The strange-looking pineapple lily is a striking bulbous plant resembling a flowering green pineapple. Native to South Africa, its yellow-greenish flowers are carried on long spikes with a tuft of green ‘leaves’ at the top….more
- Psychoactive Plants
Many people ask why are psychoactive plants important to know about? Traditional medicine has hundreds of unexplored South African medicinal plants that are used to counter stress….more
- Red Milkwood Fruit High in Vitamin C
Red milkwood (Mimusops zeyheri) is also called moepel, Mmupudu, umPushane, Nhlantswa and Mubululu and is native to Africa….more
- Rooibos Tea is Proudly South African
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a shrubby legume indigenous to the mountains of the Western Cape and endemic to South Africa. The caffeine-free Rooibos tea reputed to have medicinal properties…more
- Sage Oil – Ancient Medicine
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial shrub with fragrant grey-green leaves about 60 cm high in the family of Labiatae/Lamiaceae. Sage was one of the first plants to be used medicinally by the Dutch at the Cape…more
- Sceletium Tortuosum – Traditional Mood Enhancer
This climbing or creeping plant – Sceletium tortuosum – has been known and used in South Africa for centuries. The Khoisan used the plant and introduced its mood elevating effects to the early colonisers around 1662….more
- Sourplum as Medicinal Plant
The sourplum tree is also known as the wild plum or monkey plum. Benefits of Sourplum include helping treat nausea in pregnancy and it is appreciated for its moisturising properties….more
- Sutherlandia Frutescens – Soothes Sickness
The ‘cure-all’ of South African plants, Sutherlandia frutescens is widely praised for its immune boosting, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties used for ailments such as arthritis, cancer and as a treatment of adult-onset, type-2 diabetes mellitus….more
- Use Pelargonium Sidoides for a Cold
Pelargonium sidoides has mildly aromatic velvety leaves and almost black flowers and is a well-known medicinal plant in South Africa. It has been shown to safely and effectively treat acute upper respiratory tract infections…more