A review of 4 South African medicinal plants - the buchu plant, kankerbos, wild mint and bitter aloe.
South Africa’s wide variety of plant species is legendary. Ten percent of all the species on earth - a whopping 22 000 - exist in an area that constitutes only one percent of the planet’s land mass.
Although these indigenous plants are acknowledged for their sheer elegance and beauty, it is a lesser known fact that many of the plants endemic to South Africa exhibit powerful medicinal qualities. In fact, over sixty percent of South Africans regularly use the leaves, stems and roots of the nation’s botanical bounty as alternative health care products!
The ancient knowledge of traditional healers is being tapped and tested in the laboratories and research institutes of academia. Indigenous medicinal plants such as Kankerbos, Kaapse Platdoring, Wild Mint and Bitter Aloe have proven efficacy in the treatment of a host of ailments and injuries.
It is, however, the versatile and rather exclusive Buchu plant, which is endemic to a small stretch of land deep within the Cape Floral Kingdom, that has been recognised above all others as a potent natural remedy.
This humble member of the Agathosma genus is so rare and sought after, it is now commercially cultivated in the Western Cape. Its essential Buchu oil, approved safe and non toxic by the FDA, EU and WHO, is extracted in an organic process and carefully formulated into a range of Buchu health care products.
Comprising a host of bioflavonoids, renowned as powerful antioxidants, as well as Vitamins B, E and A, Buchu has been scientifically proven to be highly effective:
- In the symptomatic relief of rheumatism and arthritis, by reducing acute pain and inflammation.
- In the treatment of urinary tract infections, with antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and diuretic qualities.
- As an anti-fungal and antiseptic agent used in the treatment of open wounds, burns, bruising, eczema, joint or muscle pain and even nappy rash!
This attractive flowering plant, a member of the legume family, is easily identifiable by its bright red flowers and almost translucent, puffed up seed pods. Endemic to the arid areas of the Cape, the ‘Balloon Pea’ has traditionally been used as a broad spectrum tonic, a blood purifier and as a treatment for flu.
The prolific plant has also been associated with immune support in the fight against TB and Aids, as a treatment for cancer – hence it’s name ‘Cancer Bush’ in Afrikaans – and as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent effective against E. coli, E. faecalis and S. aureus.
Common in the wet areas of South Africa, Wild Mint exudes a typical mint aroma and has erect stems topped by tight clusters of small white, pink or purple flowers.
The leaves, roots and stems are typically crushed and used as an infusion for the treatment of a host of ailments including colds, bronchial infections, fevers, indigestion, headaches and painful menstruation. Its diaphoretic properties create an effective cleanser, it is a known muscle relaxant and it is also used externally in the treatment of open wounds.
The succulent Aloe Ferox, with its influential medicinal powers, is under threat. Together with other wild species of the Aloe family, it is currently classified as endangered. Typically found in the dry areas of South Africa, Bitter Aloe has fleshy leaves with spines on the edges and large, erect bright orange or red flowers.
The sap of the plant is successfully used in the treatment of cuts, burns, skin irritations and spleen disorders, while it is also reputed to be an effective elixir in the fight against HIV/Aids and cancer!
Image Credit: With Many Thanks to TANAKA Juuyoh for the Bitter Aloe photo / CC License