12 Lesser Known South African Botanicals to Boost Your Health

South Africa is not only a country of extreme diversity when it comes to culture but also in its floral kingdom. And as national heritage day rolls around again, most of us will be celebrating it with a braai (hopefully a part veggie one).  But being the extreme nature lovers that we are, we’re celebrating our heritage by spotlighting some of lesser known, but incredible South African botanicals. Here’s to discovering some marvellous cures in our abundant plant life that will no doubt make for stimulating conversation around the braai.

South Africa, as anyone who has travelled much, can attest to, really is a place of breathtaking natural beauty. Our country is actually abundant with  8 major terrestrial biomes –  semi-desert, succulent-rich Karoo, Fynbos, Savanna, Forest, Thicket and Grassland. Here in the Western Cape, our Cape Floral Kingdom alone is often referred to as a ‘plant paradise’, home to nearly 20% of the entire continent’s flora. It is one of the richest areas for plant biodiversity in the world, so it’s no wonder our country produces such a bounty of incredibly healing skin care products and not to mention aromatic gins, tonics and sweetly scented potions.


  1. BUCCHU

This world-renowned natural anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and antiseptic herb is primarily cultivated for its healing essential oils and is also produced as a tea, a gel and capsules. It was even used by the San and Khoi tribes as perfume.

Why we love it:
Buchu treats high blood pressure, UTI infections, kidney stones and prostate irritation, as well as arthritis, gout and countless other ailments.

Where to try it:


2. DEVIL’S CLAW

Devil’s claw refers to the dried roots of this plant, native to the Kalahari savanna of Southern Africa, the Namibian steppes, and Madagascar. To survive the harsh drier months, the plant produces horizontal off shoots or tubers from the main tap root. It’s also known as grapple plant and is actually part of the sesame family.

Why we love it:
This botanical has excellent anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce swelling and pain, with a special affinity for relieving pain in the joints. It also therefor makes for a great health tonic.

Where to try it:


3. AFRICAN POTATO

African potato is indigenous to the grasslands and woodlands in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland and also goes by the name Bantu Tulip. The delicate plant, not at all family of the spub, but rather, would you guess it the lily. Its the bulbous base of the stem forms slender corms, instead of potato-like tubers, hence its ironic name.

Why we love it:
African Potato is renowned for its immune boosting properties and is reputed to be effective in the battle against cancer, TB, asthma, HIV Aids and a host of other chronic conditions. Its also highly effective in soothing a variety of skin conditions, from irritation and inflammation to sunburns and eczema as well as relief from joint stiffness, sprains, arthritis and muscular pain.

Where to try it:


4. ROSE GERANIUM

Rose Geranium is actually an uncommon Pelargonium species. It also goes by sweet scented geranium, old fashion rose geranium and rose-scent geranium and is not only used for its healing properties but also as perfume and as a sweetly scented syrup in cocktails and beverages.

Why we love it:
This aromatic flower possesses potent antibacterial and antiviral properties, making it ideal for the treatment of chronic respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, sore throat, sinusitis, colds and flu. It’s astringent characteristics help tighten skin, reducing the formation of wrinkles. It also stimulates skin cell regeneration and is helpful in reducing scar tissue and skin spots.

Where to try it:

 


5. ASSEGAI

The wood from this tree,  also known as Bangalala, was used by the Bantu speaking people of southern Africa in making spears and lances, but various types of the tree grow all over Africa.

Why we love it:
Meet nature’s answer to viagra. Due to its ability to open veins and increase blood flow, the bangalala botanical is used as an aphrodisiac, notably to enhance male potency and prolonged erection.

Where to try it:

  • Afrigetics Bangalala Supplement

6. MARULA

Most patriotic South Africans will be familiar with this botanical from the delicious cream liqueur poured over ice. The oil used for health purposes is also harvested from the fruit of that same tree, the Marula Tree, or Elephant Tree. It’s namesake feast on its fruit, which is incredibly rich in vitamin C, containing 8 times more than oranges.

Why we love it:
It’s a wonderfully nourishing and hydrating oil, helping to maintain the skin’s natural lipids. Also rich in omegas 6 & 9, it helps restructure and regenerate skin cells. And as a powerful source of anti-oxidants (maruline, tocopherols, flavanols, procyanidin and catechins), the oil acts as a free radical scavenger, treating dry skin, stretch marks and skin irritations.

Where to try it:


 7. KALAHARI MELON

This ancestor of the watermelon is creating a huge buzz on the beauty scene as the next powerful wonder product. Used by the San for over 4000 years already, as a healing skin moisturiser and natural water source in the Kalahari desert for hunter gatherers, some scientists believe you could live on this fruit alone for up to 6 weeks.

Why we love it:

The oil also referred to as Citrullus Lanatus is rich in essential fatty acids; linoleic, oleic and palmitic acids, with excellent emollient, hydrating and epidermal restructuring properties. This means it not only protects the skin but also maintains the integrity of cell walls and offers deep hydration to skin and hair.

Where to try it:


 8. MANKETTI

The manketti tree, often also referred to as the mongongo tree or mongogo nut, can grow up to 20 meters tall and has distinct hand shaped leaves. It’s velvety egg shaped fruits contain the hard pitted nuts, rich in nutritious oil. The mongongo nuts have formed part of the Kung bushmen diet for over 7000 years. While the fruit and its oil possess all the healing properties the hard outer shell has been used for divining ‘bones’.

Why we love it:

Manketti oil is rich in eleostearic acid. Under UV light this acid polymerises, creating a natural sun protection. It’s rich linoleic acid is also a key component in maintaining the integrity of cell’s membrane. It assists in regenerating, restructuring and hydrating skin and is also high in vitamin E.

Where to try it:


9. SAUSAGE TREE

Used for thousands of years by the Shangaan and Tonga women as a multipurpose medicinal plant, the sausage tree, also known as Kigelia Africana, produces large, oblong shaped fruits that can weigh up to 12kg each. While the fruit is consumed by a number of mammals it is poisonous to humans in its fresh state and needs to be dried and roasted before consumption. Through fermentation, a beer-like alcoholic beverage can even be made.

Why we love it:
Active components such as quinones, iridoids, coumarins and flavonoids have been shown to repair damage caused by the sun. The fruit’s healing properties also include treating blemishes, firming and tightening skin, promoting a healthy, clear complexion and reducing sunspots. It’s also believed to stimulate the central nervous system.

Where to try it:


 10. RESURRECTION PLANT

This magical, local plant species fall under the group of poikilohydric plants, meaning they can survive extreme dehydration, even over months or years, reviving themselves at a rapid speed after rainfalls. It achieves this spectacular task thanks to a vast root system as well as an ability to fold its leaves inward in order to reduce the amount of light absorbed. It can even produce flowers after months of drought and has become known as a symbol of hope in many African cultures.

Why we love it:
Very high in potassium, magnesium & iron, it can be used to treat coughs, influenza, mastitis, backache, kidney disorders and even haemorrhoids and abdominal pains.

Where to try it:


11. MAFURA BUTTER

The Mafura tree, also known as Cape Mahogany, grows mainly in high-lying wet areas of Southern Africa, producing beautiful white flowers and reddish-brown seeds. The butter is cold pressed from these seeds to make an incredibly rich substance – another superhero changing the scope of the beauty industry.

Why we love it:
The butter is both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, containing essential fatty acids touted for their anti-ageing properties. It is not only light and easily absorbed but the softening and moisturising properties increase the elasticity of both hair and skin.

Where to try it:


12. SCELETIUM

This plant is actually a powerful mood-altering botanical, first written about by Jan Van Riebeek. The plant is also known as Kougoed, which literally means ‘chewable substance’. In intoxicating doses, it is reported to be euphoric but not hallucinogenic.

Why we love it:
The botanical is a wonderful cure for combatting stress, anxiety and even depression. It acts as a cognitive and mood enhancer helping the brain in optimising serotonin function. It’s a great one to keep at work.

Where to try it:


There are of course countless wonderful flora in this incredible country to celebrate. But since we’re pretty sure you’re already well versed with the powerful properties of the likes of rooibos, honeybush, aloe ferox, chamomiles and baobab to name just a few left off this list, our hope is that in introducing you to some of the above lesser known marvels of our beautiful land, you now have an even richer appreciation for our natural heritage. Diversity is what makes our country and beyond that, the world, such a truly miraculous place and it is our hope that we not only cherish and preserve it by living faithfully to nature but that we can cultivate ongoing gratitude for the natural healing abundance around us.

Happy heritage day, greenies!

 

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