African Medicinal Plants


South African traditional healing utilizes a multitude of plants to treat an array of health/medical conditions.

Each plant has a use says Mama Maponya. This is knowledge known to every healer across the planet. There is no plant that does not have some use!

South Africa has a wonderfully rich biodiversity with all sorts of plants strewn across our beautiful landscapes with thousands of different uses.

acacia karoo

cussonia spp klipriviersburg nature reserve South Africa

Many plants seem obscure, like just any other weed, but each plant holds healing secrets (even weeds).

Interestingly, any one plant species can be found in different countries around the world, which also shows how plants have migrated just like humans to every corner of the planet.

Ashwagandha plant A plant that comes to mind that doesnt appear as anything special but has remarkable healing properties is Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera. This plant originally from India has become naturalized in South Africa and has powerful uses as a tonic for immune system problems and stress. In appearance it is ordinary, but on digging up the roots one finds a very powerful medicine.   Ashwagandha known as Ubuvimbho in South Africa, is used for its roots internally but the berries and leaves are toxic-and the leaves are only used externally.                      

ashwagandha roots traditional medicine

Thus, it is very important to realize many plants look alike, one medicine plant can look similar to a poisonous plant, and furthermore one plant can have parts that can be used and parts that must not be used (poison).Thus, always seek professional identification from an ethnobotanist or taxonomist before consuming any plant whose identity you are unsure of - you can easily die from toxic plants.



Boophane Disticha (incotho) is an ancestral medicine. It is thought to have been used by the San as a spititual medicine with bulb scales found in their graves.


Its scales are used as a very effective circumcision plaster, the neglected use of which may account for many of the modern day circumcision infections in South Africa.


It is very poisionous and in small doses is used to treat mental illness though in larger doses it can cause visions to assist divination (See Sobiecki, 2002, 2008). However it is very easy to get poisoned with or die from its use so it should not be experiemented with. Without proper guidance madness can result and a number of hospitalizations have been reported. Nevertheless it is a culturally important and beautiful plant.


Boophane disticha San poision bulb

Siphonochilus aethiopicus wild ginger

Wild ginger, isiphephetho, is mixed with other plants for respiratory infections such as flus, colds, and is also used for pain, probably having anti-inflammatory properties from the essential oils it contains. This plant is over-harvested and is being conserved.

Impepho flower incense burning on a sacred rock site

Impepho-various Helichrysum (everlasting flowers) species have an important place in South African healing. The aerial parts; flowers and stems are collected dried and burnt as an incense. It is relaxing (verified as having sedative actions through scientific studies) and connects you with your ancestral spirits. It is a very good medicine for meditating with. One must talk to the plant before lighting it and pray using it.

Rhoicissus tridentata wild grape and galium species

Rhoicissus tridentata or the wild grape (isinwazi) is a lovely scrambling creeper plant with a huge red tuber. The tuber is made into a decoction taken as a uterotonic (tone the uterus) and to faciliate delivery. It appears to be rich in flavanoids which can explain its uses.


Most of the plant pictures on this site were taken in a very special nature sanctuary, the Klipriviersburg Nature Reserve in the South of Johannesburg. This wonderful and unique reserve surrounded by suburbia is facing many threats (encroaching development, plant poaching etc) and if you can help in cash or in kind (skills) to assist with projects to protect and conserve the reserve please contact Clem Kourie on the site Klipriviersburg nature reserve We need such places in the future, especially in the busy and stessful city of Johannesburg, for people to connect with nature and heal. 

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