Medicinal plants of Fernkloof Nature Reserve.
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Medicinal plants of Fernkloof


The use of indigenous fynbos remedies and medication must be approached in a responsible way. Please consult your doctor before taking any such remedy, particularly if you are under medication or pregnant.


Extracts from the book Medicinal and other uses of Southern Overberg fynbos plants by Mathia Schwegler of Farm Heidehof.

The address:
Mathia Schwegler
P.O.Box 654
Gansbaai 7220
Telephone +27 28 3880073
schwegler @ telkomsa . net


No picking of any plant allowed within the Fernkloof Nature Reserve.



The Khoi and San people used the word buchu for any fragrant plant that could be dried and powdered, so this name does not designate a single species. Mostly Agathosama betulina and A. crenulata are used medicinally but these species do not occur naturally within the Southern Overberg. Many species (135) of the same (citrus) family are regarded as buchus and used, for example Agathosma serpyllacea, A. riversdalensis, A. collina, A. dielsiana, A. cerefolium, A. imbricata; Adenandra obtusata, A. viscida, A. brachyphilla, A. gummifera; and Coleonema album. Then there are the species of Acmadenia, Diosma and Euchaetis. All have one thing in common, namely that when you rub them you can smell a fresh citrus-liquorice smell, and even aniseed in some cases.

Buchu species are being tested for use in cosmetics, soaps, perfumes and food colouring and flavouring and although research is only in its infancy, the wealth of natural oils and fragrances is certain to be important in future. Buchus are also lovely in pot pourris.

Buchus are natural deodorisers, and fishermen remove the fishy smell by rubbing the twigs of C. album (Cape may or aasbossie) between their hands. They are also natural insect repeliants, and campers can rub their bedding with them to keep ants and mosquitoes away.

The oils are very strong though and should be used with care as they could cause percutaneous photosensitisation (sensitivity of the skin to sunlight).

Buchus are even being poached for their high market value.



Common name: Cape asparagus, waterblornmetjie

An aquatic plant with a tuberous root and floating leaves borne on long stalks.

The forked, sweetly scented, white flowerheads are edible and used for culinary purposes. The flowers have a scaly formation and must be washed carefully (preferably soaked) to remove the sand lodging within the scales. The flowers can be made into a succulent traditional Cape waterblommetjie bredie (stew) or chopped fresh into salads.

The whole plant is high in mineral value and contains several vitamins. The root is also edible. The stems with their high juice content make soothing treatments for burns and scrapes and take the pain out of sunburn, if the juice is applied every hour until the redness fades.

One can also pickle the waterblommetjie and eat it cooked or steamed, like asparagus, or one can make a delicious soup of the chopped up flowers and stems.



Common name: sieketroos, platdoring

A stemless, perennial plant with a substantial underground tuber. The large, shiny, leathery leaves (ca 100 mm long) are pressed to the ground and have scattered spines. White to pinkish flowers are borne in dense umbels on separate male and female plants. The spiny fruits are dispersed by animals and humans. It occurs on flats and lower slopes from Nieuwoudtville to Port Elizabeth. The root (or the white, resinous gum that oozes from it) is medicinal. It was a popular early Cape remedy for numerous diseases and the use of the plant probably had its origin in the Khoi culture.

Decoctions, infusions or tinctures of the root have been used to treat venereal diseases. The medicine is said to be diuretic, demulcent (soothing) and purgative, and is widely used to treat bladder ailments and skin irritations. Other traditional uses include the treatment of epilepsy. The thick root also contains an aromatic balsam.

Infusions are used internally or locally for the treatment of venereal diseases, whereas decoctions are taken orally for epilepsy and bladder problems.



Common name: haakdoring

A variable plant that may be a woody climber to 7 m. Spines are present on all nodes, except sometimes on the flowering stems. The flowers are sweet-scented and give rise to red berries.

Uses are described with those of A. rubicundus below.



Common name: wild asparagus Common name: katdoring, wag-'n-bietjie

A fibrous-rooted, hairless shrub with smooth, dark stems that can grow to 1.5 m in height, especially in shade. Sharp, slightly curving spines up to 6 mm long occur on all but the flowering branches. The 6 mm long flowers, usually solitary in the axils of the 3-20 mm long needle-like leaves, give rise to red berries.

Generally, the asparagus species are used for bladder and kidney ailments, lung conditions, tuberculosis and as a diuretic. The young shoots of several species are edible and can be eaten like the commercial asparagus.

Recipe: Wild asparagus shoots Boil the shoots or spears in enough water to cover them. As the water comes to the boil, pour off the water, refill the pot and boil the shoots again in fresh water. When they are tender, drain, saving the water for soup or gravy, and serve with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice and a little salt and pepper, or serve cold chopped into salads, or with a salad dressing.



Common name: klipuintjie, bobbejaantjie

Geophyte with shallow corm covered with netted fibres. Leaves spread fan-wise, and are pleated, hairy, narrow and tapering. Flowers have unequal petals, blue with a small cream area and usually a purple chevron at the base of the lower petals; very fragrant.

The fibrous covering of the corms is removed and they are eaten fresh or cooked in milk as a nutritious food. The corms may also be baked in hot ash or coals. The fibrous sheaths are left for protection until they are eaten. Babiana species are harvested in the wet season and are not considered to be edible during the dry summer months.



Bulbine annua is an annual. The bright yellow flowers are crowded on several stems and are star-shaped with a woolly stamen. It grows on sandy flats and slopes from Saidanha Bay to Riversdale.

The fresh leaves and roots of both Bulbine species (see below) are used medicinally. The leaf sap is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal (15 - IPUF 2002) and is widely used for the treatment of wounds, burns, rashes, itches, ringworm, cracked lips and herpes. Leaf sap is applied directly to the skin or in the form of a warm poultice.

No home with children should ever be without Bulbine as it is an instant first-aid remedy for those daily tumbles and scrapes and it stops the bleeding too. One can grow it in a pot on a sunny windowsill or in a large tub on a balcony. These plants are also widely used as a ground cover in "water-wise" gardens.



Common name: geelkatstert

Perennial, tuberous, up to 400 mm tall, with a basal cluster of semi-cylindrical fleshy leaves (ca 300 mm long) and taller, unbranched flowering stems. The yellow flowers (ca 7 mm wide) have spreading petals and bearded stamens. It occurs at lower altitudes from Piketberg to Mossei Bay.

The uses of this species are described together with those of B. annua above.



Common name: sour fig, suurvy

The flowers are rose-purple. The leaf juice is antiseptic and traditionally gargled to treat infections of the mouth and throat. It is also taken orally for dysentery, digestive troubles, tuberculosis and as a diuretic. As a styptic it is highly astringent and applied externally to treat excema, wounds and burns. It is also said to be effective against toothache, earache and oral and vaginal thrush. Mothers used to wipe the baby's mouth after lactation, with a cloth soaked with the juice of the sour fig.

Recipe 1: Sour fig douche One quarter to one half a cup each of finely chopped sour fig leaves and apple cider vinegar (or plain, dark brown grape vinegar) to two litres of warm water. Steep the sour fig leaves in the vinegar for an hour or two, strain, pour into the warm water and use as a douche. Use a fresh mixture every evening for 5-7 days, then leave the treatment for a week. Should the condition not yet be cleared, repeat for another week. Remember, however, as with all home treatments, to consult your doctor first.

Recipe 2: Tuberculosis remedy For tuberculosis, mix equal quantities of honey, sour fig juice and olive oil. Mix well, dilute in water and take approximately two tablespoons at a time, three times daily .

Recipe 3: Sour fig & ghouna fig jam. Peel soft skin off 500 g fresh C. acinaciformis and C. edulis fruit and allow to dry out overnight on a cooling tray. Next morning, boil 500 mI water and 500 sugar together for 5 minutes. Add fruit, salt to taste and 12.5 mi lemon juice and boil together until syrup thickens and fruit is soft but not pulpy.



Common name: hottentots fig, hottentotsvy

The petals are yellow or pink, with two of the calyx lobes longer than the petals. The leaves are straight to slightly curved, with serrated margins towards the tips. The fruit tapers into the stalk at the base. The pulpy fruits are edible and used to make jam. The leaves have medicinal properties similar to those of C. acinaciformis (see above). The expressed juice has also been used as a lotion for bluebottle stings and burns .



Common name: toothache berry, Christmas berry, bitterbos, aambeibossie, meidjie willemse, perdebos

A much-branched shrublet up to 800 mm high with small, softish, linear leaves about 10 mm long and shiny pink flowers (ca 20 mm wide). Bright orange-red berries cover the bushes during summer and autumn. Widespread in sandy and rocky areas in the south-western Cape .

The whole plant is used for medicinal purposes. Traditionally used by the Khoi as a purgative and to treat boils, The purgative is widely known, especially for haemorrhoids. A decoction of the whole plant is taken as a blood purifier to treat acne, sores and boils. Infusions may be used as a remedy for diarrhoea or leprosy. The plant is bitter and said to cause perspiration and sleepiness.

For external application the plant is fried in butter and used as a salve for sores. Infusions are also applied topically to haemorrhoids . An infusion of the plant's fresh leaves, stems and fruits if present is very bitter and is taken post-partem to expel retained placenta.

Also used as a bitter tonic in tinctures for stomach ulcers, kidney and bladder infections and diabetes.

It is used in the making of the Italian aperitif known as Campari. The bitter iridoids are known to stimulate the appetite.

This plant is toxic and uncontrolled use can be dangerous. Known side effects include a slightly loose stool but never diarrhoea.

Recipe: Chironia tea A decoction of the whole plant is drunk as a cleanser for skin problems and haemorrhoids. Add a quarter of a cup of fresh herbs to one cup of boiling water, allow to draw for 3 minutes then strain. This same brew is also used as a wash and as a lotion, applied to the area at frequent intervals (4-8 times per day). A pad of cottonwool soaked in the brew and applied at night to the piles is said to be soothing, comforting and to shrink them.



Common name: bush-tick berry, bietou, boetabessie

Dense, upright pioneer shrub often growing taller than 2 m, with dark green leathery leaves that are often toothed. It is frequently covered with yellow flowers (ca 20 mm across). The brownish berries are dispersed by birds. There are many varieties.

The fruit is edible and very sweet. Like the Khoi, the Sotho, Zulu and Xhosa believe the fruit to contain blood strengthening and purifying qualities; it is also a tonic for men suffering from impotence and for recovering from weakening illnesses like stomach ailments or gastritis. Ripe berries are also added to porridge or the juice is taken in water or tea. It clears adolescent acne and skin problems (6). Do not eat if you have sinusitis.

The ash from the leaves and stems was used in the making of soap.

Recipe 1: Bush-tick berry cordial 4 cups ripe berries, 2 cups water, 2 cups sugar, 6 cloves, 1 thumb-length of root ginger. Boil together for half an hour in a closed pot. Stir regularly. Allow to cool, strain through fine sieve. Bottle the syrup in a well-corked bottle. Serve diluted with iced water (1 part syrup to 8 parts water).

Recipe 2: Bietou spray for mildew on plants (6) A quarter bucket of bietou bush leaves and stems burned to ash to one bucket hot water. Leave overnight, then splash onto plants every day for four days.



Common name: pig's ear, plakkie, hondeoor

A shrubby plant with stout, succulent sterns and leaves. The large, oval ear-like leaves (ca 100 mm long) have red margins. The stalked, hanging tubular flowers have backward-curled petals at the rim, and are dusky pink-rose to scarlet. It is common on dunes in the area and is also found elsewhere in dry regions of southern Africa.

The leaves were used to treat corns and fever blisters (1). The warmed leaf juice is used as drops for earache. It may also be applied in the form of a hot poultice to treat boils, earache, inflammation or warts.

Internal use is dangerous and potentially lethal, and the toxicity is affected by the moisture content of the leaves.



Common name: five-fingers, lady's hand, raaptol, raapuintjie

A cormous plant about 250 mm tall with 4-6 wavy leaves (ca 150 mm long) arranged in a basal rosette. The branched flowerheads bear many dis- tinctly veined, yellow flowers. The sta- mens bend downwards and look like fingers on a hand.

In some areas like Namaqualand the uintjies (corms) are considered to be a high-quality staple food. The corms are nutritious, with a relatively low moisture content and a high protein content. After cleaning they weigh about 14 grams each. Harvesting occurs in the wet season (July to October) and the corms are eaten raw or are roasted or boiled in milk.

An excellent ointment was made in the early days at the Cape and is still popular in some rural districts. The leaves and flowers of Lobostemon fruticosus (agtdaegeneesbossie) are fried in butter with the raapuintjie and this is used for sores on legs, particularly in women, and for external lesions of syphilis.



Common name: honeybushtea, kustee, heuningtee

Rounded shrub, leafy at the ends of the branches. Leaves divided into three narrow leaflets at the base. Flowers clustered at the end of the branchlets, pea-like, golden-yellow, honey scented. Along drainage lines in sandy soil, from Darling to Uniondale.

Tea made from this plant has no caffeine and contains minimal traces of tannin. It has been discovered by a team of researchers at the University of the Free State that honeybush contains anti-oxidants that destroy the reactive oxygen particles released when oxygen is metabolised. The longer the tea brews, the more anti-oxidants are released. The destruction of free radicals by anti-oxidants has a life-prolonging or anti-ageing effect. The green tea is the most effective and involves using leaves, twigs and flowers. Dried in its natural form without sweat- ing.

The presence of anti-oxidants also explains the wide variety of medicinal qualities that local users ascribe to honeybush, namely that it clears many forms of dermatitis such as eczema; that it is successful in the treatment of skin cancer and all intestinal disorders; that it has a positive effect on hypertension and on hormone imbalances; it is recommended for all convalescents. The scientific research is in its infancy, but what has definitely been established is that honeybush contains no toxins and that it has a positive effect on one's physiology.

There are about 24 types of honeybush, of which C. genistoides has the highest levels of anti-oxidants.

Recipe: Honeybush tea jelly (Serves 6.) 3 tablespoons gelatine, 1 litre honeybush tea (boil half an hour then strain), 1 litre fresh orange juice or 1 litre fresh peach juice and pulp, honey to sweeten. (Can also be made with grapes and grape juice, or grated apple and apple juice.) Soften the gelatine in a little hot water and mix it into the warm tea. Add the fruitjuice and pulp. Stir in enough honey to sweeten (about 4 tablespoons). Pour into a glass bowl orjelly mould. Place in the fridge overnight to set. Serve with cream or custard. Add the left-over tea to your bath.



Common name: renosterbos(sie)

A much-branched shrub growing to about 1 m tall. It has minute, ericoid leaves and tiny, inconspicuous cream flowers. This plant is easily recognized by its drab, grey-green colour in renosterveld and degraded Elim fynbos. Its colour is believed to be the reason for its common name (renosterbos = rhinoceros-bush). In the R3ensveld north-west of Bredasdorp, where there are few trees, this plant was widely used as fuel for stoves. It was also used medicinally during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

One uses the young tips of the branches to make infusions in brandy or wine, a traditional Cape remedy for indigestion, dyspepsia, ulcers and stomach cancer. It can also be taken as a tonic to improve a lack of appetite and as stomach bitters and a perspiration stimulant. The powdered tops (toppe) are used for diarrhoea in children.



Common name: carpet geranium, bergtee, vrouebossie

A trailing, perennial plant about 250 mm tall with highly divided leaves and pale pink to mauve, symetrically shaped flowers (ca 25 mm wide) with petals notched at their tips. It grows in coastal areas from the Cape Peninsula to Port Elizabeth and northwards in the mountains of tropical Africa. The plant was used to make bergtee (mountain tea), was used medicinally by early settlers in the Cape.

The leaves (rarely the roots or fruits) are used as a tea substitute said to be useful for treating bladder infections, venereal diseases and menstrual-related illnesses.

The flowers are edible and can be used to decorate salads and fruit salads. One can crystalize them like violets and use to decorate cakes and puddings.

Recipe: Bergtee As a strong tea it is excellent for expelling worms: one quarter cup of fresh leaves to one cup of boiling water. Allow to draw for 10 minutes, then strain and drink warm first thing in the morning, every morning for 10 days. (This is also used for dogs and cats, mixed into their food and as drinking water).



Common name: everlastings, kooigoed

Species of Helichrysum are aromatic perennial herbs or shrublets with densely hairy or woolly leaves and persistent flowerheads. There are 245 species. Two well-known species of this area are H. crispum (illustrated) and H. foetidum or geel sewejaartjie; there are many others.

H. crispum is a sprawling herb up to 600 mm tall with soft, whitish, silky, woolly leaves (ca 35 x 12 mm) that clasp the stem. The creamy white flowerheads (ca 5 mm wide) are densely clustered at the end of branches. Grows in coastal dunes.

A tea made from the leaves has been used as a cure for high blood pressure and heart conditions, kidney ailments and backache; and a cup a day keeps sunblisters away. It calms a racing heart and is said to be effective for coronary thrombosis and hypertension; also for diabetes. The Khoi used it as a calming tea. It is also effective to treat heart ailments in animals.

For pain relief, smoke from burning leaves is inhaled. Leaves are widely used on wounds to prevent infection. H. foetidum, has astringent qualities which draw out the infection. Leaves are aromatic and used in pot pourris and in bedding and pillows. This counts for most Helichrysum species, hence the name kooigoed (bedding).

Recipe: For high blood pressure. Two handfuls of branches with leaves of Helichrysum crispum to one litre boiling water. Stand overnight and drink two cups next day (one in the morning and one at night).



Common name: wild dagga, wilde clagga, rooi dagga

Shrub growing to 2 m high with lance-shaped leaves (up to 120 mm long). Bright orange tubular flowers (ca 50 mm long) are velvety and have a long, arching, hooded upper lip. Flowers are clustered in whorls at intervals along stem.

For medicinal purposes mainly the leaves and stem are used, sometimes also the roots. Despite its name it is only mildly narcotic and has been smoked for the relief of epilepsy. The leaves or roots are widely used as a remedy for snakebite and to treat other bites and stings; also used for diabetes.

Externally, decoctions have been applied to treat boils, eczema, skin diseases, itching and muscular cramps. Internally, decoctions are used for coughs, colds and influenza, also bronchitis, high blood pressure and headaches. Leaf infusions have been used for asthma and viral hepatitis. Used to treat intestinal worms, headaches, obesity and eczema.

Recipe 1: Leonotis medicinal infusion For snakebites, scorpion, bee and wasp stings, cramp and leg pain: add four cups of leaves, stems, seeds and flowers to two litres of boiling water; stand, Recipe 2: Leonotis soothing tea Add one quarter cup of fresh flowers to one cup of boiling water, stand, steep for five minutes; drain, sweeten with honey if desired. Soothing for coughs and colds, also for jaundice etc. as mentioned under internal decoctions.



Common name: cancerbush, wildegansie, kankerbos

A shrub up to 900 mm high with greyish, pinnately compound leaves (up to 100 mm long) and striking scarlet flowers (ca 60 mm long). The large, inflated fruit pods are translucent. This pioneer is especially common in the dune fields.

Medicinally, mainly the leaves are used, but all above-ground parts are usually included. It is an old remedy for stomach problems and internal cancers. It is said to be a useful bitter tonic and a good general medicine including for colds, influenza, chicken-pox, diabetes, varicose veins, piles, inflammation, liver problems, backache and rheumatism. A decoction was used externally to wash wounds and internally for fevers and a variety of other ailments.

The plant has been used as a douche in prolapse of the uterus and a decoction is taken orally post-delivery on the same day to expel retained blood, treat postparturn pain, and to assist in healing and resolution of the uterus.

The seed and leaves have been smoked as a remedy for extreme pain in cancer and HIV Aids patients. The hairy coastal form is particularly effective against cancer. It should not be used during pregnancies.

Remedy: Lessertia (Sutherlandia) tea

One cup leaves to one litre boiling water to use externally,. one quarter to half a cup of this brew to be sipped every half hour for internal use (also use as a soothing bath or lotion over blisters). A weak infusion of two leaves to one cup of boiling water can be taken for influenza, rheumatism, liver ailments etc., and a tea made from the roots and leaves for an eye wash.



Common name: pyjama bush, agdaegeneesbos

Attractive shrub with hairy branches, mottled pink when young. Leaves leathery, softly hairy. Flowers clustered at the end of branches, funnel shaped, pink or blue suffused with pink.

Fresh leaves and twigs are used medicinally. Decoctions of the plant are an old Cape remedy for wounds, skin diseases and ringworm. Infusions have also been used as a tea to treat internal problems and to purify the blood. The fresh leaves and branch tips are ground to a paste and applied to wounds. For internal use, leaves are brewed as a tea. The crushed leaves may be fried in sweet oil or fat and used as a wound healing ointment.

The tea is made of fresh leaves (one quarter cup leaves to one cup boiling water; stand for five minutes, strain and drink) and drunk first thing in the morning; said to be a cure for ringworm in humans and animals. The tea can also be used for skin diseases, rashes, eczema and sores, with bandages soaked in the brew, also for bites and scratches.

One can also enjoy the tea as a tonic in the spring; or add the lovely flowers to a pot pourri.



Common name: Augustusbossie, skilpadbessie, duinbessie

A spiny shrub growing up to 2 m high and sparsely covered with small, narrow leaves (3-6 mm long). Numerous pink to purple flowers produce round, fleshy, red fruits during summer that are widely eaten by tortoises and other animals.

This plant was illustrated in 1685 during Simon van der Stel s expedition to Namaqualand, and reported to be thirst quenching. It is rich in Vitamin C. The fruit is still a popular snack.

An infusion is made of the leaves for colds, 'flu and bronchitis. infusions of the leaves and stems have been taken as a general tonic and for tuberculosis, abdominal pain and as a bitter digestive.



Common name: ironwood, ysterhout

A shrub or small tree up to 10 m tall with opposite, oblong leaves (ca 50 mm long), that have thickened, usually wavy margins. The small, whitish cream flowers are sweetly scented and occur in clusters along the sides or at the ends of the branches. The round, fleshy fruits become purple when mature. It is found in thicket and dunes and on lower slopes.

The exceptionally attractive wood is very hard and heavy, and therefore avoided by saw millers because it dramatically shortens the life of any saw blade. It has been used for railway sleepers, floors and, to a limited extent, for furniture.



Common name: slanghout, basterolyf

This shrub or small tree grows to 2 m tall and has leathery, linear-oblong, opposite leaves (ca 70 mm long) with tips that are usually bent backwards. The small, scented, whitish-cream flowers are clustered into heads at the ends of branches and the thinly fleshed, round fruits are deep purple to black when ripe. It grows in dune thickets and other sandy soils.

The fruits are edible when ripe, if one gets to them before the birds do! After the traditional curing as with olives, the fruit can be pickled by cooking it with vinegar and sugar until it thickens.

In the 17th century, the root was considered to be an antidote for snakebite.



Common name: Cape sumach, basbessie, pruimbos

A dense shrub or small tree up to 3 m high that resprouts after fire. It has greygreen oval leaves (ca 30 mm long), small, whitish-yellow flowers and edible, dark red-black, fleshy fruits (17 x 12 mm) (1). The nuts are also edible.

The fresh leaves of Cape sumach were used to tan leather a light brown colour, while the bark was used to tan leather dark brown. A layer of crushed leaves or bark, depending on colour preference, was put into the bottom of a trough, and the hide, with hair removed, was put on top of the plant material. Successive layers of plant material and hides were made and the wet mass was pressed flat with weights and left to tan for two weeks before removing and drying.

A decoction of fresh leaves was used to tan cotton fishing lines and nets to make them more durable in the days before nylon lines.



Common name: wild rose geranium, rose-scented pelargonium

This velvety-leaved, low, spreading plant with soft stems is very common. It is a remarkable skin softener and the sweetly scented leaves can be rubbed into the hands to soothe callouses and scratches, or into the heels to soften horny, cracked skin. They can also be tied into a piece of muslin and used in the bath as a wash and skin treatment, which also soothes rashes.

A tea made of the leaves is an old remedy for treating kidney and bladder ailments, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and flatulence.

Many other pelargoniums can be used for teas, pot pourris, puddings and cooldrinks.

Recipe: Rose geranium tea A quarter cup of fresh leaves in one cup of boiling water is the standard brew. Steep for five minutes. This is a very pleasant-tasting tea. Drink it with rose geranium scones, topped with rose-scented strawberry jam. Add one cup finely chopped rose geranium leaves to your scone recipe.



sad geranium, kaneelblom, rooirabas

The plant is about 600 mm tall. The flowers are yellowish-green and emit a musky scent at night. The leaves are hairy and dissected.

An infusion of the tubers is used. The roots are used chopped in stews and soups and mixed with other vegetables like potatoes and onions. This species is also used in the form of a tea as a treatment for dysentery, diarrhoea, nausea and digestive complaints.



Common name: fluitjiesriet

A tall perennial bamboo-like plant up to 4 m high with solitary, robust stems and brown and white spikelets (18 mm long). This cosmopolitan species occurs throughout most of southern Africa where it forms extensive, dense stands in riverbeds and wetlands.

Rhizomes are said to have been a traditional source of starch. The hollow reeds were used as tobacco pipe-stems and flutes, and for other musical instruments.

The seeds were ground and made into an ointment for burns. The rhizomes are diuretic and diaphoric; a sweet liquid can be obtained by piercing the stem and shaking out the resulting sap. The liquid is used as a sweetener, and also to treat pneumonia as it is an expectorant and relieves pain.

The reeds can also be used for building walls and bomas, and are favoured by nesting birds such as weavers.



Common name: sugarbush, suikerbos

This attractive, well-known protea is widely distributed. It is an erect shrub of up to 3 m high, with narrow hairless leaves. The flowerheads vary from cream to red. Commercially it is a good cut flower. The head has a sticky exudate on the outer surface and a large supply of nectar inside. Until recently this nectar was collected by shaking the flowerheads into buckets. The nectar was then strained and boiled to a syrupy consistency. The product was known as bossiestroop and was once a popular syrup for eating and for medicinal use, mainly as an ingredient of cough syrups.

It is also used to treat diabetes, using two teaspoonfuls several times a day.



Common name: blue kuni-bush, kroestaaibos, taaiblaar

Much-branched shrub up to 4 m high. The leaves are trifoliolate (divided into three leaflets) and are covered with a green-blue, powdery bloom. The greenishwhite flowers occur in loose clusters. The small, oblong fruits are a shiny chest nut-brown.

Uses are described with those of R. laevigata below.



Common name: duine taaibos

An untidy, often deciduous, much branched shrub of 2 m. The leaves may be hairy or smooth and are also divided into three leaflets, the middle one largest (about 40 x 25 mm). The net-veins are translucent when held up to the light. The insignificant flowers are unisexual, borne on separate bushes.

As a medicinal plant, the leaves, bark and roots are used. Traditional uses include the chewing of leaves for chest colds, and leaf decoctions for post partem problems. The roots are claimed to be of therapeutic value in infective disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract.

The little fruits of R. laevigata, R. lucida and R. glauca (see above) are edible. Atasty juice can be made from the fruits of R. laevigata or R. glauca.

The bark and wood of R. laevigata have been used for tanning. The wood is durable, hard and tough, and makes good fence posts. Recipe: Rhus laevigata or R. glauca juice Boil a quarter cup of very ripe berries with one cup of water and three teaspoonfuls of sugar for five minutes. Mash with potato-masher while it boils. Stand for 30 minutes and strain.



Common name: buck sorrel,suring, tongbiaar

This plant has a high oxalic content and should not be used in great quantities or by children and old people as it could affect the kidneys. The herb should also not be used by those suffering from rheumatism, gout, arthritis, kidney stones or gastric hyperacidity.

The leaves have been used to treat scurvy, and can be added, chopped, to salads and soups. One can also use them in quiche and spinach, and they are a wonderful thirst quencher for a weary walker.

The leaves have been used as a poultice in acne and skin ailments. The leaves can be chewed and then applied to sore spots and pimples. The root is used as a tonic and diuretic and a decoction of the root and seeds is used as an astringent in diarrhoea. Because of the oxalic acid content in the leaves it is safer to use the roots and seeds.



Common name: dune sage, bruin salie, strandsalie

A much branched aromatic shrub growing to 2 m tall, with densely packed grey, finely hairy leaves. The orange-brown flowers are clustered at the ends of the stems and have a long, hooded upper lip. The plant occurs in dune fynbos and other dry fynbos areas.

The flowers produce copious nectar and are pollinated by sunbirds. Pull a mature flower from its calyx, suck the base and taste the sweet nectar, which is attractive to the birds.

As a medicine, brown sage makes an excellent tea for coughs, colds, bronchitis and female ailments, for sores, bacterial infections, rheumatism, arthritis, sprains, fibrositis and as an astringent; for wound, skin and scalp problems, bathe with the decoctions as described under wild rosemary; for the tea use the recipe as for wild rosemary. Sage is also a memory herb and combines well with rosemary. Also use like normal sage in cooking.

Recipe: Wild sage tea for oily problem skin Boil one cup wild sage sprigs in 2 litres of water with the lid on for 10 minutes. Cool and use as a splash, or a rinse in a spritz bottle.



Common name: wild cineraria, strandblornmetjie

An annual plant up to 500 mm tall, occasionally taller to 1 m. The lobed, divided leaves (ca 80 m long) are hairy, and the flowerheads (ca 25 mm wide) are purple with yellow centres. Occurs in dune fynbos and other sandy flats and slopes. It is important to identify the right Senecio as some species are poisonous.

The Khoi first used the plant as a remedy for chest ailments. The small leaves along the stem, and pieces of the stem are sucked and the saliva swallowed to help a tight chest, asthma and a tight cough. The other leaves can be eaten too, and are often made into a tea.

The flowerheads retain their colour when dry and are wonderful in pot pourris.

Recipe: Senecio tea To treat kidney-stones and painful kidneys, bladder infections, scant urine and cystitis. One quarter cup of fresh leaves and pieces of stem to one cup of boiling water; stand, steep for five minutes and strain.



Common name: white milkwood, melkhoutbosAboom

A densely leafy shrub or rounded tree to about 10 m tall with oval, shiny green leaves (ca 100 x 40 mm) and stems that bleed a milky latex. The flowers are small and greenish-white and the round, fleshy fruits are purple-black. Dense thickets of large trees are a characteristic feature of the Southern Overberg; however, this species can also occur as a stunted shrub on limestone or windblown coasts.

Medicinally, the bark is used in infusions to dispel bad dreams or as an astringent. The decoction was used for gall sickness in stock.

The fruits are pulpy and edible (best when dried because of the sticky latex).

The wood is yellow, close grained and durable and in the Bredasdorp district was largely used for wagon work and other uses. The trees are now highly protected and only dead branches or trees may be removed, even in one's own garden.



Common name: wildeblornkool

Sprawling shrub in deep sandy soils, usually near the coast. Several trailing leaves, fiat or keeled and rather spongy, usually hairy. Flowers white or greenish with spreading petals, crowded among hairy bracts at the end of a trailing stalk, often with one or two short side branches. Fruits pendulous.

Young flower shoots can be eaten before opening as with T divaricata below.



Common name: wild cabbage, Hottentotskool, veidkool

A rhizomatous perennial growing to 800 mm high with basal tufts of narrow, fleshy leaves. The much-branched flowerheads bear short-lived, whitish flowers with petals that curve backwards. It is common in the coastal zone. The soothing sap of the stem and bulbous part of the root is used as a lotion for sores, very much as with the bulbines, to which it is related. The young shoots make a healthy and delicious dish. The flowerheads with part of the stems are picked before the flowers open. It can be steamed and served with butter, salt and pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. A veldkool bredie (stew) with lamb is particularly tasty.



Common name: dune spinach, duinespinasie, kinkelbossie

A glistening, perennial plant with a thick, tough, creeping stem, growing in coastal sands. The fleshy leaves are covered with shiny glands and the small, yellow flowers have four petals. Fruits are winged.

Leafy stems and tops are harvested, and the new growth during the rainy season is best. The plant material must be washed thoroughly as the sea sand is tenacious. It is boiled as for spinach. The resulting texture is somewhat granular, and the taste rather bland. The addition of butter and the Cape favourite, Oxalis pescaprae (geelsuring) results in a more satisfying dish.



Common name: Cape mistletoe, litjiestee, voëIent

A leafless, woody parasite with fleshy, jointed stems. Flowers are inconspicuous and berries ripen in spring to a translucent yellow. It is often found growing on species of Rhus.

The whole plant is harvested, sometimes also the fruits. It is an early Cape remedy for diarrhoea, taken as a herbal tea or tea substitute. It is also a traditional Cape remedy for asthma, bronchitis and excessive or irregular menstruation. Infusions of the fruits were used to stop bleeding and to remove warts.

It is also widely used as a herbal tonic and general health tea. Taken as a powder or decoction, the stems have been used to treat epilepsy. It has been used to treat hysteria, and an overdose reportedly causes drowsiness.

An infusion of the fruit is also used to stop haemorrhaging, especially nosebleeds. Mistletoe is poisonous, however, and must therefore be used with care. In times of drought the farmers cut down mistletoe to feed their cattle and in spite of the astringency of the plant, the cattle seem to relish it.



Common name: arum lily, varkblom

A tuberous perennial plant up to one meter tall with its familiar, spathe-like flowerheads and central, flower-bearing, yellow column. This species is common in damp places. It is frequently seen growing along roadsides and is cultivated worldwide.

The large leaves of the plant are heated and applied as plasters to wounds, sores and boils and also to parts affected by rheumatism and gout (do not crush the leaves, as the juice is an irritant). Boiled rhizomes were sometimes minced with honey or syrup and taken to treat bronchitis, asthma, heartburn and rheumatism or gargled for a sore throat.

The plants should not be eaten fresh as this results in swelling of the tongue and throat due to needle-shaped calcium oxylate crystals. As with other Araceae, cooking destroys the toxins and many indigenous people are reported to eat the stems, leaves and even the flowers as a vegetable.

The Khoi made a dish called Hottentot bread from the root by boiling the starchy rhizomes (roots) in several waters to remove the acrid principle, then drying them in the sun and roasting in embers, according to Kolbe, a traveller in the Cape in the early 18th century.


(Courtesy of Mathia Schwegler)





           Hermanus - Botanical Society - Botaniese Vereniging


This website was last updated on
2017 / 3 / 29