It is estimated that 60% of South Africans use plants for traditional medicine and over 300 000 traditional healers support a multi-million Dollar hidden economy. Traditionally the gathering of medicinal plants was restricted to trained healers who had undergone years of training. Some received strict instruction to dig for plants just before winter and after seeds had matured and seldom were medicinal plants ring-barked or uprooted. Increasing demand and fewer wild plants coupled with commercial incentive have in some instances led to a disregard for traditions, a profusion of untrained gatherers and indiscriminate harvesting.


Medicinal plants that occur in grasslands are particularly precious, as very few grasslands remain untouched. Most have been lost to agriculture, forestry, over grazing, urbanisation and expansion of rural populations.


This pamphlet seeks to raise awareness and appreciation of a 240 ha stretch of afromontane grassland that lies adjacent to Haenertsburg in the foothills of the Wolkberg Wilderness in Limpopo Province, South Africa. This grassland can be viewed from Georges Valley road to Tzaneen (R 528) or from the lofty Haenertsburg graveyard. A map of the Louis Changuion Trail which traverses natural grassland and forest is available for hikers in the village. It is about 10 km in length, has stunning views and quaint picnic stops.  Some threatened fauna that may be seen along the hike are the Blue Swallow, Methuen’s Dwarf Gecko and the Wolkberg Zulu Butterfly.




Kids stuff


Scilla natalensis(blue squill or inguduza), which has a conservation status of ‘vulnerable’ flowers in spring. The blue squill is used as a birthing aid, an enema, or to heal tumours, boils, sores and fractures. Ground leaves are fed to a child who is late in walking. Photo credit: Mike Strever


Eucomis autumnalis(pineapple plant or mathunga) is a plant which is beginning to vanish from nature reserves as the whole plant is harvested and used to treat colic, venereal disease, flatulence,  respiratory and urinary problems in humans and cattle.


Berkheya setifera(Buffalo-tongue or ntsoantsane) is used for tummy ache, as a pot herb and to repel evil spirits. The rough leaf can also be used to brush hair!


No common name can be found for this local endemic plant Aloe lettyae which is found in a few remaining grasslands of the foothills of the Wolkberg Wilderness. The members of this genus are widely used in cosmetics and to treat burn wounds. Aloe lettyae squats close to the ground and has no stem. The succulent leaves are arranged in a rosette and have dull white speckles above and below. A flower stalk up to 2 m tall holds the flowers above the ground amongst tall grasses. The pinkish-red flowers have rounded bulbous bases. This aloe was named after Ms Cynthia Letty a well-known South African botanical artist.


Winter blues


Scadoxus puniceus(blood lily or idumbe-lika-nhloyile) roots and bulbs are used to treat coughs and gastro-intestinal problems. The bulb and pollen are reputed to be poisonous but ripe berries are food for monkeys and birds.  Photo credit: Clare Bell


This sharp pointed silvery plant Dicoma zeyheri (dolls protea or mahlabane) is used for chest ailments and for mothers after a difficult labour. Photo credit: Sylvie Köhne


Mentha aquatica(Water mint or koena-e-nyenyane) is used to treat colds and respiratory problems. It is a delicious culinary herb and can also be used for a fragrant relaxing bath or a protective charm against evil spirits. Watch for the round clusters of flowers in summer. Photo credit: Sylvie Köhne


The aromatic leaves of Lippia javanica (fever tea or musukudu) are brewed as a medicinal tea to treat coughs, colds, fever and bronchitis.  For general good health a weak dosage can be taken. Photo credit: Sylvie Köhne

A traditional healer harvests the whole plant and leaves a 50c coin in the hole as an offering to ensure that her medicine is potent. Photo credit: Cathy Dzerefos.


Colds and pain relief are some of the medicinal uses of Drimia elata (satin squill or gib’iziphoso). It is also used as a protective charm, often grows in clumps and is an attractive garden plant. The slender erect flower stalk can reach upto 1.2 m high and holds purplish brown, greenish or white flowers with a distinct basal spur filled with a nectar reward for a pollinator. Sylvie Köhne


Kniphofia splendida (Splendid Poker) seen rising upto 1.5 m amongst the turpentine grass can be used to soothe chest complaints. These bright orange-yellow beacons make a spectacular display in summer near the picnic spot called Patrick’s Point. They die back in winter storing all resources below ground. Photo credit: Mike Strever.


Love potions


The tubers of Eulophia ovalis (mametsana) are used in courting and to treat infertility. Photo credit: Sylvie Köhne


Roots of Cyanotis speciosa (dolls powder puff or khopo) are used to treat infertility and for love or protective charms. Keep it on hand in your garden in a sunny place. Photo credit: Sylvie Köhne


Gladiolus densiflorusappears to have no common name in any language. The latin name tells us something about the shape of the leaves as gladiolus means small sword. The second part densiflorus alludes to the dense arrangement of the flowers. The funnel-shaped flowers are densely spotted with maroon, mauve or pink on a white or grey background. Although no particular medicinal use has been documented for this local species other gladiolus are used when one needs good luck. Photo credit: Sylvie Köhne


Vets bag


Hypoxis rigidula (silver-leaved star-flower or moli-teane) has an underground  corm which is used to cure gall sickness in cattle. A close relative Hypoxis hemerocallideais by conventional and traditional practitioners to boost HIV and cancer patients. Photo credit: Jane Moncreiff


Leonotis intermedia(klipdagga or moseneke) is used to treat gall sickness in fowls and cattle.  The nectar laden tubular flowers are a source of nectar for children, sunbirds and insects. The dried flowers make attractive displays. Photo credit: Sylvie Köhne


The yellow flowerheads of Gnidia kraussiana (lesser yellow head or thopa) are a sign of life after a scorching fire. Fires are needed every two to three years to maintain the grassland ecosystem but annual fires can lead to the loss of certain plants and harm animal populations. This plant can be poisonous to cattle and goats but is beneficial to heal fractured bones of animals. Human ailments that can be cured are stomach and chest problems, lumbago, toothache and snakebite. Photo credit: Cathy Dzerefos


The traditional healer holds a 10 year old specimen of Boophane disticha (poison bulb or motlatsisa) in her hand. The leaves which are arranged in a conspicuous fan shape have just started to emerge. The flower is a deep pink which gradually matures in a large ball shape. It breaks off when dry and is blown by the wind dispersing its seeds. The bulb is poisonous to stock if consumed but can be used as a “plaster” on wounds. Extended proximity to the plant can cause headaches, drowsiness and sore eyes as reported by a painter Auriol Batten. Photo credit: Cathy Dzerefos.






Limpopo Branch Botanical Society, HADEF and HEMAG

Photographs reproduced with the kind permission of  Moncreiff, Sylvie Köhne, Mike Strever and Clare Bell. Text by Cathy Dzerefos.

Funding from the National Lotteries Board.