South Africa is renowned for its botanical wealth. To appreciate the magnitude and diversity of this natural resource one need only look to the Cape Floral Kingdom, a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering only 78,000 square kilometres and featuring over 9,000 plant species!

Although not all our plants pack a punch, the indigenous peoples of southern Africa have been tapping into the natural healing qualities of African medicinal herbs for thousands of years.

South Africans Opt for Home-Grown Medicinal Herbs

In fact, traditional healers remain the first port of call for the vast majority of South Africans. Up to 80 percent of the population currently choose accessible and affordable home-grown herbs and plants to treat a plethora of health issues.

Tonnes of Medicinal Plant Derivatives Exported Each Year

It’s not only locals who are sold on the efficacy of Africa’s medicinal plants and herbs; literally thousands of tonnes of plant derivatives are exported across the globe each year.

Despite commercialisation of a handful of botanicals such as buchu, rooibos, devil’s claw & pelargonium sidoides, the vast majority of species are informally harvested from wild stocks to meet demand.

Medicinal Herb Hit List

Five of the top performing medicinal plants are:

Buchu

Buchu

The buchu herb (Agathosma Betulina) is commercially cultivated in the Western Cape for its essential oils. It is a world renowned natural anti-inflammatory and antiseptic used to treat high blood pressure, UTI infections, arthritis, gout and countless other ailments. A range of buchu health care products are available in South Africa under the BuchuLife label and include Sparkling Herbal Water, UTI Relief Capsules, Joint Health Capsules and First Aid Gel.

Devil’s Claw

Devil's Claw

Image by Henri Pidoux

Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum) is endemic to the dry areas of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Its medicinal properties are confined to the large tuberous roots that are harvested and dried to form powders, tinctures and extracts. It is commonly used to treat pain, enhance mobility and provide relief from a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions, diabetes, neuralgia, headaches and menstrual problems.

African Potato

African Potato

Image by Marco Schmidt (CC BY-SA 2.5)

African potato (Hypoxis) is indigenous to the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo. It is well known 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. The corm of the plant is dried and crushed into a powder and sold in the form of capsules and creams online and at wellness outlets countrywide.

South African Geranium

South African Geranium

Image by Derek Ramsey (CC BY-SA 3.0)

South African Geranium or Umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides) is similar to a geranium and is packed with natural healing properties. The medicinal part of the plant is the fleshy blood red rhizomes which are dried and formulated into powders, tinctures and infusions. Its potent antibacterial and antiviral properties are ideal in the treatment of chronic respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, sore throat, sinusitis, colds and flu. It is manufactured under licence of Schwabe Germany and is available at health stores and pharmacies nationwide.

African Ginger

African Ginger

Image by Delphine Menard (CC BY-SA 2.0)

African ginger (Siphonochilus aethiopicus) is localised to Mpumalanga and the Northern Province. It is one of the most frequently used medicinal herbs in South Africa’s informal sector and is fast becoming endangered. The rhizomes and roots are dried and crushed into powder or tablet form and used to treat myriad health issues, from coughs, colds, asthma and flu to candida and menstrual cramps. Online stores such as AfricanDrugs.com retail the product worldwide.