Original Research

Observations on plant usage in Xhosa and Zulu medicine

A. Hutchings
Bothalia | Vol 19, No 2 | a965 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/abc.v19i2.965 | © 1989 A. Hutchings | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 October 1989 | Published: 19 December 1989

About the author(s)

A. Hutchings, Zulu Folk Medicine Research, Department of Biochemistry. University of Zululand, South Africa

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The holistic concept of Xhosa and Zulu traditional medicine and some differences from Western orthodox practice are briefly outlined. The transmission of herbal knowledge within various social groups is outlined. The background, training and some procedures followed by five of the informants are discussed. Plant characteristics that may be seen, felt, smelled or tasted are considered as possible determinants of usage. The form of plant parts accounts for some usage in the more magically orientated medicines whereas colour, texture or the production of froth may signal the presence of medicinally active components such as tannin, mucilage and saponin. The role of plants producing a milky latex is discussed. Vesicant or irritant properties are utilized in septic or inflammatory conditions. Aromatic plants are used for respiratory or digestive disorders and pungent-smelling plants are used in the treatment of catarrh and some stress-related disorders. Bitter or sour- tasting plants may be used as an aid to digestion or serve a deterrent function. Parallel usage of some related plants in African and European herbal practice indicates that appropriate usage may be widely determined by easily discerned plant characteristics. Two herbal medicinal recipes recorded by the author and a list of medicinal plants collected in Transkei are presented.


ethnobotany; pharmacognosy; practitioners; medicine; Xhosa; Zulu


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