We have to hand it to our indigenous Khoe and San ancestors, they really knew about sustainability and how to find everything they needed in nature without destroying its future. And it seems that nature had an answer for every ailment too. Take the succulent known as ‘kougoed’ (Sceletium tortuosum; ‘kougoed’ literally means, ‘chew(able) things’ or ‘something to chew’), not only was it used as a natural mood enhancer it also happens to cure headaches, constipation and toothache. As one Khoe woman explained, “ ‘kougoed’ makes you love the whole world. It doesn’t matter how angry you are, eat just a little ‘kougoed’ and you will forget about your bad mood. It won’t make you fall down, walk with a high step, wake up with a hangover or go to jail…it won’t make you drunk or aggressive, but you will believe that no one is richer or more beautiful than you”. We could perhaps all do with a dose of that, especially on a Monday morning.
We have somehow forgotten in our Western notions of modern medicine and convenient pill popping that the world of pharmaceuticals was originally based on the medicinal properties of plants. Buchu (Rutaceae sp.) is perhaps one of the most well-known of our indigenous plants, and the leaves were used by the Khoe in many of their rituals and ceremonies. Early patent medicines sold in the United States hailed the virtues of the plant and its oil for the management of diseases ranging from diabetes to nervousness. Buchu was first exported to Britain as early as 1790. In 1821, it was listed in the British Pharmacopoeia as a medicine for “cystitis, urethritis, nephritis and catarrh of the bladder.” Historically, buchu has been used to treat inflammation, and kidney and urinary tract infections; as a diuretic and as a stomach tonic. Other uses include carminative action and treatment of cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis, and gout.
One must beware, as even natural plants have side effects, and buchu can cause stomach and kidney irritation and can be an abortive so is not recommended during pregnancy. For many of these plants, it is their preparations that are key to their healing properties or uses. The Khoe retained this knowledge of the plants in all our Cape floristic kingdom. For instance, wild almonds were a popular snack of the Khoe, but they were known to have a high strychnine content and caused the death of sailors in Jan van Riebeeck’s garrison. The Khoekhoen knew how to get rid of the poison by scorching the almonds in hot coals and subsequently soaking them in the streams that flow down Table Mountain for eight days. The water “washed out” the poison, after which the nuts could be eaten. Strychnine produces some of the most dramatic and painful symptoms of any known toxic reaction, characterised by violent muscle contractions. Becoming somewhat of a toxic celebrity it has most often portrayed in literature, film and in songs. From novelist Agatha Christie who killed off at least three characters with strychnine poisoning, to novels such as ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and ‘Batman’, the long list includes real personalities such as Alexander the Great who may have been poisoned by strychnine in contaminated wine in 323 BC. To be safe I will leave those wild almonds hanging.
Someone on Solms-Delta who knows a great deal about our indigenous plants and their uses is Johan Orayn. Johan is our Heritage Supervisor at Dik Delta Fynbos Culinary Gardens and Reserve. His family originates from the North Western Cape where he grew up with a grandmother who ‘knew everything about plants’ and who would take him on her trips to the veld in search of veldkos and herbal remedies. ‘As a result of this’ Johan says ‘I have a passion for veld plants and I learned the botanical names quite quickly too. I have an interest in birds and snakes and know quite a lot about them, so this is my perfect job’. Johan hosts walking tours through our Dik Delta fynbos reserve and culinary garden. Guests get a chance to smell and taste our edible indigenous plants and herbs and see our fat-tailed sheep and Sanga cattle: the now-rare pastoral animals that the Khoe first herded through our valley two thousand years ago.
Kougoed, and various buchu varieties are among the many indigenous plants you get to experience on the tour. A delightful variety is the citrus buchu whose intense orange fragrance is perfectly suited to favouring puddings. So why not do something different with the family over the festive season, a touch and taste tour to learn more about our edible indigenous plants, and some of their medicinal uses. Kids love this tour as they are for once allowed to touch and taste, something their parents are forever reprimanding them not to do!
To book a Dik Delta tour phone 021 8743937 ex 135.
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