It’s finally Spring in the southern hemisphere! And in South Africa we’re also celebrating Heritage Month in September.

While we celebrate our rich and varied cultural heritage, we also have the opportunity to appreciate the unique indigenous plant life that we share in our country. What better way to start the new season?

South Africa is the third most bio-diverse country in the world. Our treasured national plant, the king protea, and the unique looking strelitzia comes to mind as well-known and beautiful indigenous plants of South Africa. Just as impressive, is the wide range of medicinal plants in our region; plants that have been used by local cultures for over five centuries to treat and heal many common ailments.

Indigenous medicinal plants of Southern Africa

The potency and healing properties in many of our indigenous plants have been recognised by international pharmacological, skincare and food industries. Extracts of these plants are found in many herbal medicines and skincare products. Needless to say, many of these plants are also found in our gardens and can be put to use!

Some of the better-known medicinal plants and some of their traditional uses include:

  • African ginger (Siphonochilus aethiopicus) has been used to relieve sinusitis and asthma, as well as reduce fevers associated with colds and influenza.
  • African potato (Hypoxis hemerocallidea) is used traditionally to assist with bladder and prostate problems, arthritis and skin conditions like psoriasis.
  • African wormwood (Artemisia afra) is applied on acne and boils, and helps relieve stomach pain and fever.
  • Aloe ferox, also known as the bitter aloe, is used to treat sunburn and skin irritation, and as a laxative.
  • Buchu (Agathosma betulina) has been used to assist with digestive issues and is applied topically for wound healing.
  • Bulbinella (Bulbine frutescens), also known as burn jelly plant, is applied topically to relieve burns, bites and abrasion, and to treat infections.
  • Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) is applied directly to the skin to treat sores, ulcers, boils and abscesses.
  • Honeybush tea (Cyclopia genistoides) is used as a restorative health tonic.
  • Hoodia gordonii, also known as Bushman’s hat, is used as an appetite suppressant.
  • Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis) is applied topically to treat eczema and is used as a health tonic.
  • Sutherlandia frutescens, also known as the cancer bush, is used to treat cancer, and a variety other ailments such as chicken pox, influenza and bladder complaints.

We would like to bring to your attention two indigenous medicinal plants, used in some of Down to Earth’s products.

African potato (Hypoxis hemerocallidea)

African potato extract is used in our trusted African Potato Cream, as well as the Revive Cleanser and Revive Moisturiser.

It is a very hardy and drought resistant plant that grows in the summer rainfall regions of South Africa. It has bright yellow star-shaped flowers and hairy strap-like leaves.

Traditional healers have used it as a muthi to treat a variety of ailments such as diabetes, infections, bladder and prostate problems, and even epilepsy.

We use the extract for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. The active ingredient, hypoxoside, is extracted from the tuberous root which looks like a potato. It has very high phytosterol content that delivers the anti-inflammatory properties. The action is similar to cortisone which helps to soothe aches, pains and swelling, and can assist in the reversal of tissue damage. It also acts as powerful antioxidant which has an anti-ageing effect on the skin.

Bulbinella (Bulbine frutescens)

Bulbinella is used on our Refresh Cleanser and Refresh Moisturiser.

It is a common, drought-resistant succulent in many gardens. It has fleshy, jelly-like linear leaves and long flower stems with clusters of small, yellow or orange flowers.

Traditionally the gel from the leaves is applied to cuts, grazes, burns, acne, insect bites, blisters, rashes and chapped lips to help soothe and heal the area. It is also used to effectively prevent and treat infections. Bulbinella is one of the main active ingredients in our Refresh Skincare products precisely for these reasons. It reduces bacteria that causes acne, soothes itching and redness, and helps to accelerate repair of the skin barrier function.

By using Down to Earth products, you have access to these beneficial medicinal plants and also to a South African tradition that has been passed down through generations; to use the local plants to help heal and repair our bodies.

Credit: The potential of South African plants in the development of new medicinal products and Southern African medicinal plants used to treat skin diseases and South Africa