SUCCULENTS AND THEIR MAGICAL HEALING POWERS

SUCCULENTS AND THEIR MAGICAL HEALING POWERS

Succulents are surging in popularity for several simple reasons. They are:

  • water wise
  • nearly indestructible
  • beautiful
  • adds colour and texture to your garden
  • easy to grow
  • easy to find especially those indigenous to South Africa. 

They also include some well-known medicinal plants. Even if you’re not a huge enthusiast when it comes to natural remedies, chances are you’ve heard of some of the health benefits of Bulbine frutescens and Carpobrotus edulis.

Bulbine frutescens

Common names: Cats tail, Burn jelly plant, Balsem kopieva

Bulbine frutescens occurs widespread throughout Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State and Kwazulu Natal. It has great value in the home garden where it is a useful first-aid remedy for children’s everyday knocks and scrapes. Fresh leaves produce a jelly-like juice, squeezed and frequently applied, is amazingly effective to take care of a wide range of skin conditions and wounds. The list is endless:  acne, burns, blisters, cold sore (even in your mouth), cracked lips, nails and heels, insect bites, mouth ulcers and sunburn. Also, very effective for treating wounds, sores and rashes on both human and on animals.

The healing effect is likely due to glycoprotein, which is also present in the leaf gel of the Aloe species. In Limpopo Province, plantations of Bulbine frutescens have been established where innovative commerce skincare products are being produced. Some commercial shampoos include it as a moisturizer.

This easy to grow succulent for full sun and beautiful orange or yellow flowers in spring and summer is really one of nature’s finest medicinal plants. Used externally, Bulbine species are reasonably safe – just be sure to check for allergic reactions. Use with caution internally.

Carpobrotus

Carpobrotus spp.

Common names: Sour fig, Suurvy, Vyerank

Carpobrotus spp. are a superb water-wise plant, indigenous and frequently used as a sand binder, dune and embankment stabilizer, and also as a fire-resistant barrier. The yellow or pinkish flowers in spring are followed by edible fruit and is a very powerful remedy for constipation. The fruit can also be used for cooking jam.

Leaf juice is astringent and mildly antiseptic and if mixed with water and swallowed, it can treat diarrhoea and stomach cramps. It also can be used as a gargle to treat laryngitis, sore throat and mouth infections. Simply by chewing a leaf tip and swallowing the juice will help to ease a sore throat.

A crushed leave is a famous soothing cure for blue-bottle stings and, being a good coastal groundcover, it is often on hand when needed. The leaf juice is also used as a soothing lotion for burns, bruises, scrapes, cuts, grazes and even sunburn. It can be applied to cracked lips and to cold sores on and around the mouth.

Bulbine frutescens and Carpobrotus spp. are both useful plants to have in the garden, not only for its remarkable medicinal values but also for its ability to survive almost anywhere with minimum attention.  With very little water and care, these plants are a must for every garden.

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SUCCULENTS – THE GO-TO MEDICINE CHEST

SUCCULENTS – THE GO-TO MEDICINE CHEST

People have practised natural medicine for centuries before modern technology, and it is still used throughout the world for health promotion and for the treatment of diseases. Medicinal plants are more affordable than conventional medicine, easy to obtain, more cost-effective, has fewer side effects, and they utilise the body’s natural healing process, especially succulents.

It is important to remember that you should always double-check with your doctor before consuming anything new for your body. Also, refrain from using any pesticides or any harmful chemicals on your plants because you don’t want any of those chemicals in or on your body.

Sempervivum tectorum

Common name: House leek, Hens and chickens

This low growing rosette-forming succulent, from native Europe, has juice and leaves which have been used in folk remedies for centuries. It has anti-inflammatory, diuretic (increases the amount of water and is expelled from the body as urine) and astringent (helps body tissues to shrink) properties. Sempervivum is firstly famous for its skin treatment like burns, sunburn, swelling, scratches, insect bites and abrasions by using the juicy fluid from the leaves. Secondly, for earache. Here you can use cotton wool, soaked in the juice of the leaves of Sempervivum, and leave it in the ear for several hours. For side effects, please note some people can be allergic.

Interestingly, Romans used to plant Sempervivum in front of the windows of their houses because they believed the plant was a love medicine.

Portulaca afra

Common name: Spekboom

This wonder plant of South Africa has leaves which are thirst-quenching and will help with over-exhaustion, heatstroke and dehydration. This is a helpful trick for hikers and mountain climbers as this shrub occur naturally on rocky hillsides in the Karoo. The leaf is chewed and sucked and can also be used as a treatment for sore throats and mouth infections. Rubbing the leaf juice over blisters and corns helps to soothe and heal them too. The antiseptic leaf juicy is also good for treating acne, rashes, insect bites and sunburn.

Additionally, these succulents are a valuable stock food and can be used in your salad.

Crassula ovata

Crassula ovata

Common name: Jade Plant, Lucky Plant

Crassula ovata is not a major alternate medicinal plant but is recommended for warts. A leaf is cut open and the moist flesh is bound over the wart for several days with a plaster over it. Should the treatment be successful, the wart will fall off. It is also used for treating corns.

Cotyledon orbiculata

Common name: Plakkie, Pig’s Ear

The leaves of this beautiful grey-leaved shrub with its orange-red tubular flower can be pulped and hot water poured over it, then drained and used as a poultice (a soft, moist mass applied to the body and kept in place with a cloth) for drawing infection out of wounds and sores. You can also place a piece of the leave that has been scraped, over a wart and secure it with a plaster for up to 2 weeks. This treatment softens the wart and the wart should fall out. Warmed leaves applied to boils, abscesses, corns and also blisters can also be treated.

Crassula muscosa

Crassula muscosa

Common name: Lizard Tail, Skoenveterplakkie

This highly recognisable plant with its exciting architectural leaves and minute yellow flowers during summer are medicinally used to treat abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Infusions of the plant can be made but must be used sparingly.

Always remember it can be dangerous to use succulents as medicine without the supervision of someone who knows what he or she is doing, or without the knowledge of your doctor. I hope everybody will look with new eyes at succulents.

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THE HEALING PROPERTIES OF SUCCULENTS

THE HEALING PROPERTIES OF SUCCULENTS

With the growing interest in plant-based remedies as a source for commercial products, such as medicinal and beauty products, I started thinking back to my childhood. Growing up on a farm, plants were an integral part of our lives, especially succulents. We always took long walks through the veld and so got to know the wild plants. We learnt their names (or rather their common names), and their use in and around our house. Names like “agdaegeneesbosie” or “khakibos” were well known and well used in and around our home. My parents both were avid gardeners and over the years taught us to see the beauty of each flower, leaf and seed. They inspired us to observe and to appreciate. From the older workers on the farm, we learned how to use and recognise plants for medicinal uses. Such as the Aloe species, Carpobrotus (sour fig) or Cotyledon (pig’s ears).

Traditional medicine is the oldest form of health care in the world. It is used in the prevention and treatment of illnesses. The study of plants (ethnobotany = study of plants by local people) is still relatively new in South Africa. However, it needs documentation before it is lost for future generations. South Africa is exceptionally rich in plant diversity with many people using a wide variety of plants daily for medicine and other necessities of life.

Writing about the medicinal use of succulents is not necessarily to encourage people to use them as medicine, but to encourage people to look with new eyes at our succulents. Also, to awaken more respect for these easy to grow plants and the role they play in people’s daily lives.

Aloe vera

ALWAYS remember it can be dangerous to use veld medicine without the supervision of someone who knows what they are doing. Untold harm can be done if dosages and plants are not correctly used or identified.

Let’s start with the humble Aloe species, well known to all of us and also easy to find.

Aloe vera

Easy to grow!

Aloe vera is easy to grow and has been known for it’s healing properties for hundreds of years. It has been used to help to treat wounds, haemorrhoids, sunburn and digestive issues. Aloe vera plants are always a big favourite with gardeners because of its beauty, and also for its use in the house. These days its juice is used in cosmetics and personal care products such as soap, shaving cream, and suntan lotion. Useful parts of Aloes are the latex and the gel. The gel is from the centre of the leaves and speeds up healing wounds by improving blood circulation and preventing cell death around the wound. Latex is obtained from the cells just beneath the leaf skin and contains chemicals that work as a laxative.

Aloe arborescens (krans-aloe)

A real stunner!

Aloe arborescens is a popular garden subject and a real stunner with its bright orange flowers in winter. The gel extracted from its leaves are been widely used to treat wounds and burns. It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects.

Aloe ferox

Bright fiery red flowers

Aloe ferox or bitter aloe is not only known for its bright fiery red flowers in winter but also for its juice as a strong purgative for both human and animal. It is also used to treat arthritis, eczema, hypertension, stress and high cholesterol. The leaves or roots boiled in water are used for these. The leave sap can be used for skin irritation bruises, burns and also wound healing. Aloe ferox can also be used to rid animals of ticks. It is an important export commodity and is used as an ingredient in several medicines, including the famous “Lewens Essence” and “Schwedens Bitters”. Aloe ferox was introduced to the early Dutch settlers by local tribes, and is still used, and is also considered South Africa’s main wild-harvested commercially traded species.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the medicinal value of succulents, Aloe and will look with new eyes at them when you walk past.

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WELCOME TO THE FASCINATING WORLD OF STONECROP PLANTS

WELCOME TO THE FASCINATING WORLD OF STONECROP PLANTS

Sedum plants are known as Stonecrop because of the saying that the only thing that lives longer than Sedum plants are stones. They are an easy-to-grow group of succulents that look great throughout the year.

The popular, adaptable Sedums are low-growing succulents with creeping stems and small, fleshy evergreen leaves in a tremendous variety of size, shapes, textures and colours. These forgiving plants are perhaps the most diverse of all the plants in the succulent world, and also the most widespread, ranging from Europe, Asia and Africa. The groundcover varieties spread easily, rooting as they grow along the soil and will fill the available space with a lush, undulating carpet that is easy to maintain.  Their cascading growth makes them excellent plants for vertical gardens, hanging baskets, retaining walls, rock gardens, slope gardening and containers. Sedums grow best in compost-enriched sandy, free-draining soil in full sun. Although they like full sun, some of the highly variegated Sedums, like Sedum ‘Angelina’, need dappled sunlight to prevent sunburn. During early summer small star-shaped flowers in clusters appear which attracts different insects, butterflies and bees. Sedums are the ideal plant for that part of your garden that gets too much sun and is in need of water-wise plants.

Exotic Sedums for your garden:

Sedum lineare Variegata: Common name Sea Urchin; has pale green foliage with creamy white margins and bright yellow flowers in summer. 

Sedum tetractinum ‘Coral Reef’: Flat growing Sedum with dark green round leaves and yellow flowers in summer. 

Sedum rubrotinctum: ‘Jelly Bean’: Resembles childhood sweets and comes in many colours from dark green to red in increased heat and sun and yellow flowers in summer. 

Sedum pachyphyllum: Also resembles jelly bean sweets but with blue-green fleshy leaves with the leaves tips tinged red. Yellow flowers in summer.

Sedum nussbaumerianum: Common name Coppertone Stone. This golden-leaved succulent on vertical rigid stems have long triangular leaves with rounded edges that go deep orange- gold in summer. Creamy white flowers in summer.

Sedum reflexum (rupestre) ‘Angelina’: Common name Golden Stonecrop. This fine-leaved Sedum, in bright yellow, needle-like foliage, is an eye-catching plant and prefers dappled sunlight to protect the leaves from sunburn. In spring, the leaves turn a lime green with bright yellow clusters of flowers on the tips of the stems. Good contrasting plant for hanging bowls and mixed containers.

Sedum reflexum (rupestre) and Sedum reflexum (rupestre) ‘Blue Spruce’: They are blue-grey Sedums with the ‘Blue Spruce’ the thicker fleshy foliage and taller grower. Creamy flowers in summer.

Sedum album Athoum: Flat, dark green growing Sedum with clusters of star-shaped flowers in summer. Forms a dense carpet.

Growing Sedum plants are easy and with a large variety to choose from, you will surely find a few that will work for your garden and brighten up your life.

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GROWING SENECIO IN YOUR GARDEN

GROWING SENECIO IN YOUR GARDEN

Senecio ficiodes and Senecio mandraliscae are the two plants you need to plant in your garden for contrast.  With its blue-green foliage, it makes a striking display against any other colour foliage. And, they are indigenous to South Africa. Both of these plants like well-drained soil enriched with compost, prefer full sun to partial shade and are water-wise plants that can tolerate long periods without water. 

Senecio ficiodes

Senecio ficiodes or ‘Blue Chalk Sticks’ the common name, is a large, upright shrub that branches at the base with multiple stems that grows until they fall over and root along the stem. When you plant a young Senecio ficiodes, pinch it back to force branching. The leaves are thick and fleshy and small white flowers appear in summer. Senecio ficiodes needs to be pruned back in late summer after flowering.

Senecio mandraliscae

Senecio mandraliscae or ‘Small Blue Sticks’ the common name, is a spreading succulent with blue-green, finger-like fleshy leaves with small white flowers in summer. It grows quickly, forming a dense blue mat which makes it a perfect border, groundcover and container plant. It needs to be pruned back in late summer. 

Senecio rowleyanus and Senecio radicans

Senecio rowleyanus and Senecio radicans are good containers or hanging basket plants. Being also indigenous to South Africa, they need the same requirements as the Senecio ficiodes and mandraliscae except that they require more shade. Both occur naturally in nature under bushes or between rocks which provides them protection from intense sunlight. The make good plants for hanging baskets on your stoep.

Senecio rowleyanus

Senecio rowleyanus or better known as ‘String of Pearls’ is a creeping succulent with round leaves on long stems cascading over the edges of the hanging basket or container. They can be grown indoors in bright light. Daisy-like, white flowers appear in summer with a sweet smell like cinnamon and cloves. These flowers are followed by seeds with a crown of long white hairs, which assists in wind dispersal. 

Senecio radicans

Senecio radicans or ‘String of Bananas’ is a creeping succulent with leaves that are shaped like small bananas on long stems. It grows quickly and is easily propagated. ‘String of bananas’ flowers throughout the year but with more flowers in autumn and in winter. It attracts a wide range of insects and the seeds are also dispersed by wind.

Senecio species are an interesting group of easy-to-care succulent plants. Take care not to overwater them and protect them from frost.

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THE ULTIMATE SURVIVORS – SUCCULENTS

THE ULTIMATE SURVIVORS – SUCCULENTS

If nurseries were to develop a group of plants perfectly suited to the lifestyle in the 21st  century, they could not do better than nature has done over hundreds of years, in creating the succulents and its fellow cacti plants. They can thrive because their stems, leaves and roots can store water over long periods of time. With water becoming scarcer over much of Southern Africa, water wastage is no longer an option for gardeners. Although it is not correct to say that succulents and cacti thrive on neglect, they do require less water and care than many other plants. A characteristic to be admired in today’s busy world where few people can devote as much time as they would like to garden maintenance. 

WHY INVEST IN SUCCULENTS

An increasing awareness of the fragility of our planet led to indigenous plants and water-wise succulents being planted both in public spaces as well as domestic gardens, aiming at limiting water wastage. The capacity to save water makes these plants an ideal plant for every homeowner. 

Succulents come in all shapes and sizes. They range from trees, such as the tree Aloe to miniature soil-huggers, like Bulbine sp. Their spines and tough skin make them highly resistant to pest and predators. They need less pruning and fertilizers because they tend to grow slower. Feeding with an organic fertilizer once a year and a prune to keep them neat is all it will need. 

THE VERSATILITY OF SUCCULENTS

Fortunately, for those with limited outdoor space, many cacti and succulents need only a place in the sun to thrive – even a narrow window sill will do. One succulent that will grow well without any direct sunlight at all is the Mother In Law’s Tongue, making it a good indoor pot plant. Succulents can also provide a blaze of colour at various times of the year, such as Crassula Campfire with its bright red foliage, or with their flowers, like the Aloe arborescent. With their architectural shapes, succulents combine well with modern domestic dwellings and office buildings. They are also good container plants, from a small teacup to a large cement pot. Succulents also make great cut flowers – alone or bunched with other blooms. 

Some succulents are cultivated for their juice-filled leaves, roots or stems which are a natural medicine, like the Aloe Vera. Portulacaria afra (Spekboom) is also a good food source and one of a kind as a carbon-sequestration (binding atmospheric carbon) plant.

Succulents and cacti are among the most useful and strikingly beautiful plants of the Southern African landscape and quite often we are unaware of the botanical jewels around us. 

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