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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