Imphepho – Africa’s Sacred Herb. (Helicrysum Species/Everlasting/sewejaartjies/kooigoed)
One of the first Muthi’s or herbal medicines I learned to use as a Twasa (initiate) was this sacred smudge and medicinal herb. It is said that Imphepho was the first medicine that was shown to the healers. When they started to use this medicine, it guided them to find and how to use other medicines and so they started to learn about herbs. It is a very powerful plant and its medicinal uses are the subject of scientific study. It is the most widely used medicinal plant in South Africa. The word Helicrysum is derived from the Greek “Helios” meaning Sun and “chrysos” meaning gold. Most of the flowers of this plant are a golden yellow colour.
When medicine plants are harvested it is very important that it is done in a respectful and sustainable way. When entering the area where one intends to harvest muthi – you must always ask permission of the guardian or grandfather – which may be a very big or old tree growing nearby. Before a plant is cut or dug out – it must be asked if it agrees to be muthi (medicine), and one must explain to the plant what and for whom it is needed. Making muthi starts with how and which plant you take. Two of the same plants may grow next to each other but only one of them may be right for muthi. Traditionally some imphepho, snuff, tobacco or a red or white bead is given as an offering or exchange to the plant spirits when harvesting medicines.
Imphepho has many uses. The smoke of the herb is used as a sacred incense or smudge used to call the ancestors in and invoke trance states, cleanse energy and as an offering when praying. The smoke is also sedative. Traditionally Imphepho is burned on a potsherd when offered to the ancestors. Medicinal uses of the plant include antiseptics, insecticides, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving (analgesic). The parts of the plant used are mainly the leaves, stems and flowers and sometimes the roots.
New born babies are washed in Imphepho to cleanse and protect them. The herb is stuffed in bedding for both humans and animals to repel insects. Wounds are washed with infusions of Imphepho to clean and sterilise them and a dressing of leaves are placed on the wounds. The smoke is inhaled for headache. Tea is made from the leaves for fever, coughs, colds and flu and also to cleanse the liver and kidneys. In woman’s health it is used for menstrual pains.
An aromatherapy / medicinal oil extract is now becoming available. Medical research has shown that this plant has huge potential for medicinal uses as a possible cure for Tuberculosis and herpes. For HIV patients Imphepho tea is a must. We have already mentioned its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties in treating as well as preventing disease. It also has a positive influence on the liver, bladder, heart and kidneys. It can also be used to clear the skin. A wash can be made for wounds, rashes, spots, skin ailments and fungal infections. It is also regenerative when used on scars. It is sometimes added to the steam bathes used by sangomas to cleanse away negative energies and to protect.
The plants are usually wild harvested and platted in garlands or tied in bundles before drying. You can buy it on almost every street corner and at any medicine market. Some varieties have been domesticated and can be found at nurseries for planting in your garden.
There are about 245 species in Southern Africa. (600 worldwide) The most popular ones for muthi (medicines) are ones growing near rivers, water or on mountains. The most common ones harvested for medicine (all referred to as imphepho) are nudifolium (mostly used for medicinal purposes), petiolare, cymosum and odoratissimum (mostly used as incense).
Important note: This Blog does not contain medical advice. Please take care when using these medicines and always seek expert advice. You may have unexpected reactions to the ingredients and some of these medicines can be toxic to the liver and kidneys in large doses or with prolonged use. They are also contra-indicated in pregnancy and should not be combined with SSRI, MAOI, or other psychiatric medications, cardiac medications, alcohol and cannabis.
Medicinal Plants of South Africa: Ben-Erik van Wyk.
People’s Plants: Ben-Erik van Wyk.
Medical Articles: Articles published in J Ethno pharmacology: Department of Botany: University of Pretoria. South Africa.
Imphepho Essential Oil – http://www.highlandessentialoils.co.za/html/helic.html
Muthi and Myths from the African Bush – Heather Dugmore.