Indigenous medicine for you and your pets

More and more animals, as well as humans are suffering from diseases such as diabetes, leaky gut and a variety of cancers, to name but a few. The stresses of our modern lifestyle, poor or inappropriate nutrition, pollution, chemicals etc. are all taking its toll- at the same time many of us are feeling the shift to a more conscious lifestyle that is in harmony with Nature.  Have you started investigating more natural, alternative remedies to chemical drugs to prevent and treat disease?

Since the dawn of time, humans have used plants to ease aches and pains. As we evolved, our ancestors learnt to identify the inherent properties of plants, discovering which plants were beneficial, and which were toxic. This knowledge was passed on from generation to generation via traditional healers, herbalists and indigenous people who understood the power of plants. Today, most of the medicines we use are herbal in origin, and many contain the active ingredients extracted directly from plants. Despite the fact that modern day chemists have made it “easy” to reproduce these active ingredients in laboratories, scientists continue to seek help from Nature – giving rise to exciting research areas like zoo pharmacognosy – the observation and study of plants self-selected by animals to treat and prevent disease.

In South Africa we have a rich diversity of medicinal plants and medicine manufactured from plants or the extracts of plants which are sold daily -commercially and informally. The traditional medicinal remedies of the e.g. the Khoisan, Nguni- and Sesotho-speaking people have been passed on orally for hundreds of years and is very much a part of our heritage. More than 80% of the population still regularly consult traditional healers when they need help.

The “Sangomas” or “Nyangas” whom are traditionally known, act as a medium between the spirit world and physical world – they combine the physical aspects of illness with psychological and spiritual aspects, so that the entire organism is healed instead of just one small part of it.  During healing ceremonies, the sangoma will employ a variety of techniques to make a diagnosis; from throwing bones to entering a trance to communicate with the spirit world for guidance. Their believe is that they are guided to the correct combination of herbs that can be mixed together in a ‘muthi’ to help the patient heal. So, let’s tap into this ancient African wisdom and have a closer look at some of these medicinal plants:


Over 200 worldwide scientific research papers have been published on the antibiotic, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects of Aloe vera. Aloe vera is often marketed as a health drink to sooth digestive complaints, from peptic ulcers to colitis and constipation. In juice form, the plant encourages healthy digestion, facilitates weight loss and keeps circulation flowing smoothly.

A study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (2007) concluded that aloe compounds might show promise in helping to alleviate symptoms associated with cardiovascular diseases, cancer, neurodegeneration, HIV and diabetes.

But what about aloe ferox? Not very many people know that there is a difference between aloe vera and aloe ferox. The bitter yellow juice of the Aloe ferox plant has been harvested as a renewable resource for over two hundred years by the Khoi San people of Southern Africa. But the aloe ferox plant is a great deal older than that and has been used since ancient times. It only grows in one part of the world which is in South Africa. Research has shown that the aloe ferox plant is about 20 times stronger than the aloe vera and it contains about twice to three times more essential amino acids. It also showed that Aloe ferox contains a much higher concentration of the minerals Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium Phosphorus, Iron, Copper, and Zinc.

So, for anti-aging, healing, cleansing and soothing wounds we should all be using the aloe ferox plant! In South Africa, Aloe ferox is used in a large variety of animal products due to its beneficial effect with symptoms of constipation, eczema, pain due to arthritis and high blood pressure. It is also used in shampoos and insect repellents – as one manufacturer states “Aloe is bacteria, fungus, virus and parasite unfriendly and will keep insects such as horseflies away from your pet.”

If you have any plants in your garden or neighbourhood, simply cut open the leaf and use the gel inside topically for your pets.


Rooibos is also indigenous to South Africa. It is most often consumed as a tea and is caffeine free. Medicinally it has no known side effects. Rooibos is high in antioxidants, provides relief from diseases as diverse as HIV/AIDS and compromised respiratory systems, a way to possibly slow aging and relief from inflammation. Read more about “The Story of Rooibos” and see our online shop to order our Rooibos infused health treats.


The Sutherlandia frutescens, or cancer bush, is a beautiful plant that flowers between July and December – the flowers are a bright scarlet. It is generally regarded as one of the most beneficial of the medicinal plants in Southern Africa and has been used by all cultures including the San, Khoi, Sotho and Nguni-speaking people. The Khoi San and Nama people used it mainly as a strong boiled tea for the washing of wounds and blisters, to treat chickenpox, liver problems and haemorrhoids but was also ingested to bring down fevers. The safety and effectiveness of the plant make it suitable for a variety of conditions, of which the treatment of cancer and Aids are probably the most publicised.

The indigenous, folk, and contemporary uses of Sutherlandia:

  • enhancing well-being
  • immune support
  • longevity
  • stress, depression and anxiety
  • wasting from cancer, TB, and AIDS
  • quality-of-life tonic for cancers, HIV/AIDS and TB
  • appetite stimulant in wasted patients, but not in healthy people
  • influenza, coughs, colds and flu
  • Chronic Fatigues Syndrome, ME Syndrome and Yuppie Flu
  • viral hepatitis
  • asthma and bronchitis
  • type 2 diabetes
  • mild to moderate hypertension
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • peptic ulcer, gastritis, and reflux oesophagitis
  • hot flashes and irritability in menopause

Scientific investigation of the chemistry of the plant has shown it contains the amino acid L-canavanine, which has anti-cancer, and anti-viral activities. In vitro studies have shown a reputable anti-HIV and anti-tumour effect, but human trials are still inconclusive. It appears as if Sutherlandia inhibits the proliferation of malignant cells, as well as enzymes involved in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) life cycle. It aids in the treatment of diabetes by promoting glucose uptake – either by increasing insulin sensitivity at a cellular level or by substituting insulin itself, thereby alleviating the demand on B-cells.

The leaves are extremely bitter and they are used to aid digestion – they dramatically improve the appetite and it is known that severe AIDS patients start to gain weight, and feel improved vitality and wellbeing. To date more than 500 patients with an advanced stage of Aids have been treated with the plant. All patients have shown an improvement in appetite and after six weeks of treatment have also shown a weight gain (between 10 and 15 kg). Furthermore, 71 terminal patients have been admitted to a hospital in Emoyeni and treated with this plant. Twelve months later 30 of the patients could be discharged and sent back to their communities. They could again function normally as far as their quality of life was concerned.

Our Health Treats contain small amounts of organic Sutherlandia for the well-being of your pet. Browse our health treats here.


Sceletium tortuosum is a succulent groundcover indigenous to the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa. The Hottentots used Sceletium as a sedative and mood enhancer for hundreds of years, with written records dating back to 1662. It was also used to treat toothache and to sooth stomach pains, and has appetite and thirst suppressant effects. Traditionally the dried plant material is chewed, smoked, powdered or used as a snuff. Today it is used mostly as an anti-depressant and is sold widely in tablet form.

Sceletium contains a mood enhancing alkaloid called mesembrine which is known for its central nervous system effects. Research sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States concluded that mesembrine acts as a serotonin uptake inhibitor which explains its use for anxiety and its anti-depressant effects. According to well-known African shaman Dr Credo Mutwa, “Sceletium has the power to reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol in addicts”.

Sceletium can be used as an alternative to conventional drugs or St. Johns Wort in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Very few people experience side-effects. The reported side-effects include occasional episodes of mild headache, slight nausea, soft stool or loose stool with no cramping, mild insomnia which is easily corrected by lowering the dose or taking the product not later than midday. No severe adverse effects have been documented but because of the neuro-receptor activities of Sceletium, there may be interactions with other medicines and it should therefore preferably not be combined with an SSRI, MAOI, or other psychiatric medications, cardiac medications or any other medications.

Scientific studies* have revealed that Sceletium is safe for dogs treated with 10 mg/kg Sceletium given twice daily and cats treated with 100 mg/kg per day, and dogs with dementia treated with up to 90 mg/kg per day. The veterinarians reported that the Sceletium reduced cage stress and travel stress in cats, and decreased the excessive nocturnal crying and barking of aged cats and dogs with a clinical diagnosis of dementia.


These are but a few of the many wonders of Nature indigenous to South Africa. Shouldn’t you consider adding these to your medicine chest?


*(Hirabayashi et al., 2002, 2004, 2005)

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