Indigenous Healing People and Plants

Indigenous Healing People and Plants

About 27 million people buy indigenous healing plants, medicine and visit indigenous healers in South Africa in a year.

African Indigenous Healing

In Zulu societies, the Sangoma is a highly respected indigenous healing person and Nyanga is the esteemed herbalist. Men and women take up the profession after a long training period in Southern African society.

Indigenous Healing

The Traditional Healers and Indigenous Healing Organization organizes about 69,000 traditional health practitioners in South Africa to promote African Traditional healing as a holistic healthcare practice. Traditional indigenous medicines use herbal, animal, and mineral materials for physiological and symbolic purposes. Twenty-seven million South Africans use traditional medicine in one form or another because pharmaceutical drugs are too expensive or traditional methods are considered an appropriate tradition.

The traditional indigenous medicine trade in South Africa is a large and growing industry. There are some 27 million consumers of traditional medicine, for many people in South Africa indigenous traditional medicine is not considered an inferior alternative to western medicine but a desirable complement or alternative necessary for treating a range of health problems.  Traditional Healers contribute to the economy by expanding commercial trade in plants and animal parts for use in traditional medicine practice. The importance of the trade in indigenous plant species for traditional medicine in South Africa is estimated at 40 million dollars a year.

Despite the persistence of customary controls on the use of many species, the trade in animal parts in South Africa still persists. Indications by the Traditional Healers Organization research journal is that roughly 200 animal species and 550 plant species are actively traded for traditional medicine in KwaZulu-Natal.  The most popular species traded as traditional medicine are the African Rock Pythons, Black Mambas, Black Rhinos, Dwarf Chameleons, Giant Golden Moles, Hyaenas, Monitor Lizards, Crocodiles, and Vultures.

What Exactly is African Indigenous Healing

Indigenous Healing

Traditional indigenous healing is linked to wider belief systems and remains integral to the lives of most Africans. People consult indigenous healers whether or not they can afford medical services. A true indigenous healer cannot take part in any action that can harm or negatively influence another person and believes God has the ultimate power, it is a spiritual calling.

Five most popular indigenous healing garden plants are aloe, African ginger, milkweed, cancer bush and devils claw root.

The five most popular herbs used for centuries in South African indigenous healing medicine are aloe, African ginger, milkweed, cancer bush and devils claw root.

The five most popular herbs used for centuries in South African indigenous healing medicine are aloe, African ginger, milkweed, cancer bush and devils claw root.

Aloe Vera

Aloe leaves are traditionally used for stomach complaints, arthritis, eczema, conjunctivitis, hypertension, and stress. They are also used to treat skin irritations and bruises. Aloe produces two substances, gel and latex, which are used for medicines.  Aloe gel is the clear, jelly-like substance found in the inner part of the aloe plant leaf. Aloe latex comes from just under the plant's skin and is yellow in color. The useful parts of aloe are the gel and latex. The gel is obtained from the cells in the center of the leaf, and the latex is obtained from the cells just beneath the leaf skin.

Aloe vera’s use can be traced back 6,000 years to early Egypt, where the plant was depicted on stone carvings. Known as the plant of immortality, aloe was presented as a funeral gift to pharaohs.

African Ginger

Fresh roots or rhizomes of African ginger are chewed to treat the flu in some parts of Africa. It can also be used for colds, asthma, to treat malaria and by women during menstruation. The plant has also been traditionally used as an appetite suppressant and sedative.

African ginger is darker in color and higher in oil content, giving a more pungent aroma with a strong scent between eucalyptus and rosemary.  It has a high oil content and level of spiciness; therefore, it is usually preferred for the production of oils and balsams. 

The ginger essential oil purchased from the shop is most likely African ginger and not the lighter colored ginger from the produce section of the supermarket.


Stems of the milkweed plant are widely used as an appetite suppressant, thirst quencher, mood enhancer and as a cure for severe abdominal cramps, hemorrhoids, tuberculosis, indigestion, hypertension, and diabetes.

Over 450 insects are known to feed on some portion of the plant. Numerous insects are attracted to the nectar-laden flowers and it is not at all uncommon to see flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies on the flowers at the same time.

Strong fiber can be extracted from the stem, which is durable underwater. Giant milkweed stems are kept in the seawater until they become soft and then fiber is extracted from the softened stems. This fiber is so strong that it is commonly used to make loops in the fishing lines from which hooks are suspended.

Fiber extracted from the stems was once used as a bowstring. Wood is used to make fine quality charcoal and gunpowder. Floss obtained from the fruit is used to stuff mattresses. The plant as a whole can be allowed to mulch in the soil to provide protection to crops against soil-borne microbes.

In traditional medicine, five parts of the plant, namely, roots, bark, leaves, flowers, and fruits are used to treat rheumatism. Leaves are considered as a good pain reliever. The matured leaves are smeared with sesame oil, warmed and pressed on aching body parts to provide relief from pain.

Cancer Bush

Leaves of the cancer bush plant have been traditionally used to treat fever, poor appetite, indigestion, gastritis, peptic ulcer, dysentery, cancer, diabetes, colds and flu, cough, asthma, chronic bronchitis, kidney and liver conditions, rheumatism, heart failure, urinary tract infections as well as stress and anxiety.

It is a widespread, drought-resistant plant that grows in the Western, Eastern, and Northern Cape provinces and some areas of KwaZulu-Natal South Africa. The Cape Floristic Region, one of the richest areas for plants in the world, is home to the Cancer Bush plant.

Cancer Bush is a medium-sized shrub, with fine grayish-green leaves and red, butterfly-shaped flowers. Its seedpods are large and balloon-like with a slightly reddish tint. Many of its names also refer to medicinal use, such as kankerbos cancer bush; Afrikaans, insiswa dispels darkness; Zulu, phetola to change; Tswana, and lerumo lamadi spear of the blood; North Sotho.

In South Africa, healers, such as herbalists, diviners, bush doctors, Rastafarians, alternative and allopathic medicine practitioners, and regular folks, use Cancer Bush. Cancer Bush is today still one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Devil’s Claw Root

The roots of devil's claw have been traditionally used for treating diseases of the liver, kidneys, and bladder. It can also be used to stimulate appetite, and for indigestion. There is some moderate evidence that devil's claw, an herb native to Africa, is beneficial for osteoarthritis of the spine, hip, and knee. Devil’s claw, scientifically known as Harpagophytum procumbens, is a plant native to South Africa. It owes its ominous name to its fruit, which bears several small, hook-like projections. Traditionally, the roots of this plant have been used to treat a wide range of ailments, such as fever, pain, arthritis, and indigestion.

Devil's claw alternative names are unicorn plant, double claw, Arizona devil’s claw, and red devil’s claw. The plant has a long history of use as food and fiber by native peoples and is a flowering plant of the sesame family. 

Aloe leaves are traditionally used in indigenous healing gardens

Aloe leaves are traditionally used in indigenous healing gardens 

Natural Aloe Water Recipe


3 thick aloe leaves

2 cups water


Cut aloe leaves lengthwise and scrape gel off aloe leaves into a cup with a tight fitting lid. Add water and shake well. Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Drink mixture 1-2 times daily to help flush out toxins from the body.

The greatest wealth is health.

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