greater  Zandvlei  Estuary  Nature  Reserve

 The Indigenous Healing Plants of the Greater Zandvlei Esturay Nature Reserve   by Andrew Taylor.

This docuent may not be copied or reproduced in any format without the prior written consent of the author.

1. Introduction:
Medicinal plants are an important aspect of the daily lives of many people and an important part of the South African cultural heritage. As a result the author chose to explore and identify the indigenous plants attributed with healing and or potential medicinal properties growing within the Greater Zandvlei Estuary Nature reserve (GZENR).

Wild medicinal plant resources are increasingly under threat from habitat destruction as a result of agricultural, industrial and housing developments. The activities of professional herb gatherers and traditional healers therefore have an exaggerated impact on the remaining stock of wild plants. In former times, traditional healers, families and apprentices collected and stored their medicinal plants in accordance with traditions and taboos. Plants were as a result protected from over harvesting. In modern times the now urbanised healer, who may be less rigorously trained than their forebears and who mainly purchase their medicinal stocks (materia medica) from street markets and stores, providing an economic incentive for the destructive harvesting of vulnerable medicinal plants.

It is the authors opinion that as the pressures of urbanization increase, GZENR has the potential to become targeted by illicit plant gatherers, in this regard, preventive measures, such as the identification of possible” target plants”, coupled with the creation of a sustainable functioning medicinal garden within the protection offered by GZENR, would go a long way in the future conservation, not only of the target species but the integrity of the Reserve as a whole.

2. The Vision:
The creation and establishment of a sustainable, functioning, source (garden) of identified indigenous plants attributed with healing properties. Not only will the garden serve to rehabilitate an area identified as being highly disturbed, within GZENR, the introduction of indigenous plant species would increase the biodiversity value of the site, and through the inclusion or involvement of the surrounding communities add to the value of GZENR for the surrounding community as a whole. It is proposed that the Medicinal garden would be managed by GZENR yet maintained by members of the surrounding community, who as a “reward” for labours would be able to selectively / seasonally harvest the farmed medicinal plants.

The Author recognises that it will be a number of seasons before the fruition of such a harvest, no doubt with the need to establish an operational code of conduct, approved by the local authority, the City of Cape Town, directorate Strategy an Planning, department Environmental Resource Management, Nature Conservation division, in line with the local authorities mission statement “caring for the City’s nature today for our children’s tomorrow.”

3. The Importance of Medicinal Plants: 
Van Wyk, et al (1997) state that of South Africa’s 30 000 species of higher plants approximately 3000 species are attributed with medicinal properties. Plants were once a primary source of all the medicines of the world and they still continue to provide mankind with new remedies. Natural products and their derivatives represent more than 50% of all drugs in clinical use in the world, with higher plants contributing no less than 25% percent of that total (Kinghorn, et al, 1993).
Within South Africa there is no doubt a growing interest in natural and traditional medicines as a source of new commercial products, as well as the contribution indigenous plants make to Primary Health Care, in its broadest sense, throughout South Africa.

Dyson (1998) in a booklet titled Discovering Indigenous Healing Plants of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, states that an estimated 80% of the world’s population relies on various traditional medical practices. The cost of consulting a western style doctor and the price of medication are often beyond the means of most people within South Africa and it is estimated that 70 - 80% (Dyson, 1998) of South Africans rely on herbal medicines for health care, visiting traditional healers such as “Sangomas”, “amaQuira”,”Rastafarians” and “bossiedokters”, who for centuries have been curing people of diseases using herbs and various other natural remedies, without the aid of modern science.

3.1 The identification of plants with medicinal value found within GZENR:
Under the guidance of reserve management the author set about identifying plants found growing or suited to the vegetation types that make up GZENR, namely Cape Flats Dune Strandveld and the affiliated coastal thicket vegetation. Armed with the Reserve plant species lists the author approached the Rastafarian herbalists, based at Wynberg station and the plant sellers of the Grand Parade in the city centre of Cape Town, in order to identify the plant species for sale along with the attributed medicinal properties and parts of the plants traditionally used. The presentation of the identified plant species will follow, presented in poster format, as it is hoped that the posters created will be used as educational tools within the Environmental Education Programme at GZENR. (See section 3.3, The Medicinal Plants of GZENR).

It should be stressed that, like with all medicines, incorrect dosages of medicinal plants can be dangerous and even fatal. Just as one should not take patent medicines without a prescription, herbal medicines should be taken under the direction of an experienced practitioner. Furthermore, indigenous plants are protected in the wild and may not be harvested without a valid permit.

3.2 Cultural aspects of healing:
South Africa is blessed with a rich cultural diversity which is reflected in the formal and informal systems of medicine that are presently practiced in different parts of the country. The informal oral- tradition medical system of the Khoi-San peoples, the Nguni and the Sotho - speaking peoples have not yet been systemised, and are passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next (Van Wyk, et al, 1997). These medical systems and their herbal, animal and mineral materia medica have ancient origins which may date back to paeleolithic times. The formal systems of medicine, were introduced to the country over the last three hundred years by European and other settlers, and are exemplified by today’s modern Western medicine, also called Western biomedicine or allopathic medicine. Ayuvedic medicine from India, Traditional Chinese Medicine and homeopathic medicine are also commonly practiced in South Africa (Van Wyk, et al, 1997).

3.2.1 Similarities between medicine systems:
Van Wyk, et al, (1997) recognises that each system of medicine is the art and science of diagnosing the cause of disease, treating diseases, and maintaining health in the broadest sense of physical, spiritual, social and psychological well- being. Each culture has found solutions to the preventative, promotive and curative aspects of health that resonate in harmony with the world view of that culture. Western medicine may diagnose a disease in terms of a bacterial infection, for example, and treat that infection with antibiotics. An African traditional healer will seek to understand why the patient became ill in the first place, and treatment administered will address the perceived cause, usually in addition to specific therapies to alleviate the signs and symptoms of the condition.

3.2.2 Traditional Healing in South Africa:
There are an estimated 200 000 indigenous traditional healers in South Africa, and up to 80 % (Dyson, 1998) consult these healers, using in addition modern biomedical services. Traditional healers in South Africa are most commonly known as “inyanga’ and “isangoma” (Zulu), “ixwele’ and “amaQuira” (Xhosa), “nqaka” (Sotho), “bossiedokters” and “kruiedokter” (Western and Northern Cape). The terms “inyangas” and “sangoma” used to refer exclusively to the herbalist and diviner respectively, but in modern times the distinction has become blurred, with some healers practicing both arts. In addition to the herbalists and diviners who are believed to be spiritually empowered, there are traditional birth attendants, prophets, spiritual healers, spirit mediums, intuitives and dreamers. Most of the elderly folk in rural areas have knowledge of herbal lore, and function as first aid healers with a family repertoire of herbal remedies or “kruierate” (Van Wyk, et al, 1997).

3.2.3 The Future:
Indigenous systems of medicine are dynamic and adaptive, although firmly rooted in the traditions of the past. This can be seen in the incorporation of introduced medicinal herbs into the materia medica such as liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra; Zulu: “mlomo mnandi”) (Van Wyk, et al, 1997) and the use of modern medicines by some traditional healers. As well as a keen interest in the modern Primary Health Care training programmes expressed by modern traditional healers’ associations, this dynamism suggests that with appropriate official support and recognition, traditional medicine will continue, driven by cultural need and as a result of the continued poverty within South Africa endured by the majority of the population, external pressures, such as the arrival in the country of displaced peoples from the neighbouring countries will further fuel the need for cost effective alternatives to the current, state run medical system within South Africa.

As a consequence an increased awareness or knowledge of potential “target” plants, found within the boundaries of any protected area, is therefore vital for the continued, sustainable conservation thereof. Particularly in an urban context with increased pressures on urban conservation areas due to the ever increasing urban sprawl that as a result would prevent the collection of naturally occurring medicinal indigenous plant species in public open spaces (although in contravention of the by-law), there is no denying that the need for plant species used in healing will continue, and increased pressures and the possibility of poaching / illegal collection of said plant species will only increase.

It is therefore the author’s opinion that as part of the long term, continued conservation measures employed, the role of the conservationist and conservation area will grow in importance within a community context. Rather than attempting to fight the human onslaught with increased security measures, the community’s involvement within conserved areas is vital. The resultant community involvement can only add to an increased awareness of the role a conservation area plays within an urban context; the resultant sense of pride can only serve to uplift the community as a whole.

The following plants were identified as having healing or medicinal attributes and were to be found growing within the boundaries of GZENR: The author concedes that the following list is by no means considered complete and further research and exploration into the identification of plants identified and attributed with healing and or possible medicinal properties should be ongoing.

Identified plant species attributed with a medicinal value:

  • Asclepias fruticosa, (tontelbos).

  • Carpobrotus acinaformis, (suurvy).

  • Carpobrotus edulis, (suurvy).

  • Chironia baccifera, (bitterbessie).

  • Cotyledon orbiculata, (pig’s ear).

  • Geranium incanum, (vroue bossie).

  • Helichrysum petiolatum, (kooigoed, imphepo).

  • Helichrysum patulum, (imphepo).

  • Leonotis leonurus, (wilde dagga).

  • Melianthus major, (kruidjie-roer-my-niet).

  • Nylandtia spinosa, (skilpad bessie).

  • Pelargonium cucullatum, (wilde malva).

  • Salvia africana-lutea, (bruinsalie).

  • Sutherlandia frutescens, (kankerbos).

  • Tarchoanthus camphoratus, (kamferboom).

Click on the thumbnail posters below to see them in a larger format......

zvt-andrew project Asclepias fruticosa  Poster jan 2009.jpg (192189 bytes)zvt-andrew project Carpobrotus spp. Poster jan 2009.jpg (207773 bytes)zvt-andrew project Chironia baccifera poster jan 2009.jpg (184025 bytes)zvt-andrew project Cotyledon orbiculata  poster jan 2009.jpg (181759 bytes)zvt-andrew project Geranium incanum Poster jan 2009.jpg (165649 bytes)


zvt-andrew project Helychrysum spp. Poster jan 2009.jpg (191200 bytes)zvt-andrew project Leonotus leonurus poster jan 2009.jpg (181450 bytes)zvt-andrew project Melianthus major  Poster jan 2009.jpg (210166 bytes)zvt-andrew project Nylandtia spinosa Poster jan 2009.jpg (184817 bytes)zvt-andrew project Pelargonium cucullatum poster jan 2009.jpg (198363 bytes)


zvt-andrew project Salvia africana-lutea poster jan 2009.jpg (207775 bytes)zvt-andrew project Sutherlandia frutescens poster jan 2009.jpg (170444 bytes)zvt-andrew project Tarchonanthus camphoratus poster jan 2009.jpg (169381 bytes)



Disturbance history of site: the Medicinal garden is situated within an area of GZENR that was once used extensively in the production of ornamental plant species, by the original municipal nursery on site. The area is bound on three sides by a dirt road and footpath leading to the New Wetland site, the fourth border is made up of a line of alien trees, namely Meltrosideros excelsa (New Zealand Christmas tree) originally planted to serve as a wind break, protecting the then nursery plant stocks.


  • To create an area wherein plants identified as present within GZENR and or suitable to the Strandveld nature of the Reserve, possessing a medicinal value, can be exhibited.

  • Over time as the identified, propagated plant species take hold within the site, community involvement is proposed with the possible harvesting of the various medicinal plants for use within the community surrounding GZENR, with community members being offered a “reward” in the form of a sustained harvestable source of plant material, in return for labours performed in the maintenance and upkeep of the selected area.

  • Create an accessible garden area containing demarcated planting beds, accessible to workers and visitors alike through a series of pathways, ultimately leading from the outside classroom area through to the New Wetland site and into the Core area of GZENR.


  • The proposed site was walked by the author and existing plant species noted. A rough map was sketched and the positions of proposed pathways were ascertained.

  • Once the proposed pathways were walked, ensuring a continuous flow and ease of movement through the site, a brush cutter was used to clear existing vegetation and as a result open up and create the proposed pathways.

  • Paths were then lined using cut branches and stumps of alien tree species, harvested off site from Zeekoevlei Nature reserve.

  • A large central Meltrosideros excelsa (New Zealand Christmas tree) was left, with low hanging branches cut away using loppers and a hand saw to create a well shaded accessible area for the later placement of benches. Created by Edward Moses (Foreman GZENR).

  • Ultimately the Sideroxylon inerme seedlings propagated can be planted out beneath the established alien trees left, offering shelter, thereby maximizing the young indigenous seedlings survival and albeit slow, growth potential.

  • Cut stumps were placed within holes dug using shovels, thereby creating a circular seating arrangement.

  • Existing vegetation was carefully assessed. Large shrubs were left to serve as windbreaks lining the path and roadways and to offer some privacy within the proposed garden area.

  • Selected propagated plant species were planted accordingly.

  • Cut circular slices of alien tree stumps were placed in selected areas along the pathways in the hope of establishing an Invertebrate and reptile “scratch patch” whereby it is anticipated that both invertebrate and reptile species will colonize beneath the placed wooden disks, which in turn can be used as an educational tool for visiting scholars in order to show the often overlooked smaller invertebrate residents of GZENR. The light weight nature of the wooden disks allows for easy access by viewers and do not represent a hazard to those lifting and looking beneath.

As a result of the manipulation of existing plant species and creation of pathways within the site, the basic structure of the Medicinal Garden is in place. Plant species planted out have taken hold, although it will be sometime before the site can be used as an area wherein the harvesting of plant species can occur. A number of identified plant species still need to be propagated and established within the medicinal garden. The “scratch patch “wooden disks are showing signs of colonization by various invertebrate species and are used as an educational tool with visiting school groups and environmental clubs on a regular basis, as well as providing a sustainable and harvestable food source for the captive specimens used in the standard environmental “Animal Show”.

The initial creation, transformation and upkeep of the site proved to be labour intensive. The upkeep of the site is now included in the regular path maintenance and weed pulling programmes employed within GZENR. A number of the selected plant species have yet to be cultivated; in this regard the author proposes that the regular environmental clubs that visit the Reserve become involved in the propagation and or collection of cuttings and seeds from plant stocks within GZENR as part of the educational programme employed.
The introduction of new plant species to the site can in the author’s opinion on add to the Biodiversity of the site and GZENR as a whole.

As far as the involvement of the surrounding community members is concerned the best place to begin would be through relationships established such as friends groups and the Zandvlei Trust. The author acknowledges that care would need to be taken in the formatting of a proposed action plan that is in line with the City of Cape Town’s rules and regulations regarding the “employ” of volunteers made up of the surrounding community members and the “rewards” offered in return for labour.

It is the authors opinion that as the pressures of urbanization increase, GZENR has the potential to become targeted by illicit plant gatherers, in this regard, preventive measures, such as the identification of possible” target plants”, coupled with the creation of the sustainable, functioning medicinal garden within the protection offered by GZENR, will go a long way in the future conservation, not only of the target species but the integrity of the Reserve.


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You may contact Andrew Taylor at in connection with this project.


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