Buchu - A Remedy For Most Ailments

Buchu, a remedy for most ailments


I went to my friends, Gary and Marilyn, who live on Devil’s Peak; their house is smothered in a canopy of trees so it’s hard to find, even if you’ve been there many times.


It was supposed to be raining and freezing and we were going to do fireplaces of food and wine, possibly a video and lots of laughs. It turned out to be an Indian summer and, instead, we opted for a walk up Devil’s Peak to a “secret” valley not far from the old silver mine.

Thousands and thousands of sugar bush proteas (Protea repens) are in bloom in whites, pinks and reds. Swatches of metaplasia (honeybush) with their papery white flowers, exude a honey-on-toast smell. Patches of sedge grass give way to carpets of pink, white and yellow oxalis (Cape sorrel).


There’s not much left of the old silver mine and parts of it are overgrown with podylaria (sweetpea) bushes covered in pink and purple, sweet-scented flowers. Behind the mine the valley narrows into a gorge and we walked alongside the stream – which is torrential at the moment – until we came to a beautiful waterfall tumbling into a mountain pool.


It’s a very pretty place that looks almost as if it has been landscaped – except that it is too perfect to have been planned.

The rocky, moist slopes on either side of the waterfall are covered with crassula snowdrops, the spaces between dotted with new baby ferns and emerald mosses. Out of crevices tumble pale-blue lobella and species of the disa orchid.


And then there are clumps of restios grasses and arum lilies crowding their way down the tea-coloured pool.


Of course, there are hundreds of other plants up there, too numerous to mention, but there was a clump of buchu (Agathosma betulina) that inspired this article. They have small, shiny dark-green leaves, which are very strong-smelling due to a high oil content. Its star-shaped flowers can be white on shades of pink. It’s a hardy very attractive shrub, which looks good in a garden.


Internationally known as a medicinal plant, buchu is exported all over the world in various forms. It was always a hot favourite with the Khoi-khoi and Khoisan people who had many uses for its properties.


Among the early European settlers, buchu became one of the most widely used plants for ailments of the kidneys and bladder, rheumatism, indigestion and as a poultice and cleanser on open wounds.


Buchu brandy is possibly the most well-known form of using this herbal remedy. To make a home-made version, pop a few sprigs – including stems – into a good brandy and allow to infuse foe at least five days, giving a good shake now and again.

If you are more fond of tea than brandy, infuse a teaspoon of finely chopped leaves and twig in boiling water. Sweeten with honey – a natural catalyst for the herbal oil released by the buchu – for a decongestant and diuretic.


It’s very potent plant, so treat it with respect. Do not drink more than half a cup at a time, you can store the rest for later in the fridge. Drinking this remedy eases coughs, colds, anxiety, chills, cramps and indigestion. (Buchu brandy is very soporific – a tot or two, away you go.)


The antiseptic and diuretic effects of this wonderful plant come from its active ingredient, diosphenol. This accounts for stimulation of perspiration that a buchu infusion brings on, as well as a remarkable flushing action of the kidneys.


Apart from the common buchus, there is the lemon-scented Agostherma serpyllacea and the Agostherma ciliaris and cerefolium. Wonderful for use in pot-pourris – only a pinch lest it overpower everything else.


So where was I… yes, a five-minute walk above the city into a valley of paradise – with Gary and Marilyn.



Cape Times, South Africa, July 1997

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