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The medicinal trees of the grasslands

10 years ago | 20204 Views

To the average African people, medicine means far more than the drug to cure a disease; it also means the poison to kill an enemy, the charm to bring back a lost lover or to bring good luck. To simple people the world over, folklore, superstition and fear of the unknown are ever present in their daily lives. To Christians, Jesus is the answer to all things.

No doubt some of the healing properties ascribed to parts of the trees that are common in the vlei are quite valid, never mind what the Christians would say. However it is quite certain that much of the healing and many of the cures claimed are due to pure faith, either in the “expert or some would rather say doctor” or the preceding reputation of the medicine.  Sometimes the use made of some part of the tree is associated with some property of that tree, so a tree with milky latex might be used to increase lactation either in domestic animals or in women.  

It is in this context that the writer makes a compilation of some of the uses of the trees that are common in the vlei or Highveld. Even in modern day life with all the pharmacies and clinics, nothing beats natural treatment. By compiling this, the writer does not claim to be a doctor of trees, but just a Marondera farm child. If people are to try this, they are advised to go to experts (herbalists, n'angas etc) in such matters. The writer didn't cover most of the trees and certainly didn't go much deeper particularly in the various uses of trees particularly in traditional religion but only gave the most basic uses.

Muhacha (unmhuna) – The Hissing tree

One of the most common trees of the Zimbabwean grasslands and quite important in the traditional Shona religion and the Apostolic Sect doctrine, the muhacha is known more for its fruits or maybe perhaps for the unpleasant smell it produces. Around a mhondoro's homestead, the muhacha is the most sacred as prayers are often made to it or on it, whichever is higher. N'angas or svikoro's usually urge their patients to make their prayers while holding on to a part of the tree for easier passage to the Musikavanhu or Mwari.

The Apostolics on the other hand use the leaves to bath with and in the process ward off evil spirits and invite luck in one's life. Some sects use small twigs of the tree to make ‘holy' crosses while some use the tree as pegs (hoko) when they want to protect the homestead from evil spirits.

In traditional medicine, the roots are used for discharging ears where a herbalist prepares drops by soaking the roots in cold water for an hour. He then pours a little of this liquid into the ear four times a day for about two weeks using a spoon or a cupped leaf. An alternative to this is python fat; not any snake will do, it must be a python. The liquid obtained by boiling pieces of the bark in water for two minutes is used as a hot fermentation on the chest in cases of pneumonia.

And of course, a highly intoxicating drink is also prepared from the fruits but the recipe for this is difficult to come by.

Mutiti (umgqogqogqo) – The Lucky Bean tree

This is a medium sized tree but heavy in its proportions. The little red seeds feature heavily in traditional medicine because it is believed they bring luck to the bearer. The seeds and the twigs are mixed and put into liquid oil—nowadays it could be either in glycerin, bio-oil, tissue oil – so long as its oil. Juice from the seeds and twigs are said to absorb into the skin and this brings luck. It brings more attention to a lady (or maybe a gentleman) – the only danger is it attracts all sorts too; mapenzi, imbwa, everything.

To the left is the lucky bean tree at Lendy, Marondera

Muchecheni (umphafa) – Buffalo Thorn

This is one of Africa's widely distributed trees, which stresses from Senegal to Ethiopia and Arabia and extends as far south as Cap Town. It often grows on termite mounds while it has berries which are only often eaten by birds. The berries are edible but not particularly pleasant tasting.  Eat when you are in danger of dying by starvation. The roots bark and leaves all have their uses in traditional medicine. Firstly the leaves are chewed as an aphrodisiac. The roots are used to treat dysentery and to prevent elephantiasis. It is also one of the trees used in pregnancy termination (aka abortion). But what's interesting is that even though the berries don't taste nice they are the original recipe of the extremely potent alcoholic drink called kachasu – originating from southern Malawi.

Mufufu (umfumfu) – Violet tree

This tree often occurs as a scattered tree in wooded grasslands. It is one of the most dangerous trees as its roots contain poisonous properties. The use of the roots represent the accepted means of suicide for the women in the Lovale tribes in Zambia. The roots crushed and powdered are used as an intra-vaginal poison. When they are administered the person suffers from a rapid pulse rate, repeated vomiting and extreme weakness with death following within thirty six hours. The powder completely breaks down the vaginal mucosa. Some nasty n'angas give this to their clients usually wives who want to fix their husband's other options commonly referred to as mistresses (small houses). The poison is effective only when introduced into the vagina or rectum. Root scrapings contain methyl salicylate and so have a strong characteristic smell of oil of wintergreen; this is supposed to scare the snakes away.

Mutongotowa (umwane) – Wild Pear

This tree has decorative flowers, pure white and sweet smelling. The flowers appear from July to October and occasionally may be tinged pale pink. They are a favourite of the wild bees. The tree is actually one of the best in terms of withstanding fire. An infusion of the bark or wood is used to treat intestinal ulcers while women use a decoction of the bark to hasten the onset of labour.

Mutamba-muzhinyu (umkhemetshwane) – Monkey-orange

Not sure about the English name but this tree occurs from DRC southwards to South Africa. The traditional healers usually advise patients to carry some of the thorns o their person in order to ward off evil spirits. Remember the branches are armed with rigid slightly hooked and vicious thorns; therefore it becomes easy to understand why the doctors advise this. The fruit when it is not ripe is used to bring back lost lovers although the particular method on how it's done is hard to come by.
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how to prepare violet tree
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