Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Walbergia salutaris

The plant shown on the left is Walbergia salutaris. Although it grows in South Africa and through to east Africa - when it is known as the Peper bark tree - this plant as shown here is probably the only existing Zimbabwe plant - all the rest have been taken for 'muti' or medicine by the local people.

i outline below the interesting facts about the plant which grows in our garden:

C BOTANICAL NAME: Warburgia Salutaris
C FAMILY: Canellaceae
C COMMON NAME: Pepper-Bark Tree, fever tree
! SHONA NAME: muranga
A slender tree or round bush normally 5 to 10 meters in height with rough rich brown bark and glossy dark green, elliptic leaves which are paler green and dull on the under surface.
Flowers are white to greenish up to 7mm in diameter on their own or in a tight few flowered head.
The fruit is a berry up to 4cm in diameter - black when mature and leathery - usually appear in October/November.
The heartwood is pale green, oily and aromatic when first cut - drying darker when exposed to the air and loosing its aromatic properties.
It is not a enduring wood and therefore is not cut for any purpose other than medicine.
Its natural habitat is the Chipinge area of Zimbabwe, and to countries north of Zambia and Malawi. It also occurs in the very north east of South Africa and in Zululand. In Zimbabwe there are now no examples of this tree growing in its natural locality - one example is found in the Ruwa area and another - taken as a cutting from this tree - in Harare. The National Botanical Gardens in Harare have imported a few seedlings in hope of growing these to maturity.
This plant has been used medicinally from early times.
The red peppery, bitter inner bark is used for:

A treatment for colds.
Dried and ground to snuff it is used to clear the sinuses.
It is chewed or smoke from the burning bark inhaled for chest complaints.
Boiled in water with the roots it is considered effective against malaria.
Abdominal pains.( Bark - decoction or powder taken in porridge)
Increase in blood. (A fungus that grows on the bark is swallowed in rare cases.)
Relief of headaches - use rare. (Powder applied to cuts or nyora made on temples.)
As a universal remedy (Panacea). (Decoction taken by mouth.)
A cure for mouth sores. (Powdered and mixed with water.)
Treatment for venereal disease. (Bark decoction of bark taken in porridge.)
To cause an abortion (Decoction taken by mouth - rarely used.)

It is also given magical properties and is used in:
Divination. (The bark is boiled together with hakata and the bark chewed and spat upon the hakata.)
The bark used as incense.

The leaves are used to flavour curries and can be easily identified by their burning peppery taste. Although this usage is East African it is interesting to note that the tree can easily be identified by this particular quality.
Little attempt has been made to grow this tree under controlled conditions and as it now faces extinction it could be too later.
Cutting have been taken from the specimen in Harare and some small plants have been grown by Mr. John Cotteril in Bindura from these cuttings. A nursery in the area has also taken a selection of cuttings and we understand that these have also survived.
Further work will be done this year to propagate from cuttings and it is hoped to be able to return specimens to the wild within a few years.
COPYRIGHT O. LIND 12 October 1995 (no update except that there are no other plants growing at this date - 2009)

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