Agathosma betulina – urinary tract infections and kidney health

Description and distribution

Agathosma betulina also known as buchu is one of the true buchus. The name Agathosma derived from the Greek meaning agathos, pleasant and smell. This evergreen shrub with aromatic leaves is used medicinally. It has starry white flowers, which appear on short, leafless branchlets which form in the axils of the oval leaves. Flowers are 5-petalled, white or occasionally flushed pink and normal appear for 6-8 weeks between June and November.

The plant has shiny, oval green leaves which have serrated edges and scattered oil glands on their undersides. Flowers are followed by green fruit, which darken as they ripen.

Agathosma betulina has a restricted natural distribution area in the Western Cape and is found on mountain slopes near Niewoudtville, Piketberg and Tulbagh and in the Cederberg Mountains.

Traditional Uses

Buchu has traditionally been used by the Khoi and San people. The dried and powdered leaves were mixed with sheep fat to anoint bodies and leaves were also chewed to relieve stomach complaints.

Later, the leaves of the Agathosma betulina and other Agathosma crenulata were also steeped in vinegar to make boegoeasyn (buchu vinegar) or brandy, boegoebrandewyn (buchu brandy). These were an essential part of the medicine chest of the early Cape colonist who used it to treat health issues including stomach complaints, worms, indigestion, kidney and bladder ailments.

Buchu vinegar was also used to wash and clean wounds.

Buchu, when drunk as a tea helps urinary tract and kidney infections, and mild digestive disturbances. It is an effective natural antibiotic and has anti-infective, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

It is also said to be an effective treatment for gout and rheumatism.

Did you know?

The Khoisan used to chew buchu leaves, but nowadays buchu is usually taken as a tea, and buchu teabags have been commercially available and have grown in popularity.

Another way to enjoy the benefits of this herb is in buchu brandy or “boegoebrandewyn”. This has been used as a folk remedy or “boereraat” for centuries. Buchu brandy or vinegar is made by steeping a few sprigs of fresh buchu in a bottle of brandy or white vinegar (optional add a few garlic cloves to the vinegar). Shake the liquid daily for a week and store in a cupboard.

The oil, which is extracted from the leaves, is used in the manufacture of cosmetics, soaps, food colourants

Sustainability and sourcing

Agathosma betulina is grown commercially and while naturally occurring population has seen some decline due to the incredible growth and interest both locally and internationally it is not yet regarded a problem.

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