The plant thrives in evergreen or deciduous forests, sub-coastal scrub and fringing forest near the coast at elevations of between 50 and 2,200 metres. It appears in tropical Africa (Guinea to Togo; eastern DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Madagascar). In South Africa it appears predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal. This plant appears in varied forms; as a shrub of about a metre in height, a small tree of four metres or a climbing plant with long climbing stems that use other plants for support. Its leaves are dark green with a paler underside. Flowers are small and yellow and develop orange-red fruit with a leathery skin and fleshy interior that is about 1-3cm in diameter.
Salacia leptoclada possesses antioxidant properties and is used in South Africa for the treatment of inflammatory and other diseases. In Madagascar, the bark of the stem is used in traditional medicine to treat malaria, asthma and diarrhea. Scientific investigations have confirmed the antiplasmodial activity of extracts from the stem bark and therefore confirm its relevance as antimalarial medicine. The plant is also known for its aphrodisiac qualities. The fruits of this plant are also eaten.