Wild Dagga and the Zulus

Six kilometres from the Thukela River mouth on the south bank of the river lies Harold Johnson Nature Reserve, 100 hectares of wildlife and birds including fascinating flora and fauna, a delight for amateur naturalists.

There is an interesting trail known as the Mhuthi trail, giving insight into the medicinal uses of various traditional plants used by the Zulu people.


One plant of particular note is the Wild Dagga that will soon be flowering, producing bright orange velvety flowers and attracting sunbirds. It is believed this is the plant originally smoked by the Zulus and not hemp or cannabis, the herbaceous plant native to Asia.

Apart from the narcotic authorities keeping this Asian alien under control, another reason could be attributed to the following myth: A long time ago the plants complained to the plant king that they were under constant threat from the animals and wanted some form of protection. So the plant king gave some plants thorns and others leaves that emitted a sting when touched. Some, like the cannabis plant, chose to be poisonous. Then there were those like the Triffid Weed that wanted to propagate prolifically by growing berries and fruits to attract birds and animals that would spread their seed.

Unfortunately, the Triffid Weed or Chromolaena Odorata, an alien creeper introduced here when exotic gardening was popular, is spreading wildly, forming impenetrable thickets and reducing the habitats for indigenous species. It is not only spread by monkeys and loeries eating the yellow fruit, but also by a dry twig that falls to the ground and takes root.
As for the Wild Dagga, it is Zulu custom for only those over forty to indulge in its medicinal properties.

The Zulu people use the root for snakebite and they sprinkle a concoction of the plant around their houses to keep snakes away. The Zulu and Xhosa make a strong brew of the leaves and use as a poultice for snakebites. They also use a tincture of the root bark internally for snake bite. The Zulu, Xhosa and white people make a tea of the flowers for a soothing cough and cold remedy. This tea has also been used effectively for the treatment of jaundice, cardiac asthma, hemorrhoids, headaches, chest ailments, bronchitis and epilepsy.

Most of the Zulu population lives in the 10,000-square-mile Zululand reserve along the Indian Ocean, just north of the Sea of Durban. It is a semi-fertile area with a flat coastal plain, highlands to the west, and numerous rivers and streams. The subtropical climate brings lots of sunshine and brief but intense rain showers.

A typical Zulu village is shaped like a horseshoe or circle, with a fence around the perimeter and a livestock pen in the center. Each village is made up of a very large extended family with a chief who serves as a leader. Most Zulu homes are shaped like a dome and made of cow dung plaster. Some of the more modern homes are constructed of cement block with corrugated tin roofs.

Within traditional Zulu household,the father is given utmost respect. Children often fear their father and will not speak to him unless he speaks to them first. The mother's role is less aurthoritarain and more nuturing. It is the mother who passes Zulu folklore, history, and rules of behavior on to the children. If he can afford it, a Zulu man will take more than one wife.

The division of labor between men and women is not an equal arrangement; women do a greater share of the work. This inequality stems from the days when Zulu men spent most of their time as warriors, and women were responsible for most chores in the home. Along with preparing food, cleaning, and caring for the children, women make repairs on the homes, collect water, carry and chop wood, make pots, weave baskets, and brew beer. Men clear the land of trees, construct the homes, and care for the livestock.

In Zulu religious life, great emphasis is placed on ancestor spirits. Offerings and sacrifices are made to these spirits for protection, health, and happiness. Because of this respect for ancestors, the Zulu believe that grave sites are sacred and must never be disturbed; angry spirits might cause harm. They also believe that ancestor spirits sometimes come back to the world in the form of snakes. If a snake appears in a Zulu village, the villagers make an animal sacrifice of a goat or a lamb as an offering to show respect for the visiting snake spirit. The Zulu also believe in one supreme god, whom they call Unkulunkulu, but this god is thought to have less influence on their lives than the ancestor spirits.

Music, dance, and rituals play an important role in Zulu life. Birth, death, and marriage are all occasions for major celebrations that often include the ritual slaughter of an animal. Small goats are often raised expressly for this purpose. The beginning of a new harvest is also marked by major festivities. Dances are performed for many occasions and represent unity among the village. One special dance, performed by young men who are being initiated into manhood, is accompanied by thunderous drumming; the men dress as warriors, wave their clubs, and thrust their cowhide shields forward in order to prove themselves to the chief. Songs are sung to praise members of the Zulu nation and to pass on oral histories. In addition to drums, the Zulu play stringed instruments made out of hollow gourds.

If you want to find out more about geography, economics, or culture of Africa, check out these sites:

Africa--an encyclopedia
African studies, University of Pennsylvania

Further Articles for Wild Dagga

Dispelling Wild Dagga Species Confusion - An easy to read comparison.

The Diterpenoids of Leonurus leonotus - An interesting clinical study.

Dagga/Yopo Experience Report - A positive story by an unknown author.

Folk, Traditional, and Medical Uses for Wild Dagga - Explained in detail.

Growing Wild Dagga - Cultivating Leonotis leonurus plants.

Botany of Leonurus (Mint Family) - From the Herba database.

Hottentot Tribes and Wild Dagga - Brief history of who the Hottentot's were.

South Africa's Nature - One explorer's account.

Synthesis of Leonurine - A brief abstract.

Motherwort - The True Dagga Plant - Ancient plant with many uses.