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Alepidea amatymbica – a psychoactive plant

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Family: Apiaceae

Scientific name: Alepidea amatymbica

Authority: Eckl. & Zeyh. Var. amatymbica

Common names: ikhathazo (Zulu), tinsel flower (English), kalmoes (Afrikaans)

Ikhathazo is a psychoactive plant, a plant with hallucinogenic effects. Meaning when a person ingests, smokes, or sniffs this type of plant, it alters the person’s mental, emotional, intellectual, and behavioural state. Psychoactive plants are often used by traditional healers for diagnosing and healing illnesses, divination, and for various ancestral rituals and worship. These types of plants can also be used for sorcery or witchcraft.

Different people use these types of plants for different reasons. For example:

  • Some Rastafarians mix psychoactive plants with weed to increase the hallucinogenic potency of weed. Weed is a psychoactive plant whose potency diminishes over time.
  • In Zambia, some Ndembu people use psychoactive plants during an exorcism ritual. They make an infusion using different types of psychoactive plants that is taken orally in order to see ihamba, a type of spirit seen during an exorcism.     

There are different types of psychoactive plants, some are more potent (or effective) than others. When a psychoactive plant is too strong, it may cause an entoptic phenomenon, a phenomenon that causes a person to see objects from within the eye or brain. Normal human vision is when the eye sees an object from outside the eye.

How normal human vision works at its simplest:

In normal human vision, when the eye sees an object, light bounces off the object and the image of the object enters the eye and goes to the brain. The brain processes the image of the object by comparing it to all the other objects in the brain. Then let’s you know that what you are looking at. 

With the entoptic phenomenon, the image does not come from outside the eye, instead it comes either from inside the eye or from the brain. The entoptic phenomenon has been used by scientists to explain how certain people are able to see things that other people cannot.  

There are a number of factors that affect the potency and effectiveness of psychoactive plants, namely:

  • The consumed dosage – some plants are effective in small doses while others are only effective in higher doses.
  • The number of times the plant is consumed – hallucinogens (or drugs in general) become less effective over time. 
  • Whether the plant is used on its own or in a mixture – some hallucinogens are effective on their own while others are effective in a mixture.
  • The other plants in the mixture – the hallucinogenic potency of plants tends to increase in a mixture of hallucinogens. The amount by which the potency increases depend on the types of plants used in the mixture.

Ikhathazo’s scientific name is Alepidea amatymbica. The genus name Alepidea means “without a scale”.

Scales are insects that eat the sap of some plants.  “Without a scale” means that this plant is without the sap eating insects.

An assumption

This species name, amatymbica, was given in honour of abaThembu (Tamboekie mense in Afrikaans), Xhosa speaking people whose territory was historically known as Thembuland, former Transkei, where this plant occurs.


Ikhathazo is a herbaceous plant that grows up to about 2 m in height. It has an underground stem (or a root stalk) known as a rhizome that has a pleasant aromatic odour when fresh and contains resin.

Ikhathazo is endemic to Africa and can be found growing in the grasslands and near streams. In South Africa, this plant can be found in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga province.

The most preferred parts of this plant are the root and rhizome. The harvesting of the root and rhizome results in the death of the plant because in general plants need roots to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

Additionally, this plant is extremely popular and highly sought after, for medicinal and spiritual uses. The high demand for this species has resulted in the over-exploitation of the wild population and is presently an endangered species with a protected conservation status. The population of this species is also dwindling as a result of the gradual decline of the species’ habitat due to commercial forests and crop farming.

The over-exploitation problem is not just affecting South Africa. In Lesotho the plant is now regarded as vulnerable, due to unsustainable use.

Medicinal properties:

Phytochemicals are chemicals produced by plants to help them fight against fungi, bacteria, viruses, attacks from insects etc. The phytochemicals identified in the roots and rhizomes include alkaloids, flavonols, flavonoids, phenols, proanthocyanidin, tannins, and saponins.

Studies on the extract of this plant report antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antihelminthic, antimalarial, antiviral, antihypertensive and antiplasmodial activities.


The leaves are used for culinary purposes while the roots and or rhizomes are used for medicinal and spiritual purposes.

  • The young leaves are collected from the wild and used to cook a vegetable relish known as ikhokwana by Zulu people.
  • The roots and rhizomes are used by traditional healers to treat a sore throat, asthma, colds, chest pain, influenza, gastrointestinal complaints, rheumatism, fever, headache, and wounds.
  • Due to the different activities (such as antiviral activities) and phytochemicals, this plant is also used in the therapy of infections that affect the immune system, such as HIV.
  • The roots and rhizome are used to make herbal tonics and as an insect repellant. In Zimbabwe, they are used to repel bees.
  • This plant is used by traditional healer initiates and novices to induce lucid and vivid dreaming. Lucid and vivid dreaming are important to healers and diviners because they assist them with diagnosing and healing illnesses, divination, and various ancestral rituals and worship.
  • The rhizome is believed to be a lucky and protective charm. Hence:
    • Some traditional healers use the rhizomes to wash the mediums they use for divination. For example, they wash the divining bones.
    • Some traditional healers also use the rhizome in a lotion for protection and luck. They ground the rhizome to powder and add the powder in an ointment.


The plant is prepared in a number of ways to treat various conditions, ailments, and diseases. The following lists some of the simplest preparation methods.

  • To induce vivid and lucid dreaming – first dry the roots and rhizomes, then ground it to fine powder, and take as a snuff. For those that don’t like to sniff the powder, they burn either the powder or the dried root and rhizome in their original form and inhale the smoke.
  • Sniffing and inhaling the smoke from the roots and rhizomes can sedate a person, hence the use as a stress and anxiety reducing agent.
  • To treat colds, flu, and chest complaints – chew or suck the roots and rhizomes of the plant.
  • Colds, flu, and chest complaints can also be treated – first drying the roots and rhizomes, then grounding to fine powder, taking one teaspoon of the powder, adding it to hot water, and adding honey. Then taking the infusion orally as tea.
  • A less concentrated version of the abovementioned infusion, without the honey, is used as enema to treat coryza in children
  • To repel bees – burn the roots and rhizome powder and blow the smoke into a beehive.
  • To treat stomach and abdominal pains – Boil one litre of water and add one spoon of powdered roots and rhizomes. Allow the decoction to boil for about 5 minutes. Consume half a cup three times a day.
  • Stomach pains can also be treated by – Infusing the root and rhizome of ikhathazo with those of ugobho (scientifically known as Gunnera perpensa) and consuming as tea.
  • To treat asthma – Infuse the roots and rhizome of ikhathazo with insangu (scientifically known as Cannabis sativa). The infusion is taken orally as tea.
  • The roots of this plant are one of five ingredients used in the herbal tonic known as “Sejeso”. A tonic for stomach pains and cramps, indigestion, and constipation.

The high demand, dwindling population, as well as the protected conservation status make this plant a good candidate for small-scale farming. This is a viable option for anyone with a bit of vacant or unused land.

All the plants that are in high demand with a conservation status that’s either vulnerable or in danger of extinction are good candidates for small-scale farming. The small-scale farming of these plants is a good way to generate income, create employment, maintain or increase the market supply, and to conserve useful medicinal plants.

The demand for traditional medicine is always going to be high, it might even go higher in the future because you have people who prefer homemade remedies. Also, adequate modern health care is expensive, as consequence much of the population, especially in developing counties, turn to traditional medicine and healing as a source of primary health care as it is more affordable.

Discover other psychoactive plants and learn more about traditional medicine by accessing the articles on the Top 10 plants used for divination by Zulu traditional healers and introduction to traditional medicine and traditional medicine systems

Safety precaution:

The use of traditional medicine in prescribed dosages will yield good results. Misuse and abuse may lead to complications. To learn about correct dosage, consult a traditional healer or a herbalist. You can also visit or email: to learn more about traditional medicine.  

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