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Family: Rutaceae

Scientific name: Zanthoxylum capense

Authority: (Thunb.) Harv.

Synonyms: Fagara capensis Thunb., Fagara magalismontana Engl., Fagara multifoliolata Engl., Fagastrum thunbergii (DC.) G. Don,, Zanthoxylum thunbergii DC.

Zulu names: amabele, amabelentombi, amabelezintshingezi, isinungwane, umlungumabele, umnungumabele, umnungwane omncane, umabelejongosi, unhlangothi

Other names: adelaide spice tree, fever tree, cardamon, knobwood, small knobwood (English) kardamon, klein-perdepram, knopdoring, knoppiesdoring, lemoendoring, prambos, pramdoring, wilde-kardemon (Afrikaans), monokwane (Sotho), khunugumorupa (Tsonga)

Plant description: Z. capense is a tree that grows to 30 m in height. It has compound leaves that emit citrus fragrance when crushed, small greenish white flowers, and small fruits that are in capsule form containing one shiny black and oily seed. This tree is widespread across eastern Southern Africa and occurs in forest margins and bushveld.   

The tree is called amabele (breast) or amabele entombi (a woman or female virgin’s breast) due to the large corn-shaped knobs on the tree’s stem that resembles a woman’s breasts.
Umlungumabele refers to white people’s breasts describing the shape of the thorns on the stem bark.


  • The fruits are used to make a strong alcoholic drink known in Afrikaans as mampoer.
  • The fruits and roots are used to make an infusion that is used to treat epilepsy and neurological diseases.
  • The bark is used to make umuthi obovu, which is administered as an enema, emetic, and hot tonic. 
  • The bark is used to make umuthi omhlophe, which is administered by steaming. 
  • The bark is used to make a tonic called uzifozonke, which is taken as a drink to treat all ailments.
  • The bark is used to make a tonic called imbiza, which is taken for blood purification.  
  • The bark is used to treat ibhande (shingles).
  • The bark is ground to powder and inserted into the tooth cavity and gum infections. It is also added after the removal of teeth.
  • The powdered bark is added to water, the liquid is used for the purpose of gargling to remove the worm believed to cause pain in a painful and decaying tooth. 
  • The bark is charred and applied onto the boil opening to treat boils.
  • The bark is cooked and the decoction administered as enema.
  • The powdered bark is licked followed by drinking water to relieve body pains.
  • The bark is used to treat stomach cramps, constipation of intestinal obstruction, gastro-intestinal parasites and problems. It is used as an anthelmintic agent for deworming human beings.
  • The bark is used to treat lower back pain, affected joints, and paralyzed limbs.
  • The bark is used to treat warts. 
  • The roots are used to treat infertility and erectile dysfunction (impotence).
  • The roots and bark are used against meat allergies. It is administered by licking followed by drinking water.
  • The roots are used for wound healing and to treat pimples.
  • The roots are used to treat snakebite.
  • The plant is used to treat epilepsy and cognitive disorders.
  • The roots are used to produce yellow dye.
  • The leaves, roots, and bark are used to treat colds, chronic coughs, influenza, fever, and scrofula.
  • The leaves are mixed with those of Olea europaea and Grewia occidentalis as well as the sap of Aloe ferox to treat gall sickness in cattle.  
  • Dried and powdered root bark is applied or rubbed directly on the mouth “to kill tooth worm” (to treat toothache)
  • Powdered bark is mixed with warm water and the mixture is used as a mouthwash to relieve toothache.

Safety precaution:

Using traditional medicine responsibly can enhance your overall health and well-being. Misuse and abuse can lead to complications. You can inquire about the correct use of traditional medicine from a knowledgeable herbalist and practitioner. You can also visit or email: to learn more about traditional medicine

References and further reading: 

  • Boon, R., 2010. Pooley’s trees of eastern of South Africa: A complete guide, second edition. Flora and Fauna Publications, Durban.
  • Coates Palgrave, K. 1977. Trees of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Corrigan, B.M., Van Wyk, B.E., Geldenhuys, C.J., and Jardine, J.M., 2011. Ethnobotanical plant uses in the KwaNibela Peninsula, St Lucia, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 77, pp. 346–359
  • Dold, A.P. and Cocks, M.L., 2001. Traditional veterinary medicine in the Alice district of the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa: Research in action. South African Journal of Science, 97(9), pp.375-379.
  • Gerstner, J., 1938. A preliminary checklist Zulu names of plants with short notes. Bantu Studies
  • Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G., and Cunningham, A., 1996. Zulu medicinal plants. Natal University Press, Pietermaritzburg.
  • Mhlongo, L.S., 2019. The medicinal ethnobotany of the Amandawe area in KwaCele, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Johannesburg: University of Johannesburg. Available from: (Accessed: 22 February 2023).
  • Nciki, S., Van Vuuren, S., Van Wyk, A., and De Wet, H., 2016. Plants used to treat skin diseases in northern Maputaland, South Africa: antimicrobial activity and in vitro permeability studies. Journal of Pharmaceutical Biology 6, pp. 2420–2436. 
  • Pooley, E. 1998. The complete field guide to trees of Natal, Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Pujol, J., 1990. Natur Africa: The Herbalist handbook. Lean Pujol Natural Healers Foundation, Durban.
  • Watt, J.M., 1967. African plants potentially useful in mental health. Lloydia 30, pp. 1–23. 
  • Watt, J.M., and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa, second edition. Livingstone, London.
  • Williams, V.L., Raimondo, D., Crouch, N.R., Cunningham, A.B., Scott-Shaw, C.R., Lötter, M. and Ngwenya, A.M. 2008. Zanthoxylum capense (Thunb.) Harv. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2023/05/05
  • Zukulu, S., Dold, T. and Abbott, T., 2012. Medicinal and charm plants of Pondoland. South African National Biodiversity Institute.

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