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Family: Orchidaceae

Scientific name: Polystachya ottoniana

Authority: Rchb.f.

Synonyms: Polystachya capensis Sond. ex Harv., Polystachya glaberrima Schltr., Polystachya pisobulbon Kraenzl.

Zulu names: amabelejongosi, iphamba, iphamba lehlathi

Other name: white snout orchid

Plant description: P. ottoniana is a wild orchid that grows to between 100 to 150 mm in height. It has leathery and linear leaves and cup-shaped flowers whose colours range from yellow and green to white and pinkish-white. The plant grows in South Africa and Swaziland and is distributed in the coastal and montane forests that span from the Western Cape to the Limpopo province. 


  • The plant is used as a protective charm for livestock and pets. It keeps them from harm and evil and it ensures long life and good health. 
  • The whole plant is crushed and added to a bucket of water. The mixture is allowed to sit overnight and in the evenings, it is sprinkled around the kraal or the ground, walls and roof of the house where the animals are kept. 
  • The plant is used as snuff that is inhaled to produce a hallucinogenic effect.
  • The plant is used to treat pain associated with teething in babies.
  • The plant is used to treat gastro-intestinal disorders.
  • The plant is used to treat diarrhoea.
  • The plant is used as an emetic love charm.

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: 

  • Ashton, P., 2018. The genus Polystachya in South Africa.
  • Batten, A. and Bokelmann, H., 1966. Wild flowers of the Eastern Cape province.
  • Chinsamy, M., 2012. South African medicinal orchids: a pharmacological and phytochemical evaluation (Doctoral dissertation).
  • Chinsamy, M., Finnie, J. and van Staden, J., 2009. The potential of South African medicinal orchids. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, pp.434-434.
  • Chinsamy, M., Finnie, J.F. and Van Staden, J., 2011. The ethnobotany of South African medicinal orchids. South African Journal of Botany, 77(1), pp.2-9.
  • Cocks, M.M & Dold, T. 2000b. The Medicinal Plant Trade in the Eastern Cape Province. Unpublished report on behalf of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Pretoria.
  • Cocks, M.M., de Klerk, B., Way-Jones, M.F., Webley, L. and Street, S., 2002. Greater Addo Elephant National Park Cultural Mapping Pilot Project. SANParks unpublished report.
  • Teoh, E.S. and Teoh, E.S., 2019. Medicinal Orchid Usage in Rural Africa. Orchids as Aphrodisiac, Medicine or Food, pp.305-362.
  • Watt, J.M., and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. Medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa, second edition. Livingstone, London.

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