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Family: Orchidaceae

Scientific name: Polystachya pubescens

Authority: (Lindl.) Rchb.f.

Synonyms: Dendrorchis pubescens (Rchb. f.) Kuntze, Epiphora pubescens Lindl., Polystachya lindleyana Harv.

Zulu names: amabelejongosi, iphamba

Other name: hairy lipped Polystachya

Plant description: P. pubescens is an epiphytic orchid that grows to between 80 to 200 mm in height, depending on the habitat. It has long and wide leathery leaves and scented bright yellow to orange-yellow flowers with distinctive thin red (or orange-brown) stripes. The orchid typically grows on rocks under full sunlight or on forest trees in the shade. In South Africa, it can be found in coastal and riverine forests in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, and Mpumalanga provinces. 

P. pubescens is a protected species that is often confused with P. mongensis, due to similar morphology. Furthermore, P. pubescens is often substituted with P. ottoniana when treating some inflammatory disorders.


  • The plant is used during steam treatment, typically when a person has a court case or is facing misfortune. The plant gets the name iphamba due to its ability to deflect (or divert) and confuse “the enemy”. The term iphamba is derived from the word “ukuphambana” or “ukuphambanisa”, which means to outwit or confuse. Hence, people who are facing an attack from an “enemy” (whether real or imagined) use this plant to outwit and confuse that enemy.
  • The plant is crushed and soaked in water and used as a bathing agent. Typically used to help ensure a good outcome in a court case. 
  • The plant is used to make intelezi, a mixture that is sprinkled in and around the home to protect against lightning strikes. 
  • The pseudobulb and root of the plant are used as ikhubalo, an emetic protective charm against witchcraft. 
  • The pseudobulb and root of the plant are used as an emetic love charm.
  • The pseudobulb and root of the plant are used to treat yeast infections such as Candida albicans.

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.
  • Chinsamy, M., 2012. South African medicinal orchids: a pharmacological and phytochemical evaluation (Doctoral dissertation).
    Cocks, M.M and Dold, T. 2000b. The Medicinal Plant Trade in the Eastern Cape Province. 
  • Dold, A.P. and Cocks, M.L., 2002. The trade in medicinal plants in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Science, 98(11), pp.589-597.
  • Hutchings, A., Scott, A.H., Lewis, G., and Cunningham, A., 1996. Zulu medicinal plants. Natal University Press, Pietermaritzburg.
  • Tarr, B., 2004. Polystachya pubescens (Lindl.) Rchb. f. (Orchidaceae).
  • Zukulu, S., Dold, T. and Abbott, T., 2012. Medicinal and charm plants of Pondoland. South African National Biodiversity Institute.

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