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Family: Anarcardiaceae

Scientific name: Sclerocarya birrea

Authority: (A.Rich.) Hochst

Synonyms: Poupartia birrea (A. Rich.) Aubrév, Spondias birrea (A. Rich.)

Zulu names: umganu, umgane, umaganikhehla

Other names: marula (English), maroela (Afrikaans)

Plant description: S.birrea is a medium-sized tree with alternate and compound leaves, reddish flowers with a raceme inflorescence, and edible one-seeded drupe fruits that turn yellow when ripe. The tree is a protected species that occurs in the miombo woodlands and grasslands of Southern Africa.


  • The plant name comes from the word “ukugana”, which means to get married. Hence the bark is used to make an emetic in mixtures for a person who is getting married.
  • The edible fruits are used to make alcoholic beverages. 
  • The plant is used to make essential oils that are used to moisturise the skin. The edible oil is used as a dietary supplement by San people.
  • The inner bark is boiled and applied as a poultice on skin damage, sun burns, ulcers, and smallpox.
  • The inner bark is used to treat headaches and toothache.
  • The bark infusion is taken as a tea to strengthen the heart, or as blood-cleansing emetics before marriage. 
  • The bark is used to make an infusion that is administered orally and or as enema to treat stomach ache.
  • The bark is used to make a decoction that is administered as enema to treat proctitis and diarrhoea, fever and malaria, and gonorrhoea.
  • The bark is used to influence the sex of the expected child. The bark taken from the male or female tree gives birth in the birth of a child of the same sex.
  • The bark is used to treat backache and infertility. 
  • The plant decoction is used as a bathing agent to wash patients with gangrenous rectitis. Traditional healers use the bathing agent before consulting with patients. 
  • The bark is used as a steaming agent to treat pain, such as painful shoulders. 
  • 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: 

  • Amusan, O.O.G., Dlamini, P.S., Msonthi, J.D., Makhubu, L.P., 2002. Some herbal remedies from Manzini region of Swaziland. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 79, pp. 109–112.
  • Bryant, A.T., 1966. Zulu medicine and medicine men. C. Struik, Cape Town (originally published in 1909 in the Annals of Natal Museum).
  • Gerstner, J., 1939. 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.
  • Mokoka, T.A., McGaw, L.J., Mdee, L.K., Bagla, V.P., Iwalewa, E.O., and Eloff, J.N., 2013. Antimicrobial activity and cytotoxicity of triterpenes isolated from leaves of Maytenus undata (Celastraceae). BMC complementary and alternative medicine 13(1), pp.111.
  • Mthethwa, N.S., 2009. Antimicrobial activity testing of traditionally used plants for treating wounds and sores at Ongoye area KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (Doctoral dissertation).
  • Mtshali, C.S., 1994. An investigation of environmental knowledge among two rural Black communities in Natal (Doctoral dissertation, Rhodes University).
  • Pujol, J., 1990. Natur Africa: The Herbalist handbook. Lean Pujol Natural Healers Foundation, Durban.
  • Roberts, M., 1990. Indigenous healing plants. Southern Book Publishers, Halfway House.

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