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Elephantorrhiza elephantina (Intolwane)

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Family: Fabaceae

Scientific name: Elephantorrhiza elephantina 

Authority: (Burch.) Skeels

Common names: intolwane (Zulu), elephant’s root (English), olifantswortel (Afrikaans)

Plant description

The plant is considered an underground plant with the scientific name Elephantorrhiza elephantina. The genus name “Elephantorrhiza” means “elephant root” describing the large underground stem. 

Medicinal properties

The plant reportedly has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiplasmodial, antioxidant, antibabesial, antirickettsial, and anthelmintic properties. 


The plant is a source of food and medicine for humans and animals. In traditional medicine, the rhizome (or rootstalk) is the most extensively used part of the plant. It is used in traditional medicine as a remedy for a wide range of human diseases and ailments including:

  1. A mixture made from intolwane and icimamlilo (Pentanisia prunelloides) is used to treat dermatological conditions such as eczema.
  2. The roots are boiled to treat acne and other dermatological ailments.
  3. A mixture of intolwane and inhlungunyembe (Acokanthera oppositifolia) is used to treat diarrhoea and stomach problems
  4. It is one of the ingredients in the “Sejeso” herbal mixture.

Different countries throughout Africa use and prepare the plant differently:

  • In Mozambique, the roots are taken orally as a painkiller and to treat anemia. The leaves & roots mixture is used to treat diarrhoea. 
  • In Lesotho, the roots are used to cleanse the blood, to relieve abdominal pains, to treat infertility, herpes, intestinal and stomach problems, and tuberculosis. Pedi people also use the plant to treat hypertension.
  • In Botswana, roots are used to treat bloody diarrhoea and earache in children and to clean the womb after an abortion.
  • In South Africa, it is used to treat blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, haemorrhoids, menstrual disorder, syphilis, intestinal disorder, peptic ulcers, tonsillitis, sores, shingles, and itchiness. 
  • Small scale farmers in South Africa and Botswana use the plant as medicine for livestock such as cows, goats, horses, pigs, and sheep.
  • In Namibia people and animals eat the plant pods.

Preparation and use

The roots are crushed and made into a decoction that is taken orally to treat gastro-intestinal issues.  

The crushed or powdered roots are added to the porridge or amahewu as a supplement.

The powdered roots are made into an infusion that is taken orally as tea to treat hypertension.

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.

To buy intolwane: ;

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