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Haworthia limifolia (Umathithibala)

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Family: Asphodelaceae

Scientific name: Haworthia limifolia

Authority: (Marloth) G.D Rowley

Common names: umathibathiba /umathithibala (Zulu), file-leaf haworthiopsis (English)

Take heed when purchasing Haworthia limifolia using the common name, umathithibala, as this is also the common name of a plant called Aristaloe aristata (formerly Aloe aristata). The two plants, Haworthia limifolia and Aristaloe aristata, share the common name, umathithibala, due to having a similar morphology.  

Umathibathiba (like isigqiki somkhovu) is used to fortify the home, (known as ukuqinisa ikhaya or ukubethela in Zulu. Similar to isigqiki somkhovu, the common name umathithibala also refers to most, if not all, the species belonging to the Hawarthia genus, which has about 60 species in total. However, unlike isigqiki somkhovu, umathithibala does not require a permit to own and it does not cost thousands of rands. In fact, you can buy umathithibala for just forty rands (R40.00) depending on the type of Haworthia species. 

Therefore, if you are going to use the name umathithibala make sure you specify which umathithibala you are referring to. i.e., are you referring to Aristaloe aristata or a Haworthia species and if you are referring to a Haworthia species, which Haworthia species are you referring to?  

The risible part of umathithibala is actually its name that’s derived from the word “mathithibala” which in English describes a kind of love-binding spell. The word “mathithibala” is derived from the word “thithibala” which in English means fearful. Hence, umathithibala describes someone who is made to thithibala. When you use umathithibala on a person, that person will love and fear you (or fearfully love you).

People in power, such as managers, are always asked whether they would rather be loved or feared by their employees. With umathithibala you never have to choose because people both love and fear you.   

Plant description

Umathithibala or umathibathiba is scientifically known as Haworthia limifolia. The genus Haworthia is native to Namibia and South Africa. The genus is mostly found in the Southern Cape. But the species H. limifolia also grows in KZN, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, and Mozambique. H. koelmaniorum is another type of umathithibala. It can be found growing in the Northern Province. H. tessellata and H. arachnoidea are other types of umathibathiba that predominantly grow in Namibia. 

H. limifolia is a xerophytic succulent. Xerophytic succulents are plants that can grow with very little water. It is usually found growing in shallow soil in bushlands, but it also grows near streams. Even so, it still grows best outdoors in sunny, warm, and dry climates. If you grow it indoors as a pot plant, place it on a windowsill so it gets enough sunlight.

H. limifolia grows fast but only up to a height of 10 cm. In places where it grows naturally, it can be found growing in dense clusters. The easiest way to spot this plant is with its leaves and flowers. The plant’s leaves are thick and green in color with white stripes. The flowers are small and white in color with pink or red stripes.   

H. limifolia is an endangered succulent. The types of umathithibala that are endangered in South Africa are H. limifolia and H. koelmaniorum. The endangered status is due, in large part, to the unsustainable harvesting for traditional medicine as a result of the plant being in high demand. Hence, the two Haworthia species (H. limifolia and H. koelmaniorum) are protected under the Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1983. 


H. limifolia is planted by different groups of people for different reasons. In general, it can be planted for spiritual, medicinal, ornamental, and ecological reasons.

Spiritual and medicinal uses

Unlike other plants, the uses of H. limifolia are not just limited to the plant’s different parts (i.e., the roots and leaves) but the uses extend to the entire plant.  

  • H. limifolia is similar to isigqiki somkhovu (Encephalartos species) in that the plant can be used to fortify the home (known in Zulu as ukuqinisa ikhaya or ukubethela). It is planted to protect the home from being attacked with witchcraft. It is used known as an intelezi (protection) plant to ward off evil or witchcraft attacks.
  • People also plant H. limifolia in their garden to ward off evil. 
  • During times of war, H. limifolia was used as a charm to make soldiers brave. 

The different parts of H. limifolia are used by traditional healers to heal different ailments:

  • The roots are used to make concoctions to treat gastro-intestinal ailments such as constipation, diarrhoea, dysentery, haemorrhoids, indigestion, nausea, stomachache, and worms.
  • The leaves are used to make tonics for cleansing and purifying the blood and digestive system as well as to promote pregnancy in women and cattle.
  • The leaves are also applied topically on the skin to heal wounds and sores, and to treat skin rash, and superficial and sun burns.

The ethyl acetate and acetone extract found on the leaves make H. limifolia effective at treating dermatological infections. The anti-tumor, anti-microbial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial activities in the plant make it ideal for healing sores, wounds, burns, and gastro-intestinal ailments. 

Ornamental and ecological uses

  • H. limifolia is also planted for ornamental reasons because it is an unusually beautiful plant. 
  • It is also be cultivated for ecological reasons, such as to repel snakes. In the Western Cape the killing of certain snakes is illegal, especially the snakes that are formally protected by the nature conservation ordinance 19 of 1974. The snakes that are protected are: the mole snakes, water snakes, house snakes, wolf snakes, file snakes, egg-eater snakes, green and bush snakes, shovel-snout snakes, and slug-eater snakes. Since you can’t kill these snakes, you might want to cultivate plants that repel them from your home. H. limifolia as a snake repellant is even more useful in places like KwaZulu Natal where snakes are ubiquitous. 


H. limifolia can be prepared and administered in a number of ways, including the following: 

  • The fresh leaves are chewed to treat cough.
  • The leaves are brewed to make tea to treat cough.
  • The leaves are made into a decoction to treat digestive problems.
  • The leaves are crushed and applied topically on the skin to treat dermatological ailments such as skin rash and burns. H. limifolia has excellent wound healing properties, hence its use to treat dermatological ailments.
  • The leaves are also dried, ground to powder, and the powder added to a lotion that’s applied on the skin.   
  • The roots are boiled, and the liquid taken as enema to treat stomach trouble.

Some groups of people use the leaves to make an amulet that is hang around the neck to create a euphoric feeling and to ward off evil.

Learn about some of the concepts covered in this article, including: Isigqiki somkhovu (Encephalartos species), Indabulaluvalo, Induced emesisi – ukuphalaza, Faith healers (abathandazeli), and Traditional medicines

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. 

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