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Family: Fabaceae

Scientific name: Elephantorrhiza elephantina

Authority: (Burch.) Skeels

Synonym: Entada elephantina (Burch.) S.A.O’Donnell & G.P.Lewis

Zulu names: intolwane, intolwane enkulu, ugweje, ugweje obovu, umdabu

Other names: eland’s bean, eland’s wattle, elephant’s foot, elephant’s root, dwarf elephant’s root (English) boswortel, elandsboontjie, leerbossie, looi ersboontjie, olifantswortel (Afrikaans) mupangara (Shona), mositsane (Sotho, Tswana)

Description: E. elephantina is a perennial suffrutex (or low shrub) that grows in grassland habitats. It has alternate, bipinnately compound leaves, yellow-white flowers, and fruits in the form of red-brown pods containing seeds that have a sweetish taste followed by a burning sensation.


  • The seeds are roasted and used as a coffee substitute for coffee.
  • The bark and rhizome (or root) are a source of tanning and dyeing material.
  • The rhizome is an ingredient in Sejeso, a herbal tonic from the Ingwe brand.
  • The rhizome is mixed with Acokanthera oblongifolia to treat diarrhoea. The rhizome are also used to treat dysentery.
  • The rhizome is mixed with those of Pentanisia prunelloides to treat eczema.
  • The rhizome is mixed with those of Boscia albitrunca (Burch.) Gilg & Gilg-Ben., Peltophorum africanum Sond. and Plectranthus ciliatus E. Mey. to treat opportunistic infections.
  • The rhizome is used to stimulate appetite.
  • The rhizome is mixed with Cladostemon kirkii (Oliv.) Pax & Gilg (roots), Drimia delagoensis (Baker) Jessop (bulb), Sarcophyte sanguinea Sparm. subsp. piriei (Hutch.) B. Hansen (bark)and Ranunculus multifidus Forssk. (whole plant) to treat shingles.
  • The rhizome is mixed with Cladostemon kirkii (root), Drimia delagoensis (bulb), Ficus sur Forssk. (bark), Ranunculus multifidus (whole plant), Sarcophyte sanguinea subsp. piriei and Senecio serratuloides DC. (leaves) to treat sores.
  • The rhizome is used to make an infusion that is used externally to treat acne.
  • The rhizome is used to make a decoction to clean the womb after an abortion.
  • The rhizome decoction is used to treat erectile dysfunction.
  • The rhizome is taken as an aphrodisiac.
  • The rhizome is taken to treat blood pressure.
  • The rhizome is used to make an emetic that is taken to treat chest pain, cough, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and fever.
  • The rhizome decoction is used taken to manage diabetes.
  • The rhizome decoction is used taken to get rid of gastro-intestinal parasites.
  • The rhizome decoction made by mixing the root of Acokanthera oblongifolia or Pentanisia prunelloides is used to treat stomach problems.
  • The rhizome is used to make an emetic that is taken to mitigate the anger of the ancestors.
  • The rhizome is used to make an emetic that is taken as a love charms.
  • The rhizome is used as a protection charm for cattle.

You can buy intolwane on the IMTHI YESINTU SHOP:

Intolwane Powder (50g) , Intolwane Coarse Fragments (50g)

Safety precaution:

The use of traditional medicine in prescribed dosages will yield good results. Misuse and abuse may lead to complications. Speak to your doctor or a herbalist for the best outcomes. You can also visit the imithiyesintu website and social media or email: to learn more about traditional medicine.

References and further reading:

  • Beinart, W. and Brown, K., 2013. African Local Knowledge and Livestock Health: Diseases and Treatments in U.S, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
  • Bisi-Johnson, M.A., Obi, C.L., Kambizi, L. and Nkomo, M., 2010. A survey of indigenous herbal diarrhoeal remedies of OR Tambo district, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. African Journal of Biotechnology9(8).
  • De Wet, H., Nciki, S. and van Vuuren, S.F., 2013. Medicinal plants used for the treatment of various skin disorders by a rural community in northern Maputaland, South Africa. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine9(1), pp.1-10.
  • Felhaber, T., 1997. South African Traditional Healers’ Primary Health Care Handbook. Kagiso, Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Gelfand, M., Mavi, S., Drummond, R.B. and Ndemera, B., 1985. The traditional medicinal practitioner in Zimbabwe. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe
  • 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.
  • Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Elephantorrhiza elephantina. Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 3: Dyes and Tannins, pp.75-76.
  • Komoreng, L., Thekisoe, O., Lehasa, S., Tiwani, T., Mzizi, N., Mokoena, N., Khambule, N., Ndebele, S. and Mdletshe, N., 2017. An ethnobotanical survey of traditional medicinal plants used against lymphatic filariasis in South Africa. South African Journal of Botany, 111, pp.12-16.
  • Kose, L.S., Moteetee, A. and Van Vuuren, S., 2015. Ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants used in the Maseru district of Lesotho. Journal of Ethnopharmacology170, pp.184-200.
  • Lall, N. and Kishore, N., 2014. Are plants used for skin care in South Africa fully explored?. Journal of ethnopharmacology153(1), pp.61-84.
  • Luseba, D. and Van der Merwe, D., 2006. Ethnoveterinary medicine practices among Tsonga speaking people of South Africa. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research73(2), pp.115-122.
  • Monakisi, C.M., 2007. Knowledge and use of traditional medicinal plants by the Setswana-speaking community of Kimberley, Northern Cape of South Africa (Doctoral dissertation, Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University).
  • Maroyi, A., 2017. Elephantorrhiza elephantina: Traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology of an important medicinal plant species in southern Africa. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2017.
  • Mpofu, S., Ndinteh, D.T., Van Vuuren, S.F., Olivier, D.K. and Krause, R.W.M., 2014. Interactive efficacies of Elephantorrhiza elephantina and Pentanisia prunelloides extracts and isolated compounds against gastrointestinal bacteria. South African Journal of Botany94, pp.224-230.
  • Nciki, S., Vuuren, S., van Eyk, A. and de Wet, H., 2016. Plants used to treat skin diseases in northern Maputaland, South Africa: antimicrobial activity and in vitro permeability studies. Pharmaceutical Biology54(11), pp.2420-2436.
  • Ndawonde, B.G., 2006. Medicinal Plant Sales: A case study in northern Zululand (Doctoral dissertation).
  • Pujol, J., 1990. Natur Africa: The Herbalist handbook. Lean Pujol Natural Healers Foundation, Durban.
  • Semenya, S., Potgieter, M. and Erasmus, L., 2012. Ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants used by Bapedi healers to treat diabetes mellitus in the Limpopo Province, South Africa. Journal of ethnopharmacology141(1), pp.440-445.
  • Van der Merwe, D., Swan, G.E. and Botha, C.J., 2001. Use of ethnoveterinary medicinal plants in cattle by Setswana-speaking people in the Madikwe area of the North West Province of South Africa. Journal of the South African Veterinary Association72(4), pp.189-196.
  • van Wyk, B.E., van Oudtshoorn, B. and Gericke, N. 2013. Medicinal Plants of South Africa, Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa.

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