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Khat & Bushman’s tea / Abyssianian tea / Arabian tea

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Family: Celastraceae

Scientific name: Catha edulis 

Authority: (Vahl.) Forssk. ex Endl.

Common names: umhlwazi (Zulu), bushman’s tea (English), boesmanstee (Afrikaans), khat (Arabic)

Plant description

Catha edulis is indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Throughout Africa, the small evergreen tree or shrub is called by various names, including khat, African salad, flower of paradise, leaf of Allah, tea of the Arabs, (East African) Abyssianian tea, and Bushman’s tea. It is a psychoactive tree with euphoric and psychostimulant effects. Different parts of the world use the tree’s leaves, stem, and roots in traditional medicine and spirituality. In other parts of the world, such as the USA and Canada, it is an illegal narcotic (a substance that affects behaviour and mood when consumed). While in some parts of the world, such as South Africa, the tree is a protected species, for example, in KwaZulu Natal the plant is assigned a vulnerable status on the Red Data List. In various parts of Africa, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, the tree is cultivated as a lucrative cash crop. In Yemen, there are roughly 44 varieties of this tree.

The leaves 

The leaves are reddish green when young and yellow-green when mature. They are lancet-shaped with serrated margins and glisten in the sun. The leaves are indistinctly aromatic with an astringent vaguely sweet taste. 

The fresh leaves contain cathinone, a psychoactive ingredient. Cathinone is a very unstable compound that transforms to cathine when the leaves get older. Cathine is less sought after as it lacks the euphoric effects found in cathinone. In South Africa, cathinone (and its derivative methcathinone) are regarded as illicit drugs and listed in the Drug Act. The leaves also contain alkaloids such as celastrine (antioxidants), flavonoids, tannins, sterols, terpenes, essential oils, and amphetamine-like activities that stimulate the central nervous system. Other plant extract properties include analgesic, antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, and cytotoxic activities. 

Preparation, administration techniques, and uses 

The leaves are harvested in the morning and wrapped in bundles with sizable fresh leaves (such as banana leaves) to retain moisture and keep cool. 

In general, the fresh leaves are administered orally by chewing and swallowing. The leaves are also dried and ground to powder and used to make an infusion or a decoction that is consumed as a beverage or tea. The dried leaves are also administered by smoking.  

In spirituality, the leaves are used as follows:

  • Fresh leaves are chewed by Afro-Arabian (or Muslim) men in Yemen, Ethiopia, and Somalia as a psychostimulant to induce a state of euphoria because the use of narcotics is forbidden by religious laws. Chewing C. edulis often occurs in a small setting with groups of people, it is a century old social custom in the Arabian Peninsula. It increases the enjoyment of an occasion.     
  • In East Africa, Arab peninsula, and Southern Africa, the leaves are dried, ground to powder, and steeped in hot water to make an infusion that is consumed as tea. The powdered leaves are also boiled in water to make a decoction that is consumed as a tea. The tea is drunk by natives as a stimulating beverage to relieve tiredness and as a refreshment
  • In Muslim countries, the leaves are called the leaf of Allah because they enable believers to pray for long periods of time. The leaves relieve fatigue and acts as a psychostimulant, a drug that stimulates the central nervous system. The leaves are also chewed by Christians and Yemenite Jews in Israel. 
  • The dried leaves are smoked to induce a state of euphoria.

In traditional medicine, the leaves are used to treat the following conditions, ailments, and diseases:

  • Treat asthma, cough, and chest ailments by chewing the leaves and drinking infusion or decoction.
  • Stimulate an appetite by chewing the leaves and drinking tea.
  • Treat toothache and gingivitis, a disease that causes irritation, redness and swelling in the gums, by chewing the leaves. However, excessive use can negatively affect oral health.  
  • Treat helminthiasis, a disease caused by parasites such as tapeworms, flukes, and roundworms. This condition is treated by chewing fresh leaves. 
  • Treat stomach aches by chewing the leaves and drinking infusion or decoction.

In food making, the leaves are used as follows: 

  • The leaves are made into a sweet or sugary binder by drying the leaves and grounding to powder and mixing with honey. 

Other plant parts

The fresh stem is chewed, like leaves, to treat erectile dysfunction, body pain, heartburn, influenza, and fatigue. 

The tap roots grow to a depth of 3m or more. In South Africa, the roots are sold in traditional medicine markets and are used to treat diarrhoea and gonorrhoea  by boiling the fresh roots and drinking the decoction.

The tree is used to make firewood and charcoal. 

The effects of using Catha edulis

The habitual use of Catha edulis has adverse effects on the mental, physical, and social-well being of an individual. Some side effects include: 

  1. Triggers alertness, when a person experiences strong focus and concentration. 
  2. Trachycardia, an increased heart rate with heartbeats faster than usual, typically greater than 100 heart beats per minute.
  3. Induce euphoria, a state of where users experience powerful and deep sensations of happiness, well being, and excitement. 
  4. Increased blood pressure, circulation of blood on the walls of blood vessels. 
  5. Hyperactivity, characterized by very short attention span, easy distraction, impulsiveness, and restlessness.
  6. Insomnia, due to the stimulant keeping the brain alert and awake. 
  7. Suppressed appetite, users are reported to lose appetite. Hence, C.edulis is known as medicine for obesity. 
  8. Psychosis, users experience paranoia, hallucination, fearfulness, hysteria, isolation, or a tendency to harm others, and anorexia.
  9. Erectile dysfunction, excessive use can cause libido change, spermatorrhoea, and impotence. However, in low doses it increases testosterone hormone level. 
  10. Decreased utero-placental blood flow, regular or excessive consumption causes vasoconstriction which can impair foetal growth, premature delivery, stillbirths, and low birth weights. 

Other reported effects of using C. edulis include cardiovascular disorders (arrhythmia, palpitation, & pulmonary edema), respiratory disorders (bronchitis & tachypnea), gastro-intestinal disorders (chronic gastritis, constipation, paralytic ileus, & weight loss), hepatobiliary disorders (fibrosis & cirrhosis), and ocular disorders (mydriasis & blurred vision).

C. edulis was introduced in most societies, particularly the western society, by emigrants from the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa who are trying to maintain their chewing habit. Hence, the imports of large quantities of fresh leaves in the west.

Learn about other teas from around the world, by accessing Chai teaMosukujane & Zumbani teas, & Hibiscus sabdariffa

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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