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Pentanisia prunelloides (Icimamlilo)

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Family: Rubiaceae

Scientific name: Pentanisia prunelloides

Authority: (Klotzsch ex Eckl. & Zeyh.) Walp. 

Variation: subsp. latifolia (Hochst.) Verdc.

Common names: icimamlilo (Zulu), wild verbena (English), sooibrandbossie (Afrikaans)

Plan description

The Zulu name “icimamlilo” means “that which puts out the fire”. The name describes one of the main uses of the medicinal plant, to treat heartburn as well as skin burns. Icimamlilo is a perennial herb that grows to about 0.6 meters in height. It is scientifically known as Pentanisia prunelloides. The genus name Pentanisia is a Greek word describing the fact that this plant has five unequal calyx lobes. Prunelloid is Latin for purple, which is the color of the plant’s flowers.

The plant is indigenous to Southern Africa, Tanzania (east Africa), and Zambia (central Africa). This plant has fleshy tuberous roots that when damage begin to rot. Uprooting this plant in its natural habitat is considered illegal even though the plant is not on the red list of endangered plants or at risk of going extinct. 

Medicinal properties

Icimamlilo is considered as uzifo zonke (all ailments) as it can cure almost all types of ailments. This can be attributed to the plant’s medicinal properties which include antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimycobacterial properties. 


In the African traditional medicine system, the plant treats a wide range of ailments. The roots and leaves are the main parts used to make traditional medicine. The roots and leaves can be administered orally or as enema to treat the following ailments: heartburn, heart problems, fever, bodily pains, venereal diseases (STDs), gastrointestinal problems, kidney problems, diabetes, skin infections, toothache, haemorrhoids, vomiting, and skin burns.

  • The roots are used as a poison antidote after a snakebite.
  • In the Zulu culture, this plant is used to make isihlambezo, a herbal concoction taken by women from the second trimester until they give birth to help them have a smooth delivery and to deliver a healthy baby. 
  • Swati people ground the roots to powder and directly apply the powder on wounds and sores. Swati people also use it to treat isi-scrofula, a type of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes of the neck. 
  • The roots are used in the making of preventative medicine against influenza. 
  • Xhosa people in Transkei use the roots to treat sore and swollen joints.
  • Witch doctors also use this plant to protect against witchcraft.
  • Similar to umkhanyakude (scientifically known as Vachellia xanthophloea), the plant can be used as a good luck charm when looking for a job or marriage. 

Preparations of this plant

There are various ways of preparing this plant depending on what you are trying to treat:

  • The roots are boiled along with the roots of ubuvimba (Solanum pseudocapsicum). After straining, the liquid is taken as enema to treat bacterial infection in the rectum. 
  • The roots are boiled, and the strained liquid taken as enema to treat stomach issues.   

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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