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Plectranthus laxiflorus (Umadolwane)

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Family: Lamiaceae

Scientific name: Plectranthus laxiflorus

Authority: Benth.

Common names: umadolwane (Zulu), citronella dutch-pipe-sage (English), sitrinella-kromsteelpypsalie (Afrikaans) 

Plant description

Umadolwane, scientifically known as Plectranthus laxiflorus, and it is the most frequently used species in the large, diverse, and widespread genus of Plectranthus. The plant is easily recognised by the smell of the leaves. The leaves have a unique fresh lemon or citronella-like aroma. The plant is cultivated as an ornamental plant for its unique scent.

The plant is endemic to Africa and can be found growing throughout the eastern and southern parts of Africa. It prefers to grow in the shade and on the fringes of certain biomes. For example, it can be found growing on the forest margins and along the shaded parts of stream or riverbanks.

As a species, the plant is very variable, meaning it is able to change in order to adapt to its environment. For example, in Ethiopia the plants tend to be taller and more upright, and the flowers tend to be larger than those growing in South Africa. This adaptation is to help the species to survive and thrive in its environment. 

The differences observed in the same species growing in different countries are not always consistent. Reason being these differences are an adaptation response. The differences depend on how the plant needs to adapt in the environment it finds itself and thus won’t be consistent. Therefore, every single plant growing in Ethiopia will not have a stem that’s taller and straighter with larger flowers than those growing in South Africa. 

In Ethiopia P. laxiflorus is considered the same as another species called P. neumannii. Infact, P. laxiflorus has about 11 synonyms including: Plectranthus violaceus, P. triflorus, P. neumannii, P. lilacinus, P. kondowensis, P. johnstonii, P. fracternus, P. albus, Germanea laxiflora, Coleus laxiflorus, and Coleus keniensis. This means depending on where you are in the world, P. laxiflorus can be called any of the mentioned names.  


The plant is an important plant in traditional medicine because it is used to treat a wide range of ailments. 

  • In traditional medicine, it is used to relieve pain, and to treat conditions related to the digestive system, the skin, the respiratory system, the genito-urinary system, the muscular-skeletal system, and other medical conditions. It also has horticultural uses, it can be used as a source of food & fodder, as structural timber, and as firewood.

The plant’s uses tend to differ with different groups of people: 

  • Zulu people use the plant to treat abdominal pains. They do this by first drying the leaves and grounding them into powder and using them as an enema for abdominal pains.
  • In the Eastern Cape province farmers use the plant to treat livestock diseases such as Gallsickness (blood parasite borne disease caused by biting flies, ticks, mosquitos), Redwater, and retained placenta.
    • To treat Gallsickness, farmers mix the crushed roots of the plant with the leaves of umathunga (scientifically known as Eucomis punctata) and the bark of utuvana (scientifically known as Kedrostis africana). The mixture of the three species is then boiled in water. After straining, the resulting liquid is then used to treat Gallsickness in sheep, cattle and other livestock.
    • To treat the Redwater sickness in livestock farmers crush the roots and bark of the plant and add coarse salt to the mixture to make a concoction that is used as medicine.
  • In Kenya, people use the leaves to infuse tea that is taken orally to treat fever, coughs, and colds.
  • In Kenya, people also use the leave to treat eye problems such as inflamed eyes and ophthalmia. 
  • Pokot people in Kenya use the plants to treat influenza. 
  • The Marakwet tribe in Kenya uses as a drug for causing abortion. 
  • In Ethiopia, the plant is used to treat teeth and gum disorders and as a laxative.

Other uses

  • Cruising the stem and leaves of the plant on the skin to repel mosquitos.
  • Using the leaves and stems to treat eczema.
  • Other parts of Africa use the plant to treat psychological problems such as madness.
  • The plant is also used to treat inflammation and pain in the joints, tissues, and muscles.
  • The plant is also used as a mouthwash to treat loose and bleeding teeth.   
  • Lastly, the roots can be used when making umuthi to drive away evil spirits or familiars (known as izilwane in Zulu).

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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