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Silene capensis (Ubulawu)

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Family: Caryophyllaceae

Scientific name: Silene capensis

Authority: Ott. ex DC.

Common names: ubulawu or undlela zimphlophe (Zulu), white paths or African dream root (English)

Plant description

Like Synaptolepis kirkii (uvuma omhlophe), Silene Capensis is a psychoactive (oneirogen) plant, a plant that when ingested (sniffed or smoked) can alter the state of the mind (or consciousness). It is one of countless plants that is used by traditional healers to induce vivid and lucid dreaming and to sharpen memory. However, unlike other oneirogens, S. capensis is considered scared and it is believed that only an initiated healer can harvest and use the plant.

S.capensis is a flowering plant with white flowers that open only at night and give out a hypnotizing fragrance. This plant has dream inducing properties. The stem and leaves are covered with long hairs. The plant prefers to grow on well-watered soils such as those on riverbanks.


The plant is native to the Eastern Cape. The root was first used by Xhosa traditional healers in the Eastern Cape to treat an array of conditions, ailments, and diseases.

The root is the part of the plant that is extensively used in traditional medicine. Traditional healers initiates and novices use the sacred plant to heighten their sixth sense and to induce vivid dreams and lucid dreaming. It is believed that ancestors communicate with the initiates and novices through different types of dreams, which carry messages, knowledge, and guidance.

Ubulawu is both the common name of this plant and the name given to any mixture made using different the types of oneirogen plants. For example, mixtures made using Alepidea amatymbica, Helinus integrifolius, or Synaptolepis kirkii are known as ubulawu.

Ubulawu is used to make an emetic, a substance for inducing emesis. This emetic is taken orally as part of the ritualized process to stimulate the dreams. The ritual also includes:

  • A three-day initiation ceremony carried out during the full moon
  • Traditional singing and dancing, known as ukugida in Zulu
  • Clapping of hands and beating of drums, known as isigubhu in Zulu
  • Abstaining from meat, alcohol, and sex

The plant is also used to perform sacred ceremonies such as ukukhapha (to accompany a deceased person) and ukubuyisa (to bring back a deceased person).


To prepare ubulawu – The roots are pounded and churned in a bucket of water. A stick is then used to stir the mixture until a thick white froth is visible. The mixture is taken orally until the stomach is full. Emesis may begin spontaneously after drinking the emetic or may be induced by triggering the gag reflex using the fingers.

The mixture that remains is used to cleanse the face and body.

Traditional healers also chew the roots and spit them on the threshold to attract customers.

Oneirogens around the world

  • Aztec dream grass (found throughout America)
  • Blue lotus flower (native to Egypt)
  • Mugwort (native to Europe and Asia)
  • Sinicuiche (native to North America & Mexico)
  • Sugandi root (native Asia)
  • Wild asparagus root (native to India, Nepal, and Tibet)
  • Wild lettuce (native to America)

South Africa has an abundance of oneirogen plants used by traditional healers to make ubulawu. To learn about other oneirogen plants access the following resources Alepidea amatymbica – psychoactive plant, Synaptolepis kirkii  (uvuma omhlophe), Helinus integrifolius (ubhubhubhu)Top 10 plants used for divination by Zulu traditional healers in South Africa. You can also learn about induced emesis by accessing ukuphalaza – induced emesis – kunjal kriya. Discover how ubulawu and induced emesis are used to treat spiritual illnesses with an underlying animalistic cause.

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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