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Mondia whitei (Umondi)

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Family: Apocynaceae

Scientific name: Mondia whitei

Authority: (Hook.f.) Skeels

Common names: umondi (Zulu), white’s ginger (English)

In English umondi is known as white’s ginger. As a child, I used to think that white’s ginger was ginger for white people and African ginger (Siphonochilus aethiopicus) was for black people. As an adult, I now know that this not the case. The plant’s English name (white’s ginger) was given to honour the farmer that first collected the root samples of this plant.

The scientific name for umondi is Mondia whitei.  The genus name Mondia is derived from the Zulu name umondi. The species name whitei was given in honour of the collector Mr A.S Whitei. He was a farmer from Fundisweni in KZN who sent the plant’s roots to a colonial botanist named Rev. Dr. J.C Brown. The botanist recorded that the plant was widely used by Zulu people for promoting appetite and to help with digestion.

Umondi is a slow growing woody climber that’s endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. It typically grows in woodlands and forests but can also be found growing in swampy grasslands. The plant has large heart-shaped leaves. The surface of the leaves has soft or fine hairs. The plant has attractive flowers that are reddish purple in color. The flowers have a fruity but unpleasant aroma that becomes stronger later in the afternoon. The roots of this plant spread laterally underneath the soil, making it easy to harvest them. The roots taste like ginger or liquorice with a distinct vanilla aroma. In Uganda, it’s been reported that the taste of the roots varies with age, when young the roots taste sweet and as the roots mature the taste becomes bitter. The stem of umondi is tough and resilient, it can be used to make woven ropes. The seeds of umondi have reportedly been used as poison for arrows.

Umondi can be cultivated as an ornamental plant since it has attractive flowers. It can also be planted for its commercial or medicinal uses. Umondi is a very versatile plant and because of this, it is over-exploited for commercial uses. The root of this plant is the most commercially exploited part of the plant and when harvesting the roots, the plant dies. And because of these and many other reasons, but mainly these two, umondi is currently listed on the red list of endangered plants.


Umondi is endemic to Africa, especially the East, West, Central, and Southern parts of Africa. Throughout Africa umondi is known as a “magic herb” because it used to treat a number of ailments including asthma, body aches and pains, anorexia, stress, bilharzia, and sexual dysfunction. It is also used to ease abdominal pain, alleviate nausea, treat fever, and as a mild laxative.

In the different ethnic groups in Africa, umondi goes by many names and is used to treat a myriad of ailments: For example:

  • In Uganda, umondi is called sedando and the roots are made into a decoction that is taken orally to induce labour and fight malaria.
  • In Kenya, umondi called mkobela and is used to treat ringworms, skin diseases, stomach worms, heart diseases, and asthma.
  • In Cameroon, umondi is known as mudondo and the roots are used to cure male infertility. It is also used to treat diarrhoea, headache, jaundice, and urinary tract infection.
  • In Malawi, umondi is known as gondolosi and the roots of umondi are used to increase sperm motility, sperm being unable to swim properly, can lead to male infertility. Similar to Cameroon, the people in Malawi also use umondi to treat diarrhoea, headaches, jaundice, and the urinary tract infection.
  • In Angola, umondi is known as mundondo and in the past was used as a source of food. The leaves were boiled with butter and used as a substitute for spinach.
  • In Zimbabwe, umondi is known as mungurawu and used to treat abdominal pain, constipation, poor appetite (or anorexia), schistosomiasis, and as an aphrodisiac. 
  • In Nigeria, umondi is known as Sha-ruwa in Hausa and as Isirigun in Yoruba. The roots are used to eradicate worm infestation.
  • In Ghana, umondi is used to treat erectile dysfunction and low sperm count.
  • In Tanzania, umondi is used to treat body pains, heartburn, and epilepsy or fits in children. It is also used to relieve stress and tension, and to treat mental illness. During childbirth, umondi is used as a uterotonic (a uterine stimulation). A uterotonic is used to cause a woman’s uterus to contract or to increase the frequency and intensity of the contractions during childbirth.  
  • In South Africa, umondi is used to treat stomach pains. It is also used to stimulate an appetite.  The roots are used to make a drink that’s similar to a ginger beer and to add flavour to soft drinks. 

There are a number of scientific studies being done to investigate the medicinal properties of umondi. The following is a study done in Nigeria.  

In Nigeria, they are investigating the effectiveness of umondi in treating sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder that makes the red blood cells have a sickle or moon shape. This shape makes the cells stick to blood vessels and blocks the flow of blood. As you can imagine this shape of cells is not conducive for the proper flow of oxygen in the body. The sickle cell anemia trait has a weird dichotomy. On the one hand sickle cell anemia is a life-threatening disease and on the other hand the sickle cell trait helps protect against malaria. In fact, the parts of the world where the sickle cell mutation is prevalent, you will also notice that there is also a high malaria rate. It seems like, if you find yourself in the part of the world where malaria is prevalent, and treatment is not. The best chance of survival is with a sickle cell mutation. If the gene is recessive then you can live a somewhat normal life, but if you breed with a person who has the trait, whether they are recessive or dominant. You are likely to have a child with the sickle cell anemia disease.

In 2017, Nigeria had the highest birth prevalence of sickle cell disease. That year, about one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) babies were born with sickle cell anemia and there were millions of Nigerians living with sickle cell anemia. The world malaria report (2020) showed that 76% of the Nigerian population were at risk of Malaria and that Nigeria accounted for 27% of malaria cases worldwide.

A Nugget


The different parts of umondi can be prepared in different ways to treat different types of ailments.

  • Traditional healers tend to use the roots to make flavoured tea to treat aches and pains. 
  • In some cultures, the root of umondi is chewed to stimulate appetite.
  • When cooking, the roots are added to food, to enhance the flavour.
  • The leaves of umondi are dried and crushed into powder, and this powder is then mixed with food or beverages as a daily supplement. 
  • The leaves can be consumed as a vegetable or imifino. The leaves can also be dried and used as seasoning.

The reason umondi is consumed by most ethnic groups is because the plant has high nutritional value, it contains vitamins (A, D, E, & K), minerals, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and protein. The plant has pharmaceutical properties that are of benefit such as: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic, and aphrodisiac properties. The roots have also been shown to have anti-schistosomiasis properties and the leaves have antidepressant and antiepileptic properties.

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