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Warburgia salutaris (Isibhaha)

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Family: Canellaceae

Scientific names: Warburgia salutaris 

Authority: (Bertol.f.) Chiov.

Common names: isibhaha (Zulu), pepper-bark tree (English), peperbasboom (Afrikaans)

Warburgia salutaris is an evergreen medium sized tree that can reach up to 10 m in height. It is one of the most widely used and traded medicinal species in Southern Africa. The plant is extensively harvested for the bark which is used in traditional medicine. 

The genus name Warburgia is named after Dr. Otto Warburg, a former lecturer in botany at the University of Berlin Germany and author of several botanical papers. The species name salutaris means health giving referencing the numerous medicinal uses of the plant. The English name pepper-bark tree gets its name from the pungent inner bark that tastes peppery.  

In the past, sustainable harvesting of the tree was monitored and regulated. However, the increase in demand for the bark, due to its economic and spiritual significance, led to increased harvesting. Illegal harvesting and severe debarking, caused by unskilled debarkers, resulted in high tree mortality in some areas and extinction in others. All these factors combined with the fact that the species is a slow growing species led to the tree being listed as an Endangered species in the international union for conservation of nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. It is also listed as a priority tree. Priority trees require protective measures and management guidelines to be put in place to ensure that they do not go extinct.

Medicinal Properties

The plant reportedly contains antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antibiotic, cytotoxic and phytotoxic, and antioxidant properties.


W. salutaris is used as a hedge and ornamental as well as for culinary, medicinal and spiritual purposes. The tree’s health-giving reference is due to its ability to treat a wide range of conditions, ailments, and diseases.

In general, the leaves, and roots of the tree are used to treat abdominal pains, backache, blood disorders, chest complaints, cholera, colds, coughs, diarrhoea, dysentry, febrile complaints, fever, headache, inflammations, influenza, irritations, malaria, respiratory, complaints, rheumatism, sores, stomach ulcers, toothache, and venereal diseases.

  • For centuries the bark and leaves have been used for treating bacterial, fungal, protozoal, and yeast infections. You can many big pharmaceutical brands selling Warburgia pills to treat yeast infections
  • The tree is used in a ritual to strengthen men whose wives are accused of infidelity
  • The leaves are used in many dishes for the peppery taste and aroma
  • The tree’s leaves are used to make spices
  • The leaves are used for seasoning food
  • The tree’s extracts used to make essential oils
  • It is used as an insecticide
  • The wood is used for firewood and building
  • The leaves, branches, and twigs are used as fodder


W. salutaris can be prepared in a number of ways to treat the abovementioned conditions, ailments, and diseases:

  • To treat a dry cough (For smokers) – mix the leave with those of insangu (Cannabis sativa). Add the mixture in a smoke joint and administer by smoking.
  • To treat a dry cough (For non-smokers) – mix the leave with those of insangu (Cannabis sativa) and make a tea infusion that’s taken orally. Add a bit of honey for taste.
  • To treat wounds – ground the bark to fine powder and mixed with either pure coconut or olive oil and applied as an ointment on cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
  • To treat genital sores – mix the fine powder bark with the fine powder leaves of Hibiscus surattensis. Combine the mixture with either pure coconut or olive oil and applied as an ointment on the penis or urethra to treat sores, inflammation, and irritation.
  • To treat headaches – mix the powdered bark is mixed with the powdered bark of umbhemise (Erythrophleum lasianthum). The powder mixture is taken as snuff and to clear sinuses.
  • To help with divination the bark is boiled and chewed.
  • The boiled bark is also chewed for luck and to invoke the goodness of the ancestors.

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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