Getting An Education In Bush Medicine Education in South Africa


South Africa

“For everything from headaches to ringworm, the bush has a cure,” said Jacques Smit, marketing director at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. “The biodiversity of plant life in the Sabi Sabi area is so diverse it’s like a ‘medicine chest’, supplying the people with precious natural remedies.”

Safari guides at Sabi Sabi offer guests more than a look at the Big Five, they offer a unique learning experience centered on ancient healing traditions of the Shangaan people. During safaris, guides and trackers will identify and discuss the age-old uses of various plants found in the African landscape.

While Selati Camp, Bush Lodge, Little Bush Camp and Earth Lodge all have a fully stocked first aid kit on hand and a 24-hour medical team on call, it is remarkable to experience and understand the centuries-old natural medicine still used in local village communities. Long before modern medicine, extremely skilled and knowledgeable indigenous healers developed cures for various illnesses using the trees, plants and shrubs that grew in their surroundings. Some of these plants and remedies are being scientifically studied with the goal of one day incorporating them into modern medicine.

On safari, study the extraordinary trees that produce these cures. The Magic Guarri bush is said to have supernatural powers. The wood of the bush is considered to be so sacred that it is never to be burned for fuel and twigs and pieces of the branches are carried by the people for good luck. Many traditional healers use Magic Guarri to help abdominal pains during pregnancy and to prevent miscarriage, but the bush has even simpler uses, like curing toothache, preventing tooth decay and cleaning your teeth, similar to a toothbrush.

The Leadwood tree, a protected species that lives to be more than a thousand years old, can be seen around the reserve. Due to their protected status, Leadwood trees cannot be cut for medicinal purposes, but elephants don’t fall under these restrictions. Once an elephant breaks down a branch and enjoys a snack on the leaves, the branches are free for the taking. Inhaling the smoke from the burning wood is a remedy for coughs and colds. The bark is used as a cure for bilharzia, a parasitic disease.

For more insight into the uses of the Magic Guarri bush, Leadwood tree, Fever tree, Jackalberry tree, Weeping Wattle tree and the intriguing Sausage Tree, visit the traditional healer on a Sabi Sabi community tour. Tours are offered daily from 10:30am to 1:00pm.

Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey ( and Epicure & Culture ( Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
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