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African Medicines



Leonotis leonurus also known as Lion's Tail or Wild Dagga is a member of the mint family of plants. They have always been a popular medicine especially for children and are used for a whole range of off colour conditions. Traditionally it is explained as a great ally for courage and deals with the many itchy diseases created by fear. It is also used for epilepsy, and the fear it brings with it. Leonotis leonurus can be chewed, taken as an infusion or as a bath for eczema it has given great results.


Leonotis leonurus is common at forest margins, on rocky hillsides and riverbanks and in tall grassland of the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Medicinal Uses:

Many traditional uses of Leonotis leonurus have been recorded. The foliage is commonly made into a medicinal tea, which is favoured for the hypnotic focus it gives. The leaves or roots are widely used as a remedy for snakebite and also to relieve other bites and stings. Decoctions of Leonotis leonurus leaf or root have been applied externally to treat boils, eczema, skin diseases and itching, and muscular cramps. Leonotis leonurus extracts are also used to relieve coughs, cold and influenza, as well as bronchitis, high blood pressure and headaches. Leaf infusions have been used to treat asthma and viral hepatitis. Tea is also used to treat headaches, bronchitis, high blood pressure and the common cold.

The Hottentot tribesmen use Leonotis leonurus for several different medicinal purposes and to promote euphoria and exuberance when smoked. This species is also important in Chinese/Vietnamese medicine as a euphoric, purgative and vermifuge.

Twigs added to the bath water give relief to muscular aches and pains, itchy skin and eczema.  A strong brew can be dabbed onto sores, bites, bee and wasp stings. It is said to also help scorpion and snake bites.

The Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English make a tea of the flowers for a soothing cough and as a cold remedy.  This tea has also been used for the treatment of jaundice, cardiac asthma, hemorrhoids, headaches, chest ailments, bronchitis and epilepsy.  The Zulu and Xhosa make a strong brew of the leaves and use as a poultice for snakebites.  The leaf is also smoked in the treatment of epilepsy and partial paralysis.  It is known that a tea of leaves and flowers used to be drunk daily by the older generations for water retention, obesity and hemorrhoids.

Leonotis leonurus was introduced to the white settlers as an amazing medicine chest by the KhoiKhoi who used an infusion of the twigs, leaves and flowers for skin eruptions and leprosy. The Afrikaans community is particular fond of the medicinal properties of this plant and it is widely used by white farmers.


Leonotis leonurus is also much respected in the treatment of animals. The Tswana, Zulu and Xhosa make a strong brew of leaves, flowers and stems to use as an enema in sheep, goats and cattle.  This brew is given to animals with respiratory problems and applied as a lotion to sores on stock and dogs, and as a wash for wounds, scratches, bites and stings.  A few chopped leaves are tossed to chickens with diarrhea and this has proved to be a quick and effective treatment.

Crude drug:

Supplied in bundles comprising young leafy twigs, the leaves having a characteristic aromatic-pungent odour, bright yellow-green colour and rough texture; occasional flowers and fruits are present.

What wilde Dagga looks like: Wild dagga is not a small plant. Plants can grow as high as ten feet and one of the main features is the bright orange flower that appears in summer.

"Klipdagga" is a lion plant with heart shaped leaves. It grows very fast under good conditions and is killed by frost. The closely related Leonotis leonoris "wilde dagga" has narrower leaves, tends to be more perennial and has smaller balls of flowers. The flowers are bright orange.

Pharmacology /bioactivity:

Anti-nematodal activity has been demonstrated in vitro against Caenorhabditis elegans for aqueous and 100% ethanol extracts of the dried aerial parts of South African plants, at concentrations of 1.0mg/ml. A hexane extract proved inactive at a concentration of 2.0mg/ml. The same study found water and ethanol extracts to be inactive in an in vitroassay for anti-amoebic activity.

Molluscicidal activity of 80% ethanolic extracts of dried leaf, stem and fruits of Sudanese plants against Biomphalaria pfeifferi and Bulinus truncatus could not be demonstrated in vitro (concentration 200mg/litre).

Anticonvulsant activity of an aqueous extract of dried leaf has been demonstrated in vivo in the mouse (dose: 200.0mg/kg IP).

Brine shrimp lethality assay: preliminary results showed no effect on brine shrimps in the concentrations tested.

Major chemical constituents:

1. Diterpenoid labdane lactones: premarrubiin 0.00933-0.01567%, marrubiin (possibly an artefact derived from premarrubiin during extraction).

2. Tannins, quinones, saponins, alkaloids and triterpene steroids were detected in preliminary tests in laboratories; iridoids were not detected.

Active Component, Mild Psychoactive Effect: Leonurine, an alkaloid, is the active component in Wild Dagga. It is mildly psychoactive and may become addictive if used regularly. Caution is suggested. Wild Dagga is legal in the U.S.

Dosage forms: Used mainly in the form of an aqueous decoction, orally, per rectum and as a topical application.

Traditional Medicinal uses:

Internal: For the treatment of cough, cold, fevers, influenza, chest infections, diabetes, hypertension, eczema, epilepsy, delayed menstruation, intestinal worms, headaches, constipation, spider bites and scorpion stings and as an antidote for snakebite.

External: For the relief of haemorrhoids, eczema, skin rashes and boils.


Not recommended for use by pregnant women. Not recommended for woman wishing to fall pregnant.

Adverse reactions:

First time users may experience dizziness, nausea or sweating


Treatment should be continued for one week. If symptoms persist, additional or alternative therapy should be sought.

1 table spoonful of chipped dried herb (10,0g) added to 3 cupfuls (500 ml) of boiling water, boil for 10 minutes, allow to cool overnight, strain and use clear liquid for both internal and external use. If fresh material is used, 3-4 young twigs (leaf and stem) are boiled with one litre of water.


Internal use:

Adults: Half a cupful (.90ml)

Elderly patients: Quarter of a cupful (.45ml)

Children 6-12 yrs: Quarter of a cupful (.45ml)

Children 2-6 yrs: Two teaspoonfuls (.8ml)

To be taken two to three times daily.

External use: the decoction may be applied to the affected area using a clean cloth.


Common names: wilde dagga (Afrikaans); lion's ear, minaret flower (English); unfincafincane (Xhosa); lebake (S); umhlalampetu (Sh).

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