The Leaders in Natural Traditional

African Medicines



Sutherlandia frutescens is regarded as one of the most significant and multi-purpose of the medicinal plants in Southern Africa. Because of its efficacy as a safe tonic for diverse health conditions it has enjoyed a long history of use by all cultures in southern Africa. The coastal form of the species, known as Sutherlandia frutescens var. incana, is said to be particularly effective.

The traditional Tswana name Phetola alludes to this: Phetola means it changes, meaning that the plant changes the course of many illnesses into a favourable outcome (similar to the European concept of an adaptogen).

The North Sotho name Lerumo-lamadi means the spear for the blood meaning that the plant is a powerful blood-purifier or all-purpose tonic.

The ancient Zulu name is Insiswa. This means the one who dispels darkness. This most probably refers to the plant’s anti-depressant effect, and the fact that it is a great herbal medicine for a diverse range of health conditions.

The medicinal uses of Sutherlandia frutescens probably started with the Koi and Mana people. The plant was introduced to the early European settlers in the Cape. It gained popularity with the Afrikaans and English communities and has been used ever since as a Cape remedy for cancers and as a bitter tonic.

Recently, Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa widely recognised as the leader of the African traditional healer community, championed the Sutherlandia Frutescens as an herbal remedy for HIV/Aids patients. Subsequently, medical doctors and professors, who verified the plant’s extraordinary benefits for HIV/Aids patients, took up his cause.


Sutherlandia Frutescens is restricted to southern Africa and occurs in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Plant Parts Used:

Europeans use mainly the leaves and sometimes all aboveground parts are included. Not yet documented is the fact that indigenous traditional healers use the roots as well as leaves.

Medicinal Uses:

There is a well-established present and historical folk-use of Sutherlandia in the treatment of chronic fatigue states. Indeed in the great flu pandemic of 1918, Sutherlandia was used throughout its range by indigenous people and settlers to mange the acute illness, as well as he post-flu debility that was widespread.

Sutherlandia Frutescens is an old Cape remedy for stomach problems and internal cancers. It is also used as bitter tonic. According to tradition, the virtues of the plant extends to include remedies for colds, influenza, chicken pox, diabetes, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inflammations, liver problems, backache and rheumatism. Historically, strong teas were taken. When the Europeans arrived in the Cape, they introduced alcoholic tinctures. These tinctures are still sold today in the Cape Province.

European Herbal:

Sutherlandia Frutescens is used as an adaptogen and as a tonic for:

Definition of an Adaptogen:

A substance that invigorates or strengthens the system (also called a tonic).

Active Ingredients:

Sutherlandia Frutescens seeds contain canavanine, a non-protein α-amino acid. The plant is rich in amino acids and pinitol, contains asparagine but has a small amount of saponins and no alkaloids.

Pharmacological Effects:

Canavanine has anti-tumourgenic properties and it is possible that this or some other amino acids are responsible for the reported benefits in treating cancer. It is speculated that mechanism is one that acts on the immune system.

The presence of pinitol explains the traditional anti diabetic use.

Safety and Toxicity:

In keeping with World Health Organization guidelines for the assessment of herbal medicines, Sutherlandia Frutescens is generally regarded as safe on the basis of its long history of safe use in South Africa. It is one of the few medicinal plants on the world market that has been formally studied for safety, in this case in vervet monkeys.

The Medical Research Council of South Africa tested Sutherlandia Frutescens subsp. microphylla dried leaf powder for safety in 2001. The study was part of a Medical Research Council Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) process to establish a "clinical platform" to assess the safety and efficacy of promising South African indigenous medicinal plants. No toxicity was apparent in any variable studied by the Medical Research Council.

Drug Interactions:

As with most natural medicines on the world market, there are no scientific studies or reports on drug interactions with Sutherlandia Frutescens.

As seen on BBC2 Alternative Medicine:

In South Africa, BBC 2 TV presenter, Professor Kathy Sykes learnt of the herb Sutherlandia, which is being touted as a new weapon in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Professor Sykes discovers Sutherlandia is a complex chemical cocktail that has medicinal properties modern pharmaceuticals simply cannot reproduce.

… This highly bio-active compound, widely regarded in South Africa as an adaptogenic tonic par excellence, has been used as a treatment for many wasting syndromes, not only HIV and AIDS but also for Cancer, low immunity, chronic fatigue, and even mild asthma and joint support. …


Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa’s aunt was the first person to advocate the Sutherlandia as a natural treatment for HIV/Aids. She attracted the attention of the apartheid authorities who saw her conduct as a threat to the state. She was warned to be silent and threatened with dire consequences if she declined. She refused to stay silent and was subsequently kidnapped and never seen again. Credo Mutwa took up the mantle of his aunt and carried on advocating the Sutherlandia as a natural, non-toxic treatment for HIV/Aids. He also received death threats and accoeding to reports there were two assassination attempts on his life. Only with the advent of the end of aphartheid, did the threats stop. He openly spole about the Sutherlandia and its benefits. The Sutherlandia cause was then taken up by scientific entities that furthered research and brought its attention to the world.

This story was told by Credo to our researcher, Tr./Dr. Rui de Carvalho, and other alternative practitioners on one of his visits to Credo Mutwa’s farm. Credo Mutwa also presented Tr./Dr. Rui de Carvalho with a Sutherlandia plant as a gift of friendship.


Cancer Bush

Common names: kankerbos (Afrikaans); cancer bush (Eng.); Lerumo-lamadi (North Sotho); Motlepelo (Sotho); Phetola (Tswana); Insiswa (Zulu); umnwele (Xhosa).

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