Inflammasiebos: taming the flame
ESSENCE: CALM: Taming the flame
FAMILY: ASTERACEAE (Daisy family)
Hiding in plain sight
In the Agter Pakhuis, Inflammasiebos (inflammation bush) is one of the most important and sought after medicinal plants. It is also known as die regte Koorsbos “the real Fever bush”, the other fever bush being Dodonaea Angustifolia or the Sand Olive, a far more widespread plant, which is also much used and respected.
If there were such a thing as a hierarchy of respected “go-to” plants for the Agter Pakhuis, Pteronia Diverticata would definitely rank at or near the top - less common than many, not known to all, but regarded as important and powerful by plant knowledge holders. Which is why it was fascinating for me to discover (in a paper by Hulley et al) that it was another Pteronia, the more coastal Pteronia Onobromoides, that was favourite of the San, Khoi and Nama people, enountered and recorded as early as 1685, in Simon van der Stel’s journey to Namaqualand. The plant was dried and powdered, and also mixed with fat to anoint the body as a medicine, a cosmetic a hunting aid and also for ritualistic use, much like buchu - in fact, it was one of the various plants known as buchu, or Sȃb, San or Son. It has been said that the name of the San/Bushman people comes from this practice of anointing their bodies with aromatic shrubs (“bossies”): the Khoi and Nama people named them the Sanqua - translating to “Bosjesman” in Dutch or Bushman in English. Even though people have forgotten this bit of history, perhaps it still resides in the collective subconscious of the land.
So many ways to tame the flame
Like most medicinal plants of the area, the most popular way to use the plant in modern times is as a decoction or a simple tea. Fresh branches (leaves and stems) are gathered, when the plant is not yet in flower, and then boiled or cooked up with water. This is consumed as such - not usually sweetened. It is commonly said that the taste of the plant is part of its healing work, and that a bitter plant should therefore not be adulterated with honey or sugar.
Inflammasiebos is said to be good for bringing down a fever, or treating a cold or flu. For this purpose, it is sometimes combined with Karmedik (Dicoma Capensis), Wildeals (African wormwood - Artmisia Afra) and possibly sand olive (Dodonaea Angustifolia). Near Heuningvlei, it might be combined with Wildeals and Wynruit (Rue - Ruta Graveolens). Wildeals and Wynruit are both very popular garden plants in the area.
True to its name, Inflammasiebos is also a very important plant for pain and inflammation, particularly back pain and rheumatic conditions, as well as stomach pain. Again, it can be consumed as a tea or decoction, but another way to work with it is as a poultice - freshly picked plant material is warmed, wrapped in a bandage and placed against the skin. My preferred way to work with Pteronia Diverticata is in a massage oil or massage balm (much like the San, in fact), infused with the plant oils. I might use it on its own, or combined with other anti-inflammatory plants - both indigenous and exotic but locally popular. I’ve included my recipe for a massage oil below.
BRING DOWN THE HEAT: Anti-inflammatory massage oil
Of course, if this all sounds a bit complicated, you can always buy it from me.
If we look at the chemical composition and traditional uses of Pteronia, we can start to intuit its role, not merely in combating infection or relieving pain, but in calming body, mind and spirit - figuratively turning down the heat. We know from other stories, particularly in Bleek and Lloyd, that the aromatics (or buchu’s) were important for hunting - to blend the human smell with that of the bush, preventing “flight” - but also ritualistically, for example, to calm the Rain animal, during the process of rainmaking, calming the “fight”.
Stress as our most toxic fire
Inflammation, in its broader sense, is thought to be one of the greatest causes of disease in our contemporary society, preceding everything from chronic pain, to bowel disorders, automimmune diseases and cancer. It is the body readying to fight or flee from all the physical and emotional toxins to which we subject ourselves, all day long. Interesting that this plant (or its relative), with its ability to tone the physiological stress response (whilst providing its own protection) that would be the Sanqua’s choice for healing.
BRING DOWN THE HEAT: Decoction with inflammasiebos
COMPOUNDS: In a recent scientific study (the only one ever conducted on this particular species), 76 volatile compounds were discovered in the essential oil. These were largely monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, both of which are commonly used to fight infections, but which might have a variety of other properties - many are anti-inflammatory or sedative. Sabinene (spicy, yet anti-inflammatory, ant-oxidant, anti-fungal), Myrcene (used in perfumery, also analgesic), Pentadecane, Terpinin-4-ol (antibacterial, anti-inflammatory - the main compound in Tea Tree oil), B-caryophyllene (a spicy sesquiterpene which acts on the body’s CB2 Cannabinoid pathways to combat pain and inflammation) and Bicyclogermacrene were the main ones in Inflammasiebos, and then with lower amounts of compounds such as pinene, thujone, limonene, terpinene and others. Valeranone, which is a sedative, was found in extremely high concentrations in some samples, but was absent in others. In short, the story of a plant that not only has the potential to fight infection and mutation, but also to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and calm body and mind. Many of these compounds are shared with well-known sedatives, such as nutmeg, valerian and cannabis.
LOCATION: Pteronia Diverticata is fairly commonplace in the Agter Pakhuis, clustered especially around rocky outcrops in Sandveld and Fynbos areas. It may be found in the Agter Pakhuis, on the Pass, and stretching all the way back to the settlements near Wupperthal and Heiningvlei.