Research Unit for Plant Growth and Development Department of Botany University of Natal Pietermaritzburg Private Bag X01 Scottsville 3209 South Africa


Salvia species of Africa, particularly southern Africa, have not been very well studied. With regard to taxonomy, a revision of Salvia in Africa was carried out by Hedge (1974). The 59 species recognized were divided into 18 species-groups, of which the seven occur in southern Africa. The author, however, pointed out that further work on African Salvia is required, especially a comparison with other Old World species would be of value.

Most of the species are restricted to Africa. The distribution of the genus extends all over northern Africa from west to east and southwards to the east African highlands. The genus is absent from most of western and central tropical Africa. This means that the species in southern Africa are geographically isolated from the species on the northern part of the continent. Few species are common to both northern and southern Africa.


Southern Africa is home to 30 species of the genus Salvia. The geographical distribution of the Salvia species growing in southern Africa is given in Table 1 (Arnold and de Wet 1993). Due to the size of South Africa and the different climatic regions within the country a breakdown in areas was done. These areas are The Cape, The Free State, Natal and Transvaal.

Most of the species only occur in sparse populations. A few species, S. africana-lutea and S. chamelaeagnea are, however, relatively common in the Knysna area of the Cape Province. Four of the species, S. coccinea, S. reflexa, S. sclarea (Clary Sage) and S. tiliifolia have been introduced into southern Africa, and are thus not endemic to the region. S. verbenaca is probably indigenous to the contries around the Mediterranean and on the Canary Islands and has spread further afield in Europe and Asia (Codd 1985). If it was introduced it is now widely distributed.

Table 1 Geographical distribution of Salvia species in southern Africa.

Botanical name

Geographical distribution

S. africana-caerulea L.

5. africana-lutea L.

S. albicaulis Benth.

S. chamelaeagnea Berg.

S. coccinea Etlinger

S. dentata Ait.

S. disermas L.

S. dolomitica Codd

S. garipensis E. Mey. ex Benth.

S. granitica Hochst.

5. lanceolata Lam.

S. namaensis Schinz

S. obtusata Thunb.

S. radula Benth.

S. reflexa Hornem.

S. repens Burch. ex Benth. var keiensis Hedge

S. repens Burch. ex Benth. var repens

S. repens Burch. ex Benth. var. transvaalensis Hedge 5. runcinata L. f.

S. stenophylla Burch. ex Benth.

S. tiliifolia Vahl S. triangularis Thunb. S. tysonii Skan S. verbenaca L.

The Cape The Cape The Cape

The Cape, Transvaal

The Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Swaziland The Cape

The Cape, Natal, Transvaal, Namibia and



The Cape

The Cape, the Free State and Transvaal Transvaal

The Cape and Namibia The Cape The Cape The Cape

The Cape, the Free State and Namibia

The Cape


The Cape, The Free State, Transvaal and Lesotho (Introduced) The Cape

The Cape, the Free State, Natal,

Transvaal and Lesotho

The Free State and Transvaal

The Cape, the Free State, Natal, Transvaal and


The Cape

The Cape


The Cape, the Free State, Natal, Transvaal,

Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana

Transvaal (Introduced)

The Cape

The Cape, Natal

The Cape, The Free State, Transvaal, Namibia and Lesotho


Traditional medicine plays a very important role in health care in southern Africa. In South Africa it is estimated that 80% of the black population consults with traditional healers. This situation is not likely to change in the foreseeable future as many patients have more faith in traditional healing than in Western-type health care, and might prefer traditional healing even when Western medicine is available. Traditional healers have centuries of experience in using plants for healing purposes. Traditional usages of Salvia species by different population groups are listed in Table 2. Only nine species, a third of the species occurring in southern Africa, have been used for medicinal purposes.

Very roughly, the people of South Africa can be divided into four ethnic groups, the Khoisan (formerly known as bushmen or hottentots), the black, the white and the coloured. These groups have to a more or lesser degree interacted on usage of medicinal plants. The Khoisan, coloured and white people have to a large extent used the same plants. The Khoisans had a very thorough knowledge of the veld and medicinal plants. They taught the coloured people working as farm labourers which plants to use for medicinal purposes. This knowledge was then absorbed by the white farmers (Anonymous 1993).

It is, however, very probable that the Europeans would have recognized various Salvia species. The Europeans utilized the local Salvia species for much the same ailments as S. officinalis is used for in Europe, mostly colds, coughs and chest trouble.

Various black tribes use extracts of Salvia species to treat infants. They also use the plants for a purpose none of the other groups do, namely to disinfect their huts.


Very limited phytochemical work has been done on the Salvia species occurring in southern Africa. The chemistry of introduced species will not be covered there, as that will be dealt with in other chapters.

The essential oil of S. stenophylla collected in the High Veld of the Free State in South Africa was investigated by GC-MS (Jequier et al., 1980) The volatile monoterpenes, expecially a-phellandren, were present in high concentration (28% of total oil). The oxygenated monoterpenoids constituted 5% of the oil, and the sesquiterpene hydrocarbons 35.5%. Among the oxygenated sesquiterpenoids which constitute the bulk of the oil (46%), a-bisabolol (41%) and manool (4%) were the most abundant. These compounds are mainly responsible for the persistent wood odour of S. stenophylla. S. stenophylla contains very low amounts of 1, 8-cineole and camphor, and lacked a- and b-thujone. a(R)- and (S)-Sinensal are unique constituents of S. stenophylla.

Brunke and Hammerschmidt (1985) analyzed the essential oil of S. stenophylla and identified 44 compounds. Most of the compounds were well known natural substances. The oil contained 29.8% a-bisabolol, which was isolated by column chromatography and identified as (+)-epi-a-bisabolol. It was the first time this isomer had been shown to occur in nature.

An exudate of S. stenophylla collected in the Eastern Cape was investigated for flavonoids (Wollenweber et al., 1992). Apigenin, apigenin-7-methyl ether, scutellarein-7,4'-dimethyl ether, luteolin and 6-hydroxyluteolin-6, 7-dimethyl ether o

Table 2 Traditional usage of Salvia species in southern Africa.

Botanical name Traditional usage


S. africana-caerulea Used by European settlers as a remedy for coughs, colds and chest troubles, a tincture also for whooping cough and uterine troubles. An old household remedy for colic, diarrhoea, heartburn and indigestion prepared as a tea to which Epsom salt and lemon juice was added.

Used by the Nama people for coughs, colds and female ailments.

The Rastafarians use it for chest problems, colds, kidney infections, stomach trouble and women's ailments.

Given to cows after calving to aid in the expulsion of the placenta.

Laidler 1928. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962. Dyson 1996.

S. africana-lutea

S. chamelaeagnea

S. disermas

S. reflexa

Used by European settlers for colds.

The Nama use a decoction for coughs, colds and female ailments.

Used by European settlers for coughs, including whooping cough, colds and bronchitis, as well as for diarrhoea.

The coloured population of the Cape use an infusion of the dry leaf for convulsions. The Nama use it for coughs, colds and female ailments.

Used for burns, chest complains, flu and fever, and for head-,ear-and stomach pains.

Used by the European settlers for the relief of lumbago, "kidney disease" and the cough of pulmonary tuberculosis. Have caused livestock death.

Is used as a lotion for sores and as a tea.

Used for the heart, high blood pressure and rheumatism. Have caused livestock death.

I.aidler 1928. Dyson 1996.

Laidler 1928. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962. Anonymous 1993.

Hurst 1942. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962. Hutchings et al. 1996.

Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962.

Anonymous 1993. Everist 1981.

Table 2 Continued

Botanical name Traditional usage


S. repens Is added to the bath for treating sores on the body.

The Southern Sotho take a decoction of the root before meals for stomach ache and diarrhoea, also used for diarrhoea in cattle.

The Basuto use the smoke from burning the plant to disinfect a hut after sickness and to drive away bugs. They also mix the plant with their tobacco.

S. runcinata A decoction of root, leaf and stem used by European settlers for the relief of urticaria.

The Southern Sotho burn the plant in a hut to disinfect after sickness and mix it with their tobacco.

The Zulu administer leaf paste purgatives to infants.

S. scabra A paste of the leaf is made with mother's milk and given as the first medicine to Xhosa infants. A water extract of the roots is given daily for two months to newborns.

S. sclarea The coloured people of the Cape use a milk decoction for sore throat and a water decoction to treat sores and swellings.

The Southern Sotho use decoctions of the root before meals for stomach ache and diarrhoea.

S. stenophylla The Southern Sotho burn the plant in a hut to disinfect after sickness and mix it with their tobacco.

Phillips 1917. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962.

Phillips 1917. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962. Hutchings et al. 1996.

Smith 1888. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962.

Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk 1962. Phillips 1917.

Phillips 1917.

accumulated in the exudate. The main constituent was, however, an unidentified polar phenolic compound.

No work has been done on S. verbenaca plants growing in southern Africa. Apigenin, luteolin, salvigenin and 5-hydroxy 7',4'-dimethoxy flavone has been isolated from leaves of S. verbenaca growing in Spain (Camarasa et al., 1982). A root extract of Egyptian S. verbenaca plants contained taxodione, horminone and 6b-hydroxy-7a-acetoxyroyleanone (Sabri et al., 1989).

A large study on the occurrence of alkaloids in plants also included a number of the southern African Salvia species. S. chamelaeagmea, S. namaensis and S. runcinata tested positive for alkaloids, whereas S. africana caerulea, S. africana lutea, S. coccinea, S. dolomitica, S. reflexa, S. tiliifolia and S. triangularis tested negative (Raffauf 1996).


An essential oils industry is absent in South Africa in spite of the fact that southern Africa is richly endowed with aromatic plants. There is obviously potential for the development of such an industry considering the plant material present as well as the climate and relatively inexpensive labour force. At present an initiative is underway to establish a commercial production of essential oils in the Eastern Cape province. This initiative is a cooperation between universities, the Ministry of Agriculture and international funding agencies. It is hoped such an initiative can benefit especially small scale farmers as part of the land redistribution reform in South Africa.

Salvia stenophylla is one of the few known sources of epi-a-bisabolol, an anti-inflammatory agent which is fast becoming a very important additive for skin care products. Until recently the only feasible source of natural bisabolol was the essential oil of Camomile flowers, which contains approximately 17% of the active ingredient. As the oil of S. stenophylla contains around 30% bisabolol it may become an important crop. This species is at present undergoing field trials in the Eastern Cape.


Anonymous (1993) Kruierate van die Montague Museum. Montagu Museum, Montagu, 6720, South Africa.

Arnold, T.H. and de Wet, B.C. (1993). Plants of southern Africa: names and distribution.

National Botanical Institute, Pretoria. Brunke, E.J. and Hammerschmidt, F.J. (1985). Constituents of the essential oil of Salvia stenophylla—first identification of the ( + )-a-bisabolol in Nature. In A. Baerheim Svendsen, and Scheffer, J.J.C. (eds.), Essential Oils and Aromatic Plants, Martinus Nijhoff/ Dr. W.Junk Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands. Camarasa, J., Canigueral, S., Iglesias, J. and Marin, E. (1982). Sur les aglycones flavoniques des feuilles de Salvia verbenaca L.: hydroxy-5 diméthoxy-7,4' flavone, flavonoïde nouveau pour le genre Salvia L. Plantes medicinales et phytothérapie, 16, 192-196. Codd, L.E. (1985). Laminaceae. In O.A.Leistner, (ed.), Flora of Southern Africa, Vol 28, part 4., Perskor for the Government Printer, Pretoria.

Dyson, A. (1996). Indigenous Healing Plants of the Herb and Fragrance Gardens, National Botanical Institute, Claremont, South Africa.

Everist, S.L. (1981). Poisonous Plants of Australia, Angus & Robertson, London.

Hedge, I.C. (1974). A revision of Salvia in Africa including Madagascar and the Canary Islands, Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 33, 1-121.

Hurst, E. (1942). The Poisonous Plants of New South Wales, New South Wales Poison Plant Committee, Sydney.

Hutchings, A., Haxton Scott, A., Lewis, G. and Cunningham, A.B. (1996). Zulu Medicinal Plants, University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.

Jequier, C., Nicollier, G., Tabacchi, R. and Garnero, J. (1980). Constituents of the essential oil of Salvia stenophylla. Phytochemistry, 19, 461-462.

Laidler, P.W. (1928). The magic medicine of the hottentots. S. Afr. J. Sci, 25, 433-447.

Phillips, E.P. (1917). A contribution to the flora of the Leribe Plateau and environs: with a discussion on the relationships of the floras of Basutoland, the Kalahari, and the southeastern regions. Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 16, 1-380.

Raffauf, R.F. (1996). Plant Alkaloids: a Guide to their Discovery and Distribution. The Haworth Press, New York.

Sabri, N.N., Abou-Donia, A.A., Assad, A.M., Ghazy, N.M., El-lakany, A.M., Tempesta, M.S. and Sanson D.R. (1989). Abietane diterpene quinones from the roots of Salvia verbenaca and S. lanigera. Planta Medica, 55, 582.

Smith, A. (1888). A Contribution to South African Materia Medica. Lovedale Press, South Africa.

Watt, J.M. and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. (1962). The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southen and Eastern Africa. 2nd edn. E. & S.Livingstone, Edinburgh.

Wollenweber, E., Dorr, M., Rustaiyan, A., Roitman, J.N. and Graven, E.H. (1992). Exudate flavonoids of some Salvia and a Trichostema species. Z. Naturforsch. 47c, 782-784.

Aromatherapy Natural Scents that Help and Heal

Aromatherapy Natural Scents that Help and Heal

You have probably heard the term Aromatherapy and wondered what exactly that funny word, „aromatherapy‟ actually means. It is the use of plant oils in there most essential form to promote both mental and physical well being. The use of the word aroma implies the process of inhaling the scents from these oils into your lungs for therapeutic benefit.

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