Browsing the bookshelves in the bookstore at Johannesburg Airport we came across a book by Heather Dugmore and Ben-Erik van Wyk called Muthi and Myths. The book is an easy interesting and educational read about the plants and legends behind African tribal medicine.
One of the chapters in the book is about Wild Dagga, a common flowering plant that is valued by Sunbirds for its heady nectar and by humans for its general medicinal properties. In Africa“Dagga” is a local colloquialism for Cannabis but smoking the leaves of this plant is a traditional relief for epilepsy rather than for getting high. In rural areas the leaves and roots of the plant are also used to treat snake bites and other bites and stings and even to treat the effects of boils, eczema and even bronchitis, colds and flu. So, it’s a plant with general all round herbal medicinal value.
The Zulu people, observing the plants almost compulsive attraction for Sunbirds who seem to never get enough of its nectar call the plant utshwalabenyoni or “The Birds Beer”. Westerners observing that the plant looked like the hair of a Lions ear named it leonurus or “Lions Ear”. Whatever you choose to call it it’s an interesting plant.
Whilst paging through the book I realized I have some photographs of a Southern Double Collared Sunbird feeding on the flowers of Wild Dagga and decided I had to put them up and spread the word about this book and unique plant as I’m quite sure, like me, most people just see it as a nice flowering bush and nothing else.
The plants bright orange flowers are perfectly designed to allow the Sunbirds curved beak access to the sweet nectar at the base of the flower tube. The Sunbird emerges with pollen on its beak and face and as it flits between flowers and plants completes the cross pollination needed to ensure the plants continued existence. It also explains why the Sunbird is so attracted to the flowers of this plant. Both benefit from the other. A perfect example of nature’s intricate way of working its magic.
For those of you interested in the book it’s published by Marula Books, PO Box 56569, Arcadia 0007, Pretoria, South Africa. www.brizza.co.za