“It’s not very attractive… do people actually eat that as a potato?” I thought it looked more like a spiny beetroot than a potato.
“They drink it. They make a tea from it.”
I met with many herbalists in Uganda, and they told me what Dr. Josiah Kizito was doing down in South Africa. So I went there and met with him, and here’s a little clip of one of our conversations — this one about the African Potato, or Hypoxis.
“So you don’t really use it as a food?”
“No, but it has big nutritional value. Far more than normal vegetables.”
I was speaking with Dr. Kizito in his office, and he showed me the specimen he had with him.
The African potato is a kind of wild-looking root that can sometimes grow to about the size of a beehive. And it has these long stems shooting out of it.
Above ground, the plant has long green leaves with beautiful yellow flowers and pointed petals, which is why it’s sometimes called African star grass.
And it might be the most versatile and health-giving root in Africa.
But “potato” isn’t the most accurate name because it’s not a tuber like the potatoes you and I know.
A tuber is kind of a swollen root that a plant uses as a little storage unit for its nutrients. There are other root types that plants use this way, too. Bulbs have layers, like an onion for instance, and there are also rhizomes which are a creeping stem.
But the African potato is a corm. Reminds me of the Hawaiian food called poi, which is also a corm. Poi is mostly starch, but the African potato (hypoxis hemerocallidea) is much more than that.
And it’s not a potato. So now it’s simply called “hypoxis.”
Traditional healers use it to treat blood sugar problems and diabetes, and to heal infections. It is also a bronchorelaxant, which means it’s good for soothing coughs and other breathing-related problems. And it’s an effective diarrhea reliever.
Hypoxis contains hypoxoside, which is the component that has antibacterial and anti-infective properties. It also reduces inflammation.
Hypoxoside also has an anti-cancer component called rooperol, which researchers found to be an extremely powerful antioxidant.1 But when they tested rooperol on cancer cells, they found it killed both colon and breast cancer cells. It also reduces the size of tumors by killing and inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.2
Rooperol is also the main agent in hypoxis’ antiviral abilities.
But hypoxis is particularly valuable because it treats unrinary tract infections and prostate problems. Like benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate. And studies show the extract can kill prostate cancer cells and even pre-malignant cancer cells.3
One of the reasons hypoxis is so good at healing the prostate is beta-sitosterol.
In fact in a review of 63 other studies, researchers found that beta-sitosterol was among the top three most effective treatments to improve urinary flow and prostate health.4
Hypoxis is traditionally used as a tonic in African medicine and is known as a “muthi,” which simply means medicine.
They dry the corm for two months in a dark, dry place. Then they simply mix the powder in with hot water and drink it. It’s that simple. If you want to make your own hypoxis tea, you can get raw powder online from websites like Alibaba or AfricanBotanicals.
A tincture of hypoxis is available at health food stores and on the web from NutriLife and Native Remedies.
You can even grow the plants from seeds. they like full sun and dry soil, like in an open garden or rockery. Plant World Seeds and the Prairie Moon Nursery have them, or you can find out more at reference sites like Dave’s Garden.
Hypoxis is generally not available in the West right now to take in a capsule or tablet, except as part of some other herbal mixtures.
1. Nair V, Dairam A, Agbonon A, Arnason J, Foster B, Kanfer I. "Investigation of the antioxidant activity of African potato (Hypoxis hemerocallidea)." J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Mar 7;55(5):1707-11.
2. Boukes G, Daniels B, Albrecht C, van de Venter M. "Cell survival or apoptosis: Rooperol’s role as anticancer agent." Oncol Res. 2010;18(8):365-76.
3. Drewes S, Elliot E, Khan F, Dhlamini J, Gcumisa M. "Hypoxis hemerocallidea–not merely a cure for benign prostate hyperplasia." J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Oct 28;119(3):593-8.
4. McNicholas T, Kirby R. "Benign prostatic hyperplasia and male lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS)." Clin Evid. 2011 Aug 26;2011. pii: 1801.