I Smelled Peppermint, But With an Edge

So far I’ve met with eight herbalists since I’ve been in Africa… but no one like Nakilija.

Nakilija is unique because she’s a traditional herbalist who practices herbal medicine only through inspirations by God in her dreams.

She has practiced herbal medicine for 70 years and specializes in remedies for miscarriages and women’s problems or diseases.

She identifies her herbs or medicine to be used and how to make them only through visions in her dreams.

When I met her, she told me she had a dream from God when she was a little girl telling her to become a healer. And dreams like that are still her only source of herbal information.

Unless it comes from a dream, she doesn’t have faith in it. She accepts no other sources of information. Not from doctors and not from any other herbalists.

She is Dr. Josiah Kizito’s grandmother, and she is now 90 years old and still practicing and healing women every day. The people around her claim she is very effective, and a remarkable number of people still come to her to be healed.

One of the native South African herbs she uses in her treatments comes from a bushy little green plant called “Buchu.” The leaves have a kind of serrated edge, and the surfaces have these small pores that secrete oil. I broke a few open in my hand, and they smell sort of minty. Like peppermint with an edge.

Buchu is pretty well-known here in Africa but not in the West. It’s been used for centuries to relieve stomach pains, cramps, bladder and kidney infections, and even coughs and colds. The leaves have flavonoids like rutin and quercetin, which are known to help relieve congestion and increase energy.

One of the things I learned about Buchu is that it was one of the first plants used by some of the world’s oldest peoples – the Khoikhoi (who used to be called Hottentots) and Bushmen. They used to chew on the leaves to treat stomach ailments like cramps and nausea, and would break open the leaves to use the oil as a deodorant.

The locals near East London, South Africa, where I was visiting, also mix crushed, dried leaves with animal fat and make a popular skin moisturizer.

As old as Buchu is, though, doctors and scientists didn’t know until recently that it’s both a diuretic and an antiseptic.

That would be no surprise to Nakilija. She’s been using Buchu to treat women’s problems for more than half a century. It’s good for treating vaginal disorders, because the essential oil is not only antiseptic but it’s also anti-inflammatory. Which is probably why it’s also extremely effective at relieving pain and discomfort in the breasts of pregnant women.

Dr. Sears with NakilijaI met with Nakilija, who is called the “inspirational traditional healer.” She says she receives all her herbal knowledge through inspirational dreams from God.

If Nakilija needs the oil, she uses steam to get it from the leaf – roughly the same process they use to extract the oil in modern commercial production facilities.

The oil’s main ingredient, diosphenol – also called Buchu camphor – is what gives Buchu its antiseptic properties.

Nakilija told me she mostly uses Buchu in teas, sometimes with other herbs like rooibos, depending on what her dreams have inspired her to do.

Recently, herbal health companies have been catching on to Buchu, and you can now buy pre-packaged Buchu tea in stores and online from companies like Cape Moondance and African Red Tea.

You can also get Buchu powder and as a tincture, but if you’d like to try Buchu, I recommend you make Buchu tea.

Here’s the very simple recipe I learned in South Africa:

Put two teaspoons of dried Buchu leaves into just over a cup of boiling water. Let the dried leaves soak for about 10 minutes. Then strain out the leaves and enjoy your tea.

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