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Medicinal, culinary and unusual botanicals from Australia and around the world

Silene undulata – Xhosa Dream Herb (plant)

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Silene undulata (syn. Silene capensis) is a rosette forming perennial herb from the African continent. Also called Wild Tobacco. Family Caryophyllaceae.

Silene undulata is one of a number of plants used by the Zulu and Xhosa of Africa in preparing Ubulawu (a concoction of herbs that are beaten/mixed in water to produce a foam which is then consumed). Ubulawu are used to induce and clarify dreams of the ancestors and also to allow the participant to be more receptive of the messages given by the ancestors.

Roots are harvested from Silene undulata after a number of years and dried for use in rituals. Roots are ground to a powder and mixed with water, then beaten vigourously to produce a white froth. The froth is then sucked off the top. It is likely that saponins produce the frothing reaction, little else is currently known about the constituents of Silene undulata.

According to Hutchings (1996), members of the Carophyllaceae family produce anthocyanins but not betalains and commonly accumulate pinitol and often also triterpenoid saponins. They are not tanniferous, lacking both proanthocyanins and ellagic acid but often store carbohydrate as trisaccharide lychnose, which is apparently restricted to this family. Other Silene species used by the Zulus are Silene bellidioides (taken as a love charm emetic), Silene burchellii (love charm emetic, treatment of scrofula, to combat sleepiness and in tonic baths after severe illness) and Silene primuliflora.

Care and Cultivation of Silene undulata

Silene undulata tolerates moist and shady conditions but needs a soft soil to form strong healthy roots for use in preparations. It also is quite tolerant of hot and dry conditions although hot and wet conditions can lead to root rot. Full sun to part shade position. In ideal conditions it forms a solid taproot after 2 years, similar to a carrot but not as thick.

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