Swaziland's Flora Database
Swaziland's Flora - siSwati Names and Uses
Compiled by Chris Long, © December 2005
SiSwati names and uses, arranged by alphabetically by botanical name:
This section is in part a follow-up and an expansion of Ben Dlamini's 1981 book "Swaziland Flora" (Dlamini B.1981). It is split into groups relating to the main usage that is made of the species. Many plants are used for multiple purposes and so will appear in several different groups.
The information incorporated in this section was largely obtained from the literature referred to in the Reference Section. Two traditional healers were consulted and a number of schools visited. The children proved to be a rich source of information on Flora Usage but caution was exercised in incorporating the information due to the uncertainty of firm identification of species. In addition information was drawn from the community consultations and household interviews in Cliff Dlamini's "The Improvement of Policy and Strategy Development in the Sustainable Management of Non-timber Forest Products: Swaziland: A Case Study." (Dlamini C.S. 2005)
Whilst doing this work I was constantly revising the groups: amalgamating some, dividing others and eliminating some. One group that grew beyond any bounds was species that are used for ornamental purposes. There are many books in Southern Africa promoting the use of indigenous plants for landscaping. I came to the conclusion that the vast majority of listed plants can be used for ornamental purposes under the right circumstances and in the right location. I therefore chose to eliminate that grouping all together.
The section listing plants used for fuel or firewood would also have grown beyond reason had I listed all the woody trees that the school children named as being useful for fuel. I included only the more recognized species, but I also included sandanezwe (Chromolaena odorata) as being an interesting addition to the usual lists. It was listed as fuel plant by many children in all areas surveyed. Can this be a useful solution to the two ongoing problems of insufficient firewood and the invasive characteristics of this species?
Botanical names in this section have been reduced by eliminating the use of subspecies and varieties. While recognizing, that slight genetic differences may affect medicinal qualities, I prefer to leave that to the traditional healers who may identify the needed plant more by location, and time of harvesting, than by botanical handle. The great herbal "Pentsao Kang Mu", printed around AD 1596, clearly recognized that toxin levels may vary within a species and may fluctuate seasonally. In fact the knowledge of traditional healers may often seem to surpass that of the botanist. Discussing medicinal plants in South America, Plotkin tells us that "Among the Tukano of the Columbian Vaupes, for example, six "kinds" of Ayaahuasca or Kahi are recognized ..." All these kinds are probably refer to Banisteriopsis caapi (e.g. what to Western botanists is all the same species)" (Plotkin 2000:189). A Caribbean traditional healer (Christopher Scipio from Trinidad) has told me that he must "listen" to what a plant has to say before knowing whether, or not, it is the right time to harvest it for the desired purpose. But for our purposes, with the above caveat, the usage of subspecies or varieties will be considered the same as for the main species.
In the interest of holding the book down to a reasonable size, and thus being able to achieve its primary goals, I limited the space allocated to descriptions of usage. No attempt was made to give details of how to prepare edible plants, how to use medicinal plants, or to give details of use for traditional cultural purposes. Readers are referred to the books listed in the reference section for more details.
The section also contains as many siSwati names as could be found for the species. (See the notes in the siSwati section for more discussion).
Finally the following groups were adopted with approximate numbers:
- Food Plants. (705)
- Medicinal Plants with summary of part of plants used and for what basic ailments, list includes plants that may be poisonous to man or beast. (955).
- Household Plants used for carving - handicrafts, utensils, & furniture. (322)
- Firewood. Principal plants used as firewood. (110)
- Insecticidal. Plants with insecticidal and/or repellent properties. (40)
- Fodder Plants used for forage or fodder for domestic animals or game. (182)
- Soil Conservation. Plants used for soil erosion purposes. (32)
- Cultural. Medico-Magical Plants used for cultural, traditional uses; including "muti" plants. (350)
- Dyes. Plants used for tannin or dye purposes. (53)
- Honey. Plants that contribute to the production of honey. (43)
- Timber. Trees with wood for construction timber or fencing poles (149)
WARNING: No species on the list should be taken on a self-administered basis. A traditional healer or medical doctor should always be consulted. Many of the healing species are also toxic for example: Maesa lanceolata & Bowea volubilis, while others are in fact poisons for example: Acokanthera oppositifolia & Adenium multiflorum. The difference between a cure and a lethal dose may be small but very significant.