This is a very attractive, small deciduous tree, with bright green
leaves that turn to a pleasing yellowish colour in autumn. Its beauty
is also complemented by its upright crown, and somewhat drooping
branches, resembling a eucalypt from a distance.
tea is a shrub to small tree growing up to 10 m tall. The stem is
usually straight and slender, with a narrow crown. The bark is light
grey, becoming darker. It is rough and often cracked. The young
stems are pinkish in colour. The leaves of this tree are opposite
and are hanging. They have a leathery texture and are shiny bright
green on the upper surface and paler beneath. The leaf margins are
strongly serrated. Leaf stalks are short and pinkish in colour.
Creamy-white to greenish minute flowers are borne in leaf axils
in spring. They appear in clusters. In late October, the tree bears
reddish brown, three-lobed capsules. They are 10 mm long and in
late summer split to release the narrowly winged seeds.
Khat is found in woodlands and on rocky outcrops. It is scattered
in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, mostly from the mistbelt, moving
inland. It is also found in the Western Cape, Mpumalanga, Swaziland,
Mozambique and through to tropical Africa and the Arab countries.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The generic name Catha is derived from the Arabic common name for
this plant khat and the specific name edulis is a Greek word meaning
'edible'. It is derived from the leaves of this tree being used
in teas by the Bushmen, as it contains a habit-forming stimulant.
C. edulis belongs to the Celastraceae family, commonly known
as the spike thorn family. The family has about 60 tree species
in southern Africa, and thus counts as one of the ten largest tree
families in the region. The largest genus of this family in the
region is Gymnosporia. Most of the family members have spines,
or are armed with spinescent shoots.
Uses and cultural aspects
Bushman's tea is attractive in the garden. It can be planted in
groups or in mixed beds where it gives height all year round and
beauty in the autumn months. The plant is widely used against respiratory
diseases. In tropical Africa and Arab countries it provides the
habit-forming stimulant found in the leaves. The leaves are brewed
as tea or chewed for this purpose. The effects include wakefulness
and hyperexcitability, and suppressed hunger. In South Africa, this
plant is regarded as a drug, since the drug cathinone, which is
extracted from it, is listed in the Drug Act. It is however not
widely used in this country, except by some groups of people from
the Eastern Cape.
The wood of Bushman's tea is also used for a number of purposes.
It is hard and fine-grained, and therefore is good for firewood
and furniture. The bark is also used as an insect repellent and
the stem for fence poles.
Growing Catha edulis
C edulis can be grown from seeds that are harvested just
before the fruits split. The seeds may be sown in early spring,
in trays filled with compost or seeding mix. The trays should be
kept moist in a well-lit warm area. The seeds can also be sown straight
into the prepared ground.
Bushman's tea also grows quickly from root cuttings. Cuttings of
new roots may be taken in the growing season, and planted immediately
in pots filled with compost. They may then be covered with wood
chippings to preserve heat and moisture. Cuttings should not be
watered until the shoots have appeared, to avoid rotting.
- Pooley, E. 1993. The complete field guide to trees of Natal,
Zululand and Transkei. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Schmidt, E., Lötter, M. & McCleland, W. 2002. Trees
ands shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana,
- Van Wyk, B.-E., Van Oudtshoorn, B. & Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal
plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B. & Van Wyk, P. 1997. Field guide to trees
of southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
Mhlonishwa D. Dlamini
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden