For the avid herb gardener with an interest in medicinal plants
Lippia javanica with its dense creamy white, flower heads
and aromatic leaves is a perfect candidate.
This 1 to 2m high woody shrub stands erect and is multi-stemmed.
The stems have a square appearance when looked at in cross-section.
The leaves are hairy with noticeable veins and when crushed gives
off a strong lemon-like smell. It is said to be one of the most
aromatic of South Africa's indigenous shrubs. The small cream flowers
can be found on the shrub from summer to autumn in some areas and
in others are produced all year. These flowers are arranged in dense,
rounded flower heads. The fruit are rather inconspicuous, small
These plants are widespread throughout large parts of South Africa,
with the exception of the Western Cape. L.javanica grows
from the Eastern Cape northwards extending into tropical Africa
including Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia,
Tanzania, and Kenya.
It grows in open veld, in the bush, as well as on forest margins.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The family Verbenaceae is a family of herbs and shrubs or small
trees often with aromatic leaves. There are 36 genera and approximately
1035 species in tropical and subtropical regions, with just a few
representatives in temperate areas. There are 8 genera and approximately
40 species in Southern Africa. There are 6 indigenous species of
Lippia in South Africa.
Lippia was named after Augustin Lippi 1678- 1701, an Italian
traveller and natural historian who was killed in Abysinnia. This
plant also occurs in Java, hence the epiphet "javanica".
It is possible that its aromatic leaves protect this plant as animals
do not usually browse it, except in exceptional circumstances.
Uses and cultural aspects
This plant is well known medicinally to many African tribes and
to many avid herbalists and herb gardeners.
parts (the leaves, twigs and occasionally the roots) of the plant
are used for different reasons. The Xhosa people are known to drink
at as a weak infusion as a tea substitute and in a stronger infusion
for the treatment of coughs, colds and bronchial problems in general.
They use the leaves and stem and drink it with milk or water. In
addition the Xhosa people also use Lippia javanica for the
disinfection of meat that has been infected with anthrax.
This herb is also said to be affective against fever, especially
in cases of malaria, influenza, measles, and as a prophylactic against
lung infections. In these cases Lippia javanica is often
mixed with another herb Artemisia afra.
The smoke from the herb has proven to be affective, if inhaled,
against asthma, chronic coughs and pleurisy. The leaves and stems
Skin disorders, such as heat rash and other rashes, as well as
scratches, stings and bites can also be treated. Here the tea is
usually cooled and then applied like a lotion. Even lice and scabies
can be treated with it.
Apart from its medicinal uses Lippia javanica is also used
ritually in a cleansing ceremony when someone has been in contact
with a corpse and apparently for protection against dogs, crocodiles
and lightning. The Masai make a red ointment from it, which is used
to decorate their bodies.
For those gardeners who are pot-pourri lovers and are looking for
a good cupboard freshener then Lemon bush is the perfect addition
to your bouquet. Some people even use it to make perfume.
There may be a commercial purpose for a volatile oil that is produced
by Lippia javanica. Apparently it repels and controls Bark
Beetles from the genus Ips who can become a plant pest.
Growing Lippia javanica
This plant is usually selected for the herb garden, rather than
the floral display area.
It can be grown from seed, but also grows easily from cuttings.
It grows relatively fast and prefers sunny areas. Lemon Bush is
not very particular and seems to do well in most soil types.
It is known to colonise disturbed areas, making it a pioneer plant.
These plants are usually very hardy and can grow under difficult
circumstances, requiring little maintenance.
- Van Wyk, B., Van Oudtshoorn, B., Gericke, N. 1997. Medicinal
Plants of Southern Africa. Briza, Pretoria.
- Van Wyk, B., Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants: A guide to
useful plants of Southern Africa. Briza, Pretoria.
- Pooley, E. 1998. A filed guide to Wild Flowers. Kwazulu-Natal
and Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Van Wyk, B., Malan, S. 1997. Field guide to the Wild Flowers
of the Highveld. Struik, Cape Town.
- Fox, F.W., Norwood Young, M.E. 1983. Food from the Veld:
Edible wild plants of Southern Africa. Delta Books, Cape Town.
- Mitchell Watt, J., Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. 1962. The Medicinal
and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. E. &
S. Livingstone Ltd., Edinburgh and London.
- Roberts, M. 1990. Indigenous Healing Plants. Southern
Lou-Nita Le Roux
Lowveld National Botanical Garden