This tree is a priority species for conservation and cultivation
in gardens, as it is over-harvested in the wild for medicinal use
and is a very popular item for sale at street markets.
is an evergreen, slender tree that grows from 5 to 10 m tall. The
dark green, glossy leaves are paler green below with entire margins,
and are simple, alternately arranged, elliptic to lanceolate. The
midrib is slightly off-centre with the tapering apex and base. The
leaves have a bitter, burning, aromatic taste.
It has white to greenish flowers of up to 7 mm in diameter. The
flowers are solitary, axillary, or in tight, few-flowered heads,
borne on short, robust stalks in the axils of the leaves. These
flowers develop into round, oval berries, narrowed towards the base,
are dark green, turning purple when ripe, leathery in texture and
covered with glands. The stem is covered by a rich brown bark that
is also bitter and peppery.
This is a tropical forest tree which extends southwards as far
as KwaZulu-Natal, eastern and northern Gauteng and across Swaziland.
It also occurs in Malawi. Its growth habitat is forests and kloofs.
Name derivation and historical aspects
The genus Warburgia was named after Dr Otto Warburg,
1859-1938, who was born in Hamburg. He lectured in botany at the
University in Berlin,Germany and was also the author of numerous
botanical papers. The specific epithet salutaris in Latin
means healthful. The English common name pepper-bark is from the
inner bark that is pungent. Isibaha is an old name in the
history of Africa, and is thought to be based on an Arabian word
which dates back to the days when the Arabs traded with Africa.
Medicinally, the pepper-like, bitter stems and root bark are
used to cure many ailments. As an expectorant or smoked, they are
a widely used remedy for common colds. Dried and ground, they make
a snuff used to clear the sinuses. Taken orally are believed to
cure spots in the lungs. Both stems and root bark are a remedy for
malaria. Powdered and mixed with water, they are believed to cure
sores in the mouth. The wood is not well known for timber in South
Africa probably because of its rarity. According to Palmer&
Pitman (1973), in Kenya the leaves of the pepper-bark are sometimes
added to curries and the wood is sometimes used in building.
Growing Warburgia salutaris
salutaris is cultivated from seed and vegetatively from cuttings.
The best time to take cuttings is in spring. The tree grows in well-drained
soil, with good aeration. Soil should be rich in organic matter
in the form of well-rotted compost. The pepper-bark is a nice evergreen
tree for both small gardens and big estates. It is also a suitable
plant for a hedge as it responds well to pruning. This tree is sensitive
to frost and should be protected when young.
References and further reading
- Coates Palgrave, K. 1977. Trees of southern Africa, edn
2. Struik, Cape Town.
- Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1973. Trees of southern Africa,
vol. 3. Balkema, CapeTown.
- Van Wyk, B-E. & Gericke, N. 2000. People's plants.
Briza Publications, Pretoria.