Buchu is one of South Africa’s best-known medicinal plants, and has been used for more than three centuries by indigenous people as an antiseptic and to treat urinary disorders. Indigenous to the southwestern Cape, buchu (Agathosma betulina) is a member of the Rutaceae (the rue or citrus) family. Its name stems from the Khoi name for the plant, ‘bookoo’. Early European settlers made a brandy from the leaves to drink as a digestive tonic.
The dried leaves. Buchu is available in capsule, tincture and liquid extract forms as well as dried leaves for tea. Buchu essential oil can also be purchased.
The active ingredients in buchu include volatile oils (plant oils that evaporate quickly) such as diosphenol, camphor and isomenthone, and the flavonoids (plant nutrients) rutin, hesperidin, diosmin and quercetin. The plant’s mineral content includes nitrogen, phosphorus, sodium, manganese, selenium and boron.
Buchu is used to:
- Help treat urinary infections and ease, in particular, the burning sensation that occurs when urinating.
- Treat bladder and prostate gland infections (in cases where prostate problems cause increased urination).
- Buchu has anti-microbial and antiseptic properties that inhibit the growth of micro-organisms, strengthening the body’s ability to resist infections.
- Treat kidney stones and bladder catarrh.
- Buchu is a common ingredient in premenstrual medications.
- Ease stomach aches, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, coughs and colds.
- A bunch of leaves in bathwater may ease rheumatism and backache.
- Research is currently being carried out on buchu to test its effect in the treatment of high blood pressure and congenital heart failure.
Domestic & culinary uses
Although buchu is used in African cuisine to enhance flavour (the oil in the leaves has a taste similar to blackcurrants), the plant is not widely used in the kitchen. To make buchu tea, pour a cup of boiling water over 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried leaves and leave to infuse for 10 minutes before straining and drinking.
To make buchu brandy, or buchu vinegar to treat wounds, place a few sprigs of buchu in a bottle of brandy or white vinegar and leave to infuse for at least a week, shaking occasionally. Cloves may be added for extra flavour. Store in a dark cupboard. Drink a cup of tea three times daily; a tablespoon of buchu brandy can be taken twice daily.
Indigenous to the southwestern Cape, buchu needs deep, well-drained, coarse and gravelly soil, with full sun and no frost. If your growing conditions are suitable, the shrub can be grown from seeds, although these may be hard to source. Pink, mauve or white star-shaped flowers appear in winter and spring, and the bright green leaves provide a fresh aromatic smell throughout the year.
- By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (List of Koehler Images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons