[This was written by Fran Siebrits and published online by Wild Magazine http://www.wildcard.co.za/, 2011]

Traditional medicine, often stemming from plant sources, has been around for centuries – long before Western medicine hit the market. Many believe that natural is better, as the long line of healthy generations has proved. Nowadays, though, there are so many products on the shelves that promise to be natural and effective it is difficult to know which are genuine and which are just jumping on the band-wagon.

Kougoed, channa or kanna as it is traditionally known, is an indigenous plant previously used by the Khoi people as a sedative for anxiety, toothache and constipation. It is a succulent ground cover which grows in the eastern and western parts of South Africa. The healing properties of kougeod (Sceletium tortuosum) have to do with a mesembrine alkaloid found in the plant’s leaves which affect the central nervous system.

Today it is used in much the same way – smoking or chewing – as an anti-depressant because of its calming and mood-elevation effects. Although the calming effects of kougoed are what many of us need in today’s fast and stressful world, too much of this natural product can be detrimental to one’s health.

The latest research shows that dried kougoed has a positive effect on anxiety when taken in a low daily dose (5mg per kilogram body mass). It is used in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, psychological and psychiatric disorders where anxiety is present, major depressive episodes, alcohol and drug dependence, bulimia nervosa, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The positive effects, however, are short-lived.
Of concern are the numerous negative effects that were observed when the plant was tested on rats. They were given a higher dose of kougoed (20mg) and showed signs of inflammation, diarrhoea and other forms of irritation of the alimentary canal, among other things.

Kougoed has significantly more negative effects than other natural substances. If the ingestion of kougoed is too much, certain parts of the immune system are suppressed.

Dr Carine Smith, a researcher in the effects of indigenous plants at the Department of Physiological Sciences at Stellenbosch University, says: “It’s absolutely essential that more research be done to determine the optimal therapeutic dose for kougoed and other indigenous products. There’s a fine line between what’s therapeutically good and what is, in fact, detrimental.”

Although it has been proven to work, kougoed should be taken in moderation to avoid a non-desirable effect, especially if it is to be taken over a long period of time.

So by all means chew, but chew in moderation!

“Plantz Africa” [http://www.plantzafrica.com/frames/plantsfram.htm]

“The effects of Sceletium tortuosum in an in vivo model of psychological stress”, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology 133 (2011) 31–36