Herbal Medicines

(Titus Kaumunika)


Local medicine is very common in the Fransfontein area. For a long time people had to rely on herbal medicine for both minor and major illnesses. Medicine was derived from trees and bushes. Illness in those days was often harsh and could sometimes be life threatening. That’s why our grand-grandparents searched for and discovered ways to treat these illnesses. They turned to mother nature. They used the trees themselves, the leaves, called “omazo” in Herero and “#napogu” in Khoekhoe, roots, called “omize” in Herero and “!nomagu” in Khoekhoe and also the bark from the trees (cf. table 6).

Englisch Herero Khoekhoe
Leaves Omazo #Napogu
Roots Omize !Nomagu
Homeopath Omiti vio mbazu !Hao-!nâsi /adi-ao
Aloe Otjindombo Au-koreb
Sour Omaruru /Khuru
Medicine Omuti So-/ôa-i
Massage Okumianga !Guri
Table 1: Plants and treatments in traditional medicine

Use of medical plants in Fransfontein

Here, in Fransfontein, there are traditional healers, referred to as “onganga yombazu” in Herero and “!hao-!nâsi /ae-di-ao” in Khoekhoe. Ellie “Eliro” Phillips is well-known for her traditional approach to medicine in Fransfontein. People used, and still do use, many types of plants for treating sicknesses and ailments. However, during this chapter, I will focus mainly on three, namely the aloe, the devil´s claw and the fat-plant. Medicine obtained from the these plants is used for first aid and for treating many acute illnesses.

The Aloe

The aloe plant, called “otjindombo” in otjiHerero and “au-koreb” in Khoekhoe, is a fat plant, having thick leaves which are used by the plant to store water during the dry climate. This is why it is found even during the dry season. The plant’s liquid is very sour and excellent for sickness treatment. Sour is called “omaruru” in Herero and “/khuru” in Khoekhoe.
Fig 1: Aloe Plant
The aloe is used as follows: The leaves of the aloe are cut into small pieces. A single leaf is enough to make a lot of medicine. They are then dried in the sun for some days until they become hard. They are then ground into powder and sifted with a cloth. It is then put in a small container and stored in a safe place. After this, it is ready to for use.
Another way of preparing the aloe is in liquid form. The leaves are cut into pieces and put into a pot or container with water. The pot will be brought to boil until the water becomes sour. After being boiled, the water extraction is then taken off and cooled down. After cooling down, the liquid is sifted and stored in a cool place for later use. The extraction is the medicine or “omuti” in Herero and “so-/ôa” in Khoekhoe.
In very serious cases the aloe can also be dropped directly on the tongue without being cooked or dried. A little water can be drunk afterwards. This routine can be applied three or four times daily. However, precautionary measures also have to be adhered in the case of pregnant women, who should not use this herb, and during the over indulgence of the aloe as this can result in diarrhea.

Englisch Herero Khoekhoe
High-blood pressure Ombindu ndjironda /Gawi-/aob
Urinary tract infections Omihamo motjene //Huru-tsûgu
Menstrual problems Omitjize vio kukara Kharu
Low-blood pressure Ombindu ndjiheruka #Am-/aob
STDs Omitjize vio rukatuko /Goe-ugus !nâ ra hohe //ogu
Back-pain Omuihamo metambo //Â-tsûb
Cold-sores Ozozurute //Khei-/hawis
Mouth-ulcers Oviruaro mo tjinyo Am-!nâs /hawidi
Tonsils Ozombuize /Ôadi
Constipation Pehuru tjipa kukuta Karo-a !nab
Intestinal worms Omativa pehuri !Hobagu/ #nûnigu
Stomach pain Pehuri tjima pe ihamua Tsûa-!nab
Skin problems Omitjize vio mukova !Horas
Eye problems Okuvera omeho Mû-/aeb/ Mû-//ob
Hemorrhoids Omburu Tsui-tsoab
Table 2: Disease treated with the aloe plant

For all these illnesses, you drink half a glass of aloe water mixture three times a day, or take in a tea-spoon of aloe powder and drink it with water. For the skin, you can bathe yourself in aloe-water. For the eyes, it can be used as an eye-drop. This particular plant is also used to clean infected blood. Wounds are also washed with aloe water.

Devil’s claw

Called “otjihangatene” in otjiHerero and “//khuri-//khams” in Khoekhoe, the devil’s claw usually grows during the rainy season. The plant’s leaves look like that of a watermelon and, like potatoes, the fruits can be found underground. The fruits of the “//khuri-//khams” look exactly like that of the potato, with the only difference being its sourness. That’s why it is also called the “wild-potato” among locals. The devil’s claw is used for much the same diseases as the aloe with the only difference being that unlike the aloe that is drunk as liquid or powder, the devil’s claw is chewed.

Fig 1: Fat Plant
The Fat-Plant

This plant is similar to the aloe, being also a fat-plant and storing water in its leaves. The fat-plant can be used during the dry season as well. However, where the aloe has flat leaves, this plant looks much like a cucumber, growing in one bundle. Unlike the sour taste of the aloe the fat-plant has a rather good taste. It is called the “!khopas” in Khoekhoe and is found mostly in mountainous areas. It has just one root. The “!khopas” Diseases treated by the fat-plant are blood-pressure problems, both low and high, back-pain, infected blood, urinary tract infections (kidneys), menstrual problems and eating disorders. This plant is also eaten as a snack by many people. San people also use this plant. Currently, I and another community member are writing a book on the different plants and their medical use.

From a Traditional Healer’s Perspective: Ellie ‘Eliro’ Phillips

Fig 3: Massage
Ms. Ellie “Eliro” Phillips was born on 12.12.1964 at Bloemhof, situated on the road to Bergsig. Her mother is a Nama woman called Maria and her father a San called Frederick Xhamibeb. Eliro was raised by her maternal grandmother, Sophia Phillips.
Ellie’s grandmother was a traditional herbalist. She used different trees and plants, be it their roots, leaves, rhizomes or bark, to make herbal medicine. She was taught by her grandmother how to treat young sick babies, how to massage them. She also treats elder people. In the Fransfontein area, she is well known for her medicines and treatments. The locals call her “onganga” or “omupange uombazu” in Herero, and “!hao-!nâsi /aedi-aos” in Khoekhoe. Eliro usually treats the following conditions in infants aged 1-5 years (cf. table 8):

Englisch Herero Khoekhoe
Stomach pain Okuihama pehuri Tsûa-!nab
Diarrhea Ombito/ Okupita pehuri Xousen-!nab
Vomiting Ongungo /Hûib
Vomiting and diarrhea together Ongungo no mbito /Hûib tsî !nab
Intestines Okaura /Gûis
Table 3: Different infant illnesses treated by a local traditional healer

Englisch Herero Khoekhoe
Ostrich-egg shell Ei-rombo /Amis-!upub
Kudu-skin Omukova uo horongo Xei-khob
Kidneys of a bak-oor jackal Ozozioti zo katakaha //Ab-!neira
Marijuana Omangeha Xana-i
Table 4: Type of infant treatments by a local traditional healer

Condition Substance Treatment Mixture
Stomach pain Ostrich-egg shell, kudu-skin The shell is ground to powder, then a very small piece of the kudu-skin (dried) is cut off, and also ground to powder. These two substances are then mixed and given (as powder) to the sick child.
Diarrhea Same as above Same as above
Vomiting Ostrich-egg shell, kudu-skin and garlic The ostrich shell and kudu-skin are prepared as above, then a clove of garlic is also ground. The kidneys (dried) of a bak-oor jackal is then ground also to powder. Some leaves (dried) from a marijuana-plant are also ground, and then all these things are mixed together, and given to the child three times a day.
Table 5: Treatment processes of a traditional local healer

Fig 4: Ostrich-egg shell
Another very popular method used by Ellie is the massage which is called “!guri” in Khoekhoe and “okumianga” in otjiHerero. During a massage ritual she usually applies Vaseline, Vicks, menthol, or balsam kopiva to her hands to lubricate them and smoothen the massaging. After massaging, the person who has been massaged is given 4 drops of entress drops, mixed with sugar, which is drunk with water. For diarrhea, like in any clinic or hospital, she also mixes 1 liter of water with half a teaspoon of salt and eight teaspoons of sugar.


During my research on this particular subject I came to realize that although Fransfontein is a very small village with different ethnic groups we share the common knowledge of healing each other with herbs and plants. It also occurred to me that we have many people who practice traditional medicine in our community and who have a very broad knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants. These are future doctors, who with the right funding could extend this knowledge to general practitioners and the future generations.

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