Endemic to the Western Cape, Buchu was traditionally cherished by the Khoi & San to anoint the body, heal wounds, and remedy digestive upsets. Topically as an essential oil, buchu may be useful in helping to heal wounds, dermatitis, bruises, strains and trauma due to new her soothing and cleansing qualities.
Buchu is also useful as insect repellent, keeping away flies, mosquitoes, fleas, bed bugs, lice and parasites.
Safety: Agathosma betulina is the preferred variety, but it is still advised to avoid the use of buchu preparations during pregnancy and lactation.
Endemic to the Western Cape, Buchu was traditionally cherished by the Khoi & San to anoint the body, heal wounds, and remedy digestive upsets. Buchu’s soothing and cleansing qualities may also help to resolve bruises, rheumatism, and cystitis. Buchu is rich in essential oils and makes a fabulously refreshing tea with a minty-fruity, slightly bitter flavour. Try straight, or with a little honey and/or lemon to taste. Buchu blends beautifully with other Cape herbs and is delicious as an iced tea. Infusion: 1-4 tsp of buchu leaf per cup. Steep covered for 10 mins. Strain. Enjoy. Can reuse leaves 2-3 times. Safety: Agathosma betulina is the preferred variety, but it is still advised to avoid the use of buchu preparations during pregnancy and lactation.
Common names: round-leaf buchu, round-leaved buchu, mountain buchu, buchu (English); buchu (Khoi); ibuchu (Xhosa); ibuchu (Zulu); boegoe, buchu, bergboegoe, rondblaarboegoe (Afrikaans).
Botanical name: Agathosma betulina
Previously known as: Barosma betulina
Etymology: Greek Agathos meaning ‘good’, osme meaning ‘scent’ Confusers: Agathosma crenulata Other species in the genus:150 species1 Agathosma crenulata (ovate buchu) Agathosma serratifolia (long buchu) Plant Identification: Agathosma betulina vs Agathosma crenulata The leaves of A. betulina are more round than they are long; while leaves of A. crenulata are longer than they are wide The two plants have a similar phytochemical composition. Except that A. betulina contains quercetin-dimethyl ether-glucoside while A. crenulata does not. Khoi and San call any aromatic dusting herb buchu, as such many different species of herb are referred to as buchu.
- Endemic to mountains of the South-Western Cape fynbos habitats near streams on the lower slopes.
- Small evergreen shrub, up to 2.5 metres high.
- Rounded, opposite, simple leaves.
- Fine serrated edge. Pungent, fruity, minty flavours.
- Visible oil glands along the margins and lower surfaces.
- Reddish stems.
- Star-shaped, five white-pink flowers June-November.
- Pollinated by bees, flies, and butterflies
- Wild harvesting needs monitoring – don’t harvest when flowering.
- Encourage cultivation.
Use as Medicine
Traditionally used as a medicine by the Khoi and San Cape Dutch steeped leaves in a brandy tincture called ‘Boegoe-brandewyn’ for stomach ailments and for hangovers. Introduced into Britain in 1790, and in 1821 included in the British Pharmacopoeia.
Safety & Toxicity
Generally regarded as having a high level of safety. Pulegone is a compound found in buchu that can be toxic to the liver in large quantities. A. crenulata has a higher pulegone content and should be avoided. Don’t harvest A. betulina in the first year, since pulegone content is high during that time to protect it from predators. Best time to harvest A. betulina is Feb-March – lowest pulegone content at that time of year. Avoid use of any buchu during pregnancy and lactation. Various heavy metals (including arsenic, cadmium, lead, nickel, iron and manganese) have been found in samples of medicinal plants bought at street markets.1 It is important to know where and how the plants have been harvested when sourcing them for medicinal use. Be cautious when combining buchu with lithium (could decrease clearance of lithium), anticoagulants and hepatotoxic drugs. May cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort if taken on an empty stomach. Caution advised during use with kidney infection as the volatile oil may irritate the kidney.
Qualities & Phytochemistry
Aromatic, cleansing, soothing, protecting, cooling Flavouring – like black currant and peppermint. Only known plant in the world that produces diosphenol – blackcurrant flavour, intensifies other flavours. (To see this effect, add one drop buchu oil to 500 ml fruit juice – intensifies the fruit flavour.) Changes the smell of urine. Volatile oils (1-3.5%) – d-limonene, menthone, isomenthone, pulegone2 Flavonoids – rutin, diosmetin, diosmin, hesperidin, quercetin, diosphenol, piperitenone Vitamins – Vit B Mucilage Tannins Resin
Actions & Pharmacology
Plant actions: analgesic / anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, antirheumatic, aperient, carminative, demulcent, diaphoretic, diffusive, diuretic, emollient, febrifuge / anti-pyretic, general tonic, hypoglycaemic / anti-diabetic, insect repellent, laxative, spasmolytic / anti-spasmodic, urinary stimulant, vulnerary
Vulnerary General Tonic – Khoi and San, Eclectics Demulcent / emollient Antibacterial – An in vitro study found the combination of A. betulina and ciprofloxacin to show a promising synergistic effect when tested against E. coli, a common cause of urinary tract infections.3,4 A recent review paper states that research has shown moderate antimicrobial activity for the leaf extract but not the essential oil.3 The enhanced antimicrobial efficacy and synergistic interactions for the combination of Agathosma crenulata, Dodonaea viscosa and Eucalyptus globulus support the Khoi and San traditional medicinal practices of combining plants for enhanced efficacy.5 Antifungal – A 2019 study found A. betulina essential oil to have a significant antifungal effect on the two fungal strains responsible for ringworm (Trichophyton rubrum and T. mentagrophytes). Limonene and menthone are likely responsible for this antifungal activity.6 (Fajinmi et al., 2019). Antioxidant – Methanol dichlormethane extracts have moderate antioxidant activity.3 Anti-inflammatory Carminative – Leaves are chewed for digestive complaints (Khoi, San, Xhosa), and steeped in brandy – boegoebrandewyn (Cape Dutch). Anti-spasmodic, Spasmolytic – A study done examining the pharmacological effects of A. betulina and A. crenulata on guinea pig ileum showed that at high concentration the oils initially were spasmogenic, and then spasmolytic.8 Laxative Antidiabetic, Hypoglycaemic – Oral aqueous buchu extract normalised the blood glucose level in diabetic rats.3 Analgesic – A study done on mice showed that an ethanolic extract of A. betulina had analgesic activity.3 Anti-rheumatic Diuretic – Aquaretic – VE Tyler suggested that most herbs used for UTIs are not actually diuretics, rather they are aquaretics. This means that they act to increase blood flow to the kidneys which then increases glomerular filtration rate. This is compared to the traditional idea of a diuretic which involves interfering with renal handling of ions. He spent time studying these effects in buchu, parsley, goldenrod, juniper, and birch and determined them to be aquaretic.7 Diaphoretic Diffusive (opens up the body and helps other herbs distribute – Tomsonian medicine)
Plant preparations: balm, bath, capsules, compress, cordial, cream, dried, embrocation, essential oil, extract, fresh, gel, glycerite, infusion - aqueous, infusion - vegetable oil, infusion - vinegar, maceration, ointment, plaster, poultice, powder, salve, smudge, soap, spray, syrup, tincture, wash
Traditionally dried and powdered then mixed with sheep fat used for anointing the body (Khoi) infusion – vinegar for external application3
Dermatological wounds ringworm eczema Gastrointestinal poor appetite indigestion colic flatulence nausea Respiratory colds & ‘flu fever Musculoskeletal bruises strains & sprains Urogenital cystitis Psychiatric headache
rheumatism arthritis backpain gout urethritis cystitis nephritis prostatitis oedema malaria
In Trinidad and British Columbia, ten buchu leaves were fed to horses after races as a “kidney-tonic”.9 Many over-the-counter topical veterinary products and shampoos contain buchu. Feed additive to enhance flavour for all farm animal and domestic animals.10 A study done examining the pharmacological effects of A. betulina and A. crenulata on guinea pig ileum showed that at high concentration the oils initially were spasmogenic, and then spasmolytic.8
Infusion (1:20) – 3-6 grams/day infused 20 or more minutes (keep covered) Liquid Extract (1:2) – 2-4 ml/day Tincture (1:5) – 5-10 ml/day
Review Articles Brendler T, Abdel-Tawab M. Buchu (Agathosma betulina and A. crenulata): Rightfully Forgotten or Underutilized? Front Pharmacol. 2022 Feb 7;13:813142. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2022.813142. PMID: 35197854; PMCID: PMC8859318. Moolla A, Viljoen AM. ‘Buchu’ -Agathosma betulina and Agathosma crenulate (Rutaceae): a review. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Oct 28;119(3):413-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2008.07.036. Epub 2008 Aug 3. PMID: 18725278. Van Wyk BE. A review of commercially important African medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Dec 24;176:118-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2015.10.031. Epub 2015 Oct 22. PMID: 26498493. van Wyk BE. A broad review of commercially important southern African medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Oct 28;119(3):342-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2008.05.029. Epub 2008 Jun 3. PMID: 18577439. Clinical Research Clinical Trials – none Randomised Controlled Trials – none Meta-Analyses – none Systematic Reviews – none
Essential oil in great demand in the food, flavour and fragrance market. Food & Beverages – teas, cordials, syrups. Flavouring – Approved in the USA as a food flavouring agent, at concentrations of up to 0.002% (15.4 ppm). The oil is also listed by the Council of Europe as a natural source of food flavouring (category N3) GR17. Fragrance – traditionally dried and powdered then mixed with sheep fat used for anointing the body, cosmetic reasons and to treat skin infections (Khoi, San). Insect repellent – traditionally used as a natural insect repellent.2 Spiritual purposes – traditionally used by the Khoi for dance rituals and anointment.3
Cultivation & Harvest
Can be tricky to grow, likes partial shade – full sun. Plant in acidic (pH 5-6.5), well-drained and composted soil. Synergistic relationship with a common soil yeast, which allows it to grow in the low nutrient soil it is found. It has been suggested that this relationship plays a strong role in the medicinal constituent concentrations in the harvested plants. More research is needed.11 Soil – well-drained, well composted, sandy soil; acidic (pH 3.5 to 5.5); avoid disturbing soil around roots, mulch to keep roots cool, reduce evaporation. Light – full sun Water – Water well after planting. Water well in winter, moderately in summer. Do not allow it to dry out completely. Once established they will survive periods of drought. Pruning – to maintain shape and encourage new growth. Propagation Seeds – treated with Smoke Plus seed primer for better germination Cuttings – tricky to propagate from cuttings Plant out in groups of three to nine, 20-30 cm apart Best planted out during autumn, winter or spring (rainy season) Pests Phytopthera cinnamonnii – soil-borne fungus that attacks roots and causes plants to wither and die, especially when soil temperature is high. Citrus caterpillars will eat leaves – control by hand-picking. Harvest Don’t harvest in the first year, since pulegone content is high during that time to protect it from predators. Best time to harvest is February – March – lowest pulegone content at that time of year. Don’t harvest while flowering. Buchu leaves said to be of the highest quality medicinally while the plants are flowering or fruiting. (citation?)