Eriocephalus africanus

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Wild rosemary is a small shrub growing  up to one metre in nature and is  distinguished by its clusters of silver-green foliage  mostly covered with cotton-like seeds that give this plant an interesting appearance all year round.  It is one of the well known plants in the Cape due to its common appearance in the veld with small needle shaped leaves that smell like vicks.

Indigenous to the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Namaqualand, Cape Snowbush (also known as Wild Rosemary) is traditionally enjoyed in cooking, cosmetics and as a medicine. Cape Snowbush is antiseptic and antiviral. Therefore, she is a popular remedy to prevent wounds becoming infected as well as aiding bleeding to stop. She can help prevent viral infections too, such as coughs, colds, and flu.

Enjoyed in an oil burner or diffuser, Cape Snowbush can uplift one’s mood, while relieving feelings of stress and anxiety. She may even aid focus and concentration.

As a steam inhalation use to help ease nasal congestion and add to shampoos for an invigorating shampoo.

Plant Uses & Benefits: aromatic, bees, birds, cosmetics, culinary herb, flavouring, food, fragrance, insect repellent, medicine, pot plant, potpourri, small garden, tea, water-wise, wind tolerant


Common names: wild rosemary, Cape snowbush (English); wilderoosmaryn, kapokbos (Afrikaans). 
Botanical name: Eriocephalus africanus

Family: Asteraceae

• Etymology – Greek erion = wool, kephale = head referring to the woolly fruiting heads).
• Confusers –
• Other species in the genus
o E. punctulatus – Cape chamomile – blue essential oil containing chamazulene
o E. racemosus
o E.ericoides
o E. tenuifolius


Type: shrub, succulent
Vegetation type: Peninsula Shale Renosterveld 
Flower colour: white
Flowering season: Spring, Winter
Plant-animal interactions: bees, birds, butterflies
Red list status: Least Concern

Wild rosemary is an evergreen shrub endemic to the Cape, occurring mostly near the coastal lands. Its silvery-grey, needle-like and semi-succulent foliage is an adaptation to protect the plant from losing too much water during the hot windy seasons of the Cape, which makes it a good selection for a waterwise garden. The grey hairs on the leaf surface reflect the sun and trap moisture to further minimize transpiration.  Its long and vigorous root system makes wild rosemary tolerant to drought and makes it easy to recover from grazing. The plant is pollinated by insects. In its ecological nature, wild rosemary is important to many insects as a source of nectar and pollen to bees/flies. It is also an important feature for grazing animals and antelope in the Cape. Birds use its cotton-like seeds in the construction of their nests. 

• Endemic to South African fynbos biome, clay and granite slopes Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Namaqualand
• Woody, evergreen, sprawling, aromatic shrub growing up to 1 m tall.
• Leaves – small, simple, grey-green, pine-needle-like, succulent, fine silvery hairs, covered with pitted glands.
• Flowers – white or pink, July to September in winter rainfall areas.
• Roots – deep taproot, up to 6m
• Fluffy seed heads like snow or cotton wool – kapokbos/snowbush
• Birds use fluffy seed heads to line nests
• Pollinated by bees, flies
• Grazed by buck, antelope, sheep, goats


Use as Medicine

Herbal traditions: Cape Herbal Medicine
Plant parts used: growing tips, leaves

• used as a diuretic to treat oedema and stomach ailments by the Khoi and early Cape settlers.

Safety & Toxicity

Safety: caution with high doses

Excessive consumption of Wild Rosemary can lead to complications like stomach aches, intestinal irritation and kidney damage or toxicity.

• No known safety concerns

Very little published literature available on safety. That which is available suggests this plant and its extracts are non-toxic. Further studies evaluating the safety profile of extracts are recommended.

Qualities & Phytochemistry

Plant qualities: aromatic, bitter, calming, cleansing, soothing
Phytochemical constituents: apigenin, hesperidin, luteolin

• aromatic bitter
• sweet, herbaceous, floral fragrance
• Flavonoids
o hesperidin
o luteolin
o apigenin

Actions & Pharmacology

Plant actions: analgesic / anodyne, anti-cancer, anti-depressive / thymoleptic, antibacterial, antioxidant, carminative, decongestant, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, febrifuge / anti-pyretic, haemostatic / anti-haemorrhagic / styptic, spasmolytic / anti-spasmodic

• Muscles, git, bronchi
• Essential oil topically
Analgesic, Anodyne
• Study in mice showed aqueous extract of E. africanus reduced experimentally-induced pain.135
• Study in rats showed aqueous extract of E. africanus reduced experimentally-induced fever.135
• An in vitro study showed anticancer activity of luteolin and hesperidin from E. africanus against breast cancer cells.136


Plant preparations: bath, cream, decoction, dried, essential oil, fresh, infusion - aqueous, salve, smudge, steam, tincture, wash

Plant Parts Used
• Leaves
• Twigs
• Infusion
• Decoction
• Volatile oil
• Wash
• Pillow
• Smudge

First-Aid Indications

First-aid use: anxiety, colds & 'flu, colic, cough, depression, fever, flatulence, indigestion, oedema, stomach ache, stress 

• Stomach cramps
• Colic
• Flatulence
• Coughs
• Colds
• Fever
• Negative emotions
• Stress, anxiety

Medical Indications

Medical use:  

• Oedema

Veterinary Indications

Medical use:  

• Water extracts of leaves of Eriocephalus africanus has shown analgesic and antipyretic properties in rats.135



Review Articles
• None
Clinical research
• Clinical Trials – none
• Randomised Controlled Trials – none
• Meta-Analyses – none
• Systematic Reviews – none

Other Uses

Uses & Benefits: aromatic, bees, birds, cosmetics, culinary herb, flavouring, food, fragrance, insect repellent, medicine, pot plant, potpourri, small garden, tea, water-wise, wind tolerant

Wild rosemary is used as one of the dominant features in coastal gardens as it has the ability to tolerate harsh conditions, while also providing colour throughout the year. The puffs of cotton covering the seeds after flowering are used to fill pillows and in other clothing related manufacturing. The aromatic oils extracted from the plant are used in perfume and cosmetics production due to the presence of azulenic compounds (secondary metabolites) in the leaves. The oils and leaves are used for cooking, as well as just a normal substitute for rosemary.  This is one of the South African traditional medicine plants that has been used for a long time as a diuretic to treat oedema (swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in body tissues) and also for stomach ache. Researchers have also made claims that this plant can treat heart diseases and failure. A decoction of a spring of wild rosemary in a cup is used to treat coughs and colds.


Plant Parts Used
• leaves
• One of the herbs browsed by sheep that gives Karoo lamb its distinctive taste.
• Twigs and fresh leaves can be used to flavour bean dishes, fish and poultry stuffing and as a substitute for ordinary rosemary.
• Bitters
• Combined with salt
• Tonic (alcohol)


• Cosmetics
• Perfumes
• Potpourri’s

Cultivation & Harvest

Light-level: full sun, semi-shade
Soil type: clay, loamy, sandy, well-composted, well-drained
Soil pH: Acidic, Alkaline, Neutral
Propagation: cuttings, seed

By virtue of being endemic to harsh windy conditions of the western Cape coastal areas means that it is a reasonably hardy plant that can be planted in waterwise gardens. It prefers to be planted in full sun and well drained soils and can grow in most gardens throughout the country.  It is best planted during the winter rainy season in the Western Cape so that the plant can be well established in preparation for the hot and dry summer season. It can be pruned now and then to encourage lateral branching and bushy growth. It can be propagated from both seeds and cuttings. Seeds may be sown in autumn or spring and will germinate within two weeks in a light and well aerated medium. Wild rosemary roots within reasonable time from tip or heel cuttings harvested in autumn or spring. The roots will develop a strong vigorous taproot that penetrates deep in the soil and long lateral roots that absorb water close to the soil surface.

• Easy to grow
• Soil – well-drained, composted, sandy, loam or clay soils. Acid, alkaline, neutral.
• Light – full sun, semi-shade

• Seeds – Autumn or spring, well-drained soil, keep moist. Germinate in about 10 days.
• Cuttings – Autumn, Spring – tip or heel cuttings
• Planting – Late Autumn, Winter, best to plant it during winter so that plants can become established before the dry summer.
• Pruning – after flowering, encourage bushy growth

Pests & Diseases
• none