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Things you didn’t know about Umsutane (Lippia javanica)

For the avid herb gardener with an interest in medicinal plants Lippia javanica locally known as Umsutane with its dense creamy white, flower heads and aromatic leaves is a perfect candidate.

This 1 to 2 m high woody shrub stands erect and is multi-stemmed. The stems have a square appearance when looked at in cross-section. The leaves are hairy with noticeable veins and when crushed gives off a strong lemon-like smell. It is said to be one of the most aromatic of Eswatini’s indigenous shrubs. The small cream flowers can be found on the shrub from summer to autumn in some areas and in others are produced all year. These flowers are arranged in dense, rounded flower heads. The fruit are rather inconspicuous, small and dry.

These plants are widespread throughout large parts of Eswatini (Swaziland). Lippia javanica grows from the tropical Africa including Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya.

It grows in open veld, in the bush, as well as on forest margins. Lippia was named after Augustin Lippi 1678- 1701, an Italian traveller and natural historian who was killed in Abysinnia. This plant also occurs in Java, hence the epiphet javanica, meaning ‘from Java’.

This plant is well known medicinally to many African people and to many avid herbalists and herb gardeners.

Different parts (the leaves, twigs and occasionally the roots) of the plant are used for different reasons. Others drink it in a weak infusion as a tea substitute and in a stronger infusion for the treatment of coughs, colds and bronchial problems in general. They use the leaves and stem and drink it with milk or water. In addition other people also use Lippia javanica for the disinfection of meat that has been infected with anthrax.

This herb is also said to be affective against fever, especially in cases of malaria, influenza, measles, and as a prophylactic against lung infections. In these cases Lippia javanica is often mixed with another herb Artemisia afra.

The smoke from the herb has proven to be affective, if inhaled, against asthma, chronic coughs and pleurisy. The leaves and stems are burned.

Skin disorders, such as heat rash and other rashes, as well as scratches, stings and bites can also be treated. Here the tea is usually cooled and then applied like a lotion. Even lice and scabies can be treated with it.

Apart from its medicinal uses Lippia javanica is also used ritually in a cleansing ceremony when someone has been in contact with a corpse and apparently for protection against dogs, crocodiles and lightning. The Masai make a red ointment from it, which is used to decorate their bodies.

For those gardeners who are pot-pourri lovers and are looking for a good cupboard freshener, then Lemon bush is the perfect addition to your bouquet. Some people even use it to make perfume.

There may be a commercial purpose for a volatile oil that is produced by Lippia javanica. Apparently it repels and controls Bark Beetles from the genus Ips who can become a plant pest.

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