Snake Charms

One of my all time favourite indigenous plants, and also very popular with landscapers in Durban, is the Wild Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea or Isihaqa).  It grows in clumps of grey-green, strappy leaves that smell strongly of garlic when bruised or, in fact, even when watered.  Beautiful purple flowers appear at the end of stalks throughout summer, and look particularly impressive when grouped together.

A hardy, drought-resistant plant, wild garlic requires little attention once settled in your garden.  The flowers form seed-pods which are very easy to propagate and wild garlic will self-seed itself if left to its own devices.  As the plant grows, larger clumps can also be divided to form new plants.

This plant is also extensively used in traditional medicine – to treat asthma, rheumatism, colds and tuberculosis.  In permaculture, wild garlic is planted among vegetable crops to keep pests away, in particular aphids, and the young leaves can also be eaten as a type of spinach.  In rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, wild garlic is planted around homesteads to protect them from snakes.  Lastly, and I have no proof that this works, the root of the plant can be used as a love charm by men to attract girls.

What an amazing and useful plant!

Wild Garlic flower.

Wild Garlic flower.

Wild Garlic plant and flower.

Wild Garlic plant and flower.

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8 Responses to Snake Charms

  1. mol-d May 2, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    cool plant – garlicky love.. here’s a little summary (much of what you said) but also name in different languages and origin of its botanic name.

    Tulbaghia violacea
    Wild Garlic, (English) Wilde knoffel (Afrikaans), isihaqa (Zulu)

    Family: Alliaceae
    Tulbaghia is named after Ryk Tulbagh (died 1771), governor of the Cape of Good Hope and violacea means violet-coloured.
    Cultivation: It grows very easily in most situations. Propagation is from dividing the root stock in autumn or spring, or by seed. Clumps must be divided every 4-5 years for continued flowering.

    Enjoys well drained rich soil in sun or partial shade. It will tolerate prolonged drought, although it flourishes with regular watering. Frost hardy.

    Other than slugs and snails that can cause considerable damage to the leaves, Tulbaghias seldom fall prey to pests and diseases.

    Medicinal uses: Traditionally used for fever and colds, and also for asthma

    Decoctions are administered as enemas for stomach problems.
    The leaves are used to treat cancer of the oesophagus. The bulb has been used as a remedy for pulmonary tuberculosis and to destroy intestinal worms.

    Traditional Medicinal uses:
    T. alliacea was and early Cape remedy for fever and is also used as a purgative and for fits, rheumatism and paralysis
    Leaves are rubbed on the head for sinus headaches and plant infusions are used for colic, wind and restlessness in young children. Early Cape colonists used tubers for pulmonary tuberculosis and also as anthelmintics

    Culinary: Use flowers in salads. The Zulus use the leaves and flowers as spinach and as a hot, peppery seasoning with potatoes and meat. Leaves and flowers are used in the same way as chives. Bulbs are used like spring onions.
    Other uses: The smell repels fleas, ticks and mosquitoes when crushed on the skin. The Zulu cultivated it to keep snakes away from the home. The garlic smell makes it a good companion plant, especially for roses. It discourages moles from the garden by their strong smell.

    Mythology: The Zulu used tuber infusions as love charm emetics. In Transkei, tubers are traditionally rubbed on the body as a protection from evil spirits before ritual dancing by diviners.

    Cautions: Suspected of causing poisoning in the King William’s Town and East London areas. Feeding tests on rabbits were found to be negative.

  2. Niall McNulty May 6, 2009 at 5:03 am #

    thanks for the extra info, cool that you can eat the flowers in a salad 🙂

  3. Xavier Klapper April 28, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    i have been suffering from Asthma ever since i was little kid. i can only manage it by taking medicines and some food supplements. `

  4. ansie November 24, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

    Wat kan ek plant in die tuin om die huis om slange wêg te hou?

  5. Helen November 25, 2010 at 5:59 am #

    Xavier, have you tried yoga. My yoga teacher showed us amazing exercise to open the chest.

  6. mol-d November 25, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    @ ansie, blykbaar u kan hierdie plant gebruik:

    “The Zulu cultivated it to keep snakes away from the home.”

  7. Gwen January 28, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    malvas,and wynruik plants.to keep snakes out.its a boer thing.

  8. Varna Salunke June 27, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    I have heard that ‘Vekhand’ (Acorus Calamus) Powder helps keep snakes away.

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