General Description / Cultural Significance
Buchu, Agathosma betulina, is an indigenous aromatic shrub found in the Cape Floral Kingdom (or Fynbos) of Africa and is integral to the cultural heritage of South African individuals. Buchu has been used by the San and Khoi people of South Africa for centuries and is a highly valued medicinal ingredient with potent anti-inflammatory properties. The Khoi have a long history of using it to moisturize the skin. Today, Buchu continues to be used to treat stomach illnesses, kidney diseases, and urinary tract diseases. Whereas the plant was once chewed fresh, today the herb’s leaves are often harvested and dried to make a medicinal tea. In addition, Buchu provides symptomatic relief of rheumatism and can be applied externally to relieve the pain of wounds and bruises.
The highly appreciated scent and taste of Buchu resembles spicy black currant, while also reminiscent of a mixture between rosemary and peppermint. Such a unique and distinct taste has led to the use of buchu oil in black current flavorings. The major compounds in the essential oils of buchu are isomethone and diosphenol, and the sulfur-containing compounds are responsible for the characteristic black current scent and flavor. This valuable shrub with white or pink flowers has traditionally grown in the Paarl and Citrusdal regions of South Africa’s Western Cape but is growing increasingly scarce and is now protected by the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa.
Climate Change / Conservation Status
South Africa’s landscape is made up of grasslands, forests, and majestic mountain peaks. With a subtropical climate, South Africa is a relatively dry country. Since 1990, the national average temperature of South Africa has increased at twice the rate of global temperatures. Such rises in temperature will lead to more frequent and severe droughts. As a result, key sectors such as agriculture, water resources, livestock, and health are becoming increasingly vulnerable across South Africa.
Raised temperatures pose a severe risk to rain-fed agricultural crops, and such crop yields are expected to decline in the future. 60% of South African water resources are consumed by agriculture, and so, looking ahead, water demand and changes in crop yields need to be assessed for future planning. Furthermore, additional water resource capacity is necessary and management strategies should include sourcing from river systems and irrigation projects.
Although favoring sun and heat, the region where buchu grows, like the rest of the country, is experiencing higher than average temperatures and more heat waves, which may affect the plant’s medicinal potency. Due to its commercialization and demand from overseas markets, buchu is highly vulnerable to extinction, so wild plant harvesting is restricted and buchu is now being cultivated.
Round leaf buchu
Buchu. Drugs.com. Available from https://www.drugs.com/npc/buchu.html#:~:text=Odor%20and%20taste%20of%20the,component%20of%20black%20currant%20flavorings.
Climate change effects on irrigation demand and crop yields in South Africa. 2016. United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research. Available from https://www.wider.unu.edu/publication/climate-change-effects-irrigation-demand-and-crop-yields-south-africa#:~:text=Research%20Brief-,Climate%20change%20effects%20on%20irrigation%20demand%20and%20crop%20yields%20in,decline%20in%20average%20annual%20yields
Climate Risk Country Profile: South Africa. 2021. World Bank Group. Available from https://climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/country-profiles/15932-WB_South%20Africa%20Country%20Profile-WEB.pdf
Embassy of South Africa, Washington, D.C. This statement can be found on the original World Sensorium website.
Geography and climate. Government of South Africa. Available from https://www.gov.za/about-sa/geography-and-climate#:~:text=Physical%20features%20range%20from%20bushveld,unspoilt%20beaches%20and%20coastal%20wetlands
South Africa Climate Change Country Profile. 2022. USAID. Available from https://www.usaid.gov/climate/country-profiles/south-africa#:~:text=Since%201990%2C%20the%20national%20average,in%20parts%20of%20the%20country.
Buchu – South Africa’s ‘miracle herb.’ 2015. News24. Available from https://www.news24.com/life/archive/is-buchu-south-africas-miracle-herb-20150811.
Buchu. HerbaZest. Available from https://www.herbazest.com/herbs/buchu.
Trinder-Smith, T. and Raimondo, D. 2016. Agathosma betulina (P.J. Bergius) Pillans (Bergboegoe). National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2021.1. South African National Biodiversity Institute. Available from http://redlist.sanbi.org/species.php?species=3359-22.