Impepho is a plant native to Africa that, after being dried, is burned to for spiritual rituals. It is widely recognised by most sub-Saharan Africans, and many Rastafarians in South Africa use impepho to formulate remedies.
Madoda Mditshwa, a heritage activist from Mbizana in the Eastern Cape, explains that impepho is a frequently used herb in spiritual rituals and for purifying the air in a household. It is believed to ward off negative spirits and omens.
According to him, the spiritual and medicinal properties are not sufficient to encompass all its uses. This is because some benefits are considered so sacred that they cannot be disclosed to ordinary people who are not izangoma. Its usage varies among different cultural groups and is dependent on the level of knowledge available in each region.
Zamambo Mkhize, a sangoma located in Durban, KZN, says impepho has the ability to purify negative energy and promote a peaceful atmosphere in a household setting. It is also utilised for supporting people who are experiencing illnesses associated with African medicine, she adds.
“These sicknesses include headaches, sore body pains, heavy shoulders and any other pains that our ancestors cause.”
She explains that the plant is important in African culture since it may have both positive and harmful effects if utilised incorrectly.
Mkhize occasionally uses impepho tea as a remedy to alleviate her spiritual challenges. She explains to Health For Mzansi that it also helps her when she has trouble recalling her dreams.
Dr Christie van Zyl, a traditional health practitioner originally from KwaZulu-Natal, who is now based in Blouberg, Cape Town, tells Health For Mzansi that impepho stimulates a cleansing effect that consequently leaves the body through urination.
She says boiling it with rooibos tea can help alleviate menstrual pains, and it also works as a detox. When boiled with honey, it can help alleviate chest or asthma difficulties, among other benefits.
“Overconsumption of smoke releases itself from the body and that smoke leaves medicinal benefit, offering excretion of sputum or imifinya which removes bacteria in the mind, nasal passage and chest.”
Additionally, impepho is renowned for its sedative smoke, which is beneficial for treating insomnia, she adds.
Other benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce inflammation and redness in the skin; pain relief such as headaches; and to help hydrate and moisturize the skin, keeping it soft and supple.
Where can one get impepho?
Impepho may be found in grassy places, mostly in savanna grasslands where rainfall is common, Mditshwa says. Most of South Africa’s nine provinces have designated places where people can obtain impepho.
“What I have noticed is that it grows well in areas away from residential areas, in areas that have clean air and less pollution of the soil,” he adds.
Mditshwa further explains that there are three varieties and that they have varied applications, even though most people are unaware of this since they purchase them off the street.
Impepho yabadala (impepho enkulu)
This impepho is not easy to find, it grows in certain areas mainly in wetlands or areas close to rivers, swamps or water springs. It is different from other impepho, it grows into a big lush shrub that is green and bushy. As the name says, this is impepho to use when one wants to communicate with ancestors. This impepho is burnt by a person who is given permission to do so in each household, to deal with spiritual matters of the family that needs the intervention of the ancestors.
We can find this variant in many areas but it is not as common as yezangoma. It looks different from the other town types of impepho, it has a brownish colour and is more like sticks with fewer leaves, especially when it is dry. It is mainly used for all rituals and spiritual ceremonies that are done for individuals who are twins. The basic use of it is to burn it when there is spiritual unease amongst the twins or when one twin has departed and the remaining one is experiencing spiritual instability. Also, newborn twins are bathed with it to create a condition of calmness and ease.
This is the most common of the three. It is readily available in many forest areas and grassy places in the open fields or mountains. People who live in rural areas have this type of impepho even growing in their yards or gardens. As the name says “impepho yezangoma”, this impepho is supposed to be used by iZangoma in their daily work of healing and consultations. This impepho is very resilient even after it has been burnt by wildfires, it grows back every year as long as it has roots under the ground. People also use this variant for cleansing purposes. It is also used with other herbs for fever, cough-related problems and nasal congestion.
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