Leonotis leonurus or wild dagga (Lion’s Tail), is a member of the mint family, is a perennial shrub native to southern Africa. The flowers are a red-orange color, grow in spikes, and are a favorite of many gardeners because of their beauty. The spikes become clustered inflorescences of interrupted flowers with five two-lipped petals, all joined. Wild dagga’s leaves are opposite, simple, and petiolate (leafstalk), narrowly oblong and linear, and taper at the base. Mildly fragrant, the leaves are densely hairy and grow to about 100 millimeters long and 20 millimeters wide. The shrub itself can grow up to 5 meters high (plants.usda.gov n.d.).
L. leonurus favors warm, dry climates and is drought-tolerant, though it may be grown in almost any temperate environment including shrublands, grasslands, and swamplands. Wild dagga grows in California, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and has become naturalized in Western Australia and New South Wales in Australia. While it can grow in the spring and summer months in temperate climes if well protected and in full sun, it does not endure frost well and may not survive winter unless brought indoors. Wild dagga is a favorite of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds (Grubber 1991).
Wild dagga propagates via seeds that, in temperate climates, must be sown indoors before the last frost or outdoors after the last frost. To collect seeds from the plant, allow the seedheads to dry before collection. If properly cleaned, the seeds can be successfully stored. In warmer climates, the shrub can grow in the wild (Grubber 1991).
TRADITIONAL USES: Wild dagga is purported to have mildly hallucinogenic effects when either its buds or leaves are dried and smoked. Some cultures have been known to smoke it with cannabis or as a marijuana substitute. As always; we do not advocate this use of the plant in any particular way, and all information herein is provided for historical and educational purposes only.
In some internet reports, there is an urban legend that in Africa, the Hottentot tribe and the Bushmen are known to smoke the buds and leaves of the wild dagga plant as inebriants, either alone or mixed with tobacco. Since the Hottentot didn’t have tobacco, I find this story a bit difficult to believe. L. leonurus is used for recreational purposes, and the Nama tribespeople chew quids of powdered leaves to produced psychoactive effects. Similarly, in Mexico where wild dagga is known as flor de mundo (“flower of the world”) and mota (a colloquial name for marijuana), the plant is used as a Cannabis substitute (Schuldes 1995 cited in Ratsch 1998, 564).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: The resin from L. leonurus flowers and leaves may be rubbed off and smoked alone or with other herbs. Likewise, the flowers and leaves themselves may be dried and smoked, or steeped as tea. Wild dagga roots, in addition to the flowers and leaves, may be used to create an extract for medicinal purposes. The Hottentots of South Africa prepare the plant for use as a Cannabis or tobacco substitute by picking shoots and flower buds, drying them, and smoking them or scraping the resin from the leaves and smoking it with tobacco (Ratsch 1998, 564).
MEDICINAL USES: In South Africa, the leaves and roots of L. leonurus are used as a remedy for snake bite and to alleviate the pain of other bites and stings. The decoction of dried leaf or root is used as an external wash to treat itchy skin and eczema. Internally, the tea of the dried leaves is taken to treat headache, bronchitis, high blood pressure and the common cold. Leaf infusions have been used to treat asthma and viral hepatitis.
The extract of wild dagga has antispasmodic effects, and is an antiacetylcholine and antihistamine. Wild dagga can be used to treat irregular or painful menstruation and to improve circulation. In one experimental study, which was undertaken to investigate the anti-nociceptive, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties of the leaf extract, it was found that the plant possesses properties that help manage or control pain, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions, as well as adult-onset type-2 diabetes mellitus. This study gives pharmacological credence to South African folkloric uses of the plant (University of KwaZulu-Natal 2005).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Wild dagga is reported to have hallucinogenic or cannabis-like effects, though these effects alone are mild and the plant is thus mixed with other plants that potentiate the effects such as B. caapi or L. sibiricus (Siberian motherwort). Few chemical studies have been done on wild dagga, though caution in using the plant as an inebriant is recommended as it is rumored to be mildly addictive.
Argueta Villamar, Arturo, Leticia M. Cano Asseleih, and Maria Elena Rodarte, eds. 1994. Atlas de las plantas de la medicina tradicional mexicana. 3 vols. Mexico City: INI.
Grubber, Hudson. 1991. Growing the hallucinogens. Berkley, Calif.: 20th Century Alchemist.
Antinociceptive, antiinflammatory and antidiabetic effects of Leonotis leonurus (L.) R. BR. [Lamiaceae] leaf aqueous extract in mice and rats. Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, 27(4): 257-64, 2005.
Plants Profile for Leonotis leonurus. plants.usda.gov. http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LELE3
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Schuldes, Bert Marco. 1995. Psychoaktive Pflanzen. 2nd ed. Der Grune Zweig 164. Lohrbach: Werner Pieper’s MedienXperiment; Solothurn: Nachtschatten Verlag.