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Nomenclature and Ethnobotanical Summary

Sceletium is nowadays known by the Nama (a Khoi-san language) named kanna and by the Afrikaans (an African language derived mainly from Dutch) named kougoed.

History of Sceletium use as energizing and restorative compound by European settlers and researchers.

  • 1772, Thunberg: Swedish physician and botanist. Reported on indigenous use and trade of the plant
  • 1868, Pappe: German physician and botanist. Reported the use as a common remedy used by the colonists at the Cape of Good Hope as a good sedative
  • 1898, Meiring: quiets children
  • 1928, Laidler: prized by Europeans as ginseng-like
  • 1994, Rood: good calming herb
  • 1996, Gericke & van Wyk: anti-depressant
  • 2000, van Wyk et al: elevates mood and decreases anxiety, stress and tension
  • 2010, Brendler et al: anti-anxiety

Sceletium is nowadays known by the Nama (a Khoi-san language) named kanna and by the Afrikaans (an African language derived mainly from Dutch) name kougoed. Etymologically, the word, kougoed, referring to the common use of Sceletium as a masticatory, is derived from the old Dutch word, kauwgoed, meaning “chewing stuff,” i.e. kou (to chew) and goed (stuff). This name was first recorded as Sceletium tortuosum in 1830. The Namaqualand inhabitants chewed kougoed to attain endurance, clarity of thinking and to enhance decision-making. While kougoed is not a thirst or hunger suppressant, it is considered invaluable to deal with the stress from being thirsty or hungry when walking long distances in the wilderness.

The history and practical aspects of the preparation and utilization of Sceletium by indigenous people became the subject of field research conducted in 1984 through 1995 by South African ethnobotanist Fiona Archer and continued from 1995 by the South African physician and ethnobotanist Dr. Nigel Gericke. Based on Dr. Gericke’s research, kougoed is used by indigenous people on a regular basis, often daily for the long-term. Some of the elderly residents of the San communities reported in interviews that they have consumed this plant daily for more than 40 years and related that kougoed has imparted a beneficial impact on their health and well-being. Despite that everyday use, kougoed does not have addictive properties and no physical or psychological withdrawal was reported by the indigenous communities.