If you’ve ever been on an African safari, chances are your ranger crafted a bush toothbrush for you at some point. Cutting a twig from a Magic guarri tree and fraying the ends into bristles is a common ranger’s ploy to keep excitement levels up when the Big Five aren’t playing ball. But it’s not all smoke and mirrors either. Folks don’t give names like Magic guarri to run-of-the-mill trees.
As its Latin name suggests, Euclea divinorum is used for divination in Zambia, sorcery in Angola and to remove spells in Uganda. Medicines made from its roots are used throughout Africa to “cure” everything from cancer and arthritis to miscarriage, snakebites and leprosy. And its branches are used to purify water in Ethiopia and to assist in preserving milk for months on end in Kenya. There’s no shortage either — this evergreen tree, which can grow as high as 15 feet, is found in about 20 countries across Africa.
Jean-Francois Sobiecki, a South African ethnobotanist, medicinal plant researcher and healer, describes Euclea divinorum as “one of the trees that captured my curiosity” while researching whether traditional healers in South Africa were using plants to facilitate visionary and trance states similar to those South American shamans are famous for. He discovered that South Africa was incredibly rich in psychoactive plants, which shouldn’t be confused with “drugs.” Most foods we eat have subtle psychoactive effects that “influence how we think, feel and act,” he explains, citing the examples of chocolate and rooibos tea.
Sobiecki found that ointments and teas made from the roots of several Euclea species are used for the treatment of convulsive conditions such as epilepsy — probably because they contain compounds that have healing effects on the nervous system.[…]