Botanical Name : Sutherlandia frutescens
Species: S. frutescens
Synonyms. : Colutea frutescens L., Lessertia frutescens (L.) Goldblatt & J.C.Manning
Common Name :Cancer bush, Balloon pea, Sutherlandia,Wildegansie,Eendjies, Gansiekeur
Habitat :Sutherlandia frutescens occurs naturally throughout the dry parts of southern Africa, in Western Cape and up the west coast as far north as Namibia and into Botswana, and in the western Karoo to Eastern Cape. It shows remarkable variation within its distribution.
Sutherlandia is an attractive small, soft wooded shrublet, 0.5 to 1 m in height. The leaves are pinnately compound . The leaflets are 4–10 mm long, grey-green in colour, giving the bush a silvery appearance. They have a very bitter taste.
The flowers are orange-red, up to 35 mm long, and are carried in short racemes in the leaf axils at the tips of the branches in spring to mid-summer (September – December).The flowers are not typical ‘pea’ flowers, the wing petals are very small and are concealed in the calyx, and the standard petal is much shorter than the keel.
The fruit is a large, bladder-like, papery inflated pod and is almost transparent. It can be used in dry flower arrangements as it dries well, maintaining its colour and form.
Sunbirds pollinate the attractive, butterfly-like red flowers. The lightweight, papery, inflated pods enable the seed to be dispersed easily by wind. Stock browse the foliage.
Ecologically legumes are well known for fixing nitrogen in the soil through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. The bacteria infect the roots, forming small growths or nodules. Inside the nodules, atmospheric nitrogen, which the plants cannot use, is converted to ammonia, which plants can use.
The plant supplies sugars for the bacteria, while the bacteria provide the biologically useful nitrogen that the plant absorbs.
Growing Sutherlandia frutescens:
Sutherlandia is fast growing and easy to grow, but short-lived as a garden subject. It is a tough, hardy plant that does well in full sun and tolerates all soil types. It occurs both in summer and winter rainfall regions, and is quite drought tolerant so does not require much watering. When growing it in containers, make sure that it is well drained and don’t over-water. The plant is also quite pest resistant. Plants seed themselves readily, so that as the older plants start to look past their best they can be removed.
It makes interesting temporary filler in the mixed border, rockery or shrubbery, especially if it is planted in groups or en masse. It is also a good contrast foliage plant against a green backdrop and can be used effectively to punctuate a soft landscape planting. It is also a must for the herb garden. It grows well in containers, and can be used as a temporary decoration for the patio or courtyard. Because they are fast and tough, they also work quite well as pioneers in a new garden, where they give cover and colour while the slower growing perennials get going.
The cancer bush seeds itself readily, and grows easily from seed. Sow in autumn or spring in well-drained soil. Germination is improved if seeds are left to soak for about 4 hours or overnight in water hot enough for you to put your hand in. We have found that many members of the pea & bean family are susceptible to pre-emergence damping off. Using sterile soil and treating the seed with the Apron (a.i. metalaxyl) effectively combats fungal infection. Keep the seed trays warm (not hot) and damp but not wet. Germination should occur in 2 to 3 weeks and seedlings can be transplanted as soon as they are large enough to handle. Planting the plants close together in groups of 3 or 5 will give you a fuller, more attractive bush.
Medicinal Properities & Uses:
Sutherlandia frutescens is revered as one of the important medicinal plants in the south Africa and has historically been used by Khoi, Nama and San people.
It has been reported that workers in Namaqualand smoke the plant as a cannabis substitute for its pleasant sedative and anti-anxiety effect. The smoke is also said to relieve extreme pain. The foliage/stems are a rich source of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA and this could well account for its stress fighting anxiolytic effects.
Sutherlandia is also a potent adaptogen that helps to normalize many of the body’s functions and to act as an immune-enhancer as well. It contains a very active compound, canavanine, which has been documented to have anti-viral and anti-cancer activity. Yet another compound, pinitol, has been used to treat wasting syndrome in AIDS and cancer patients.
Infusion made from the leaves is a traditional remedy for fever, chicken pox, flu, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, and stomach and liver problems. Also makes an excellent wash for wounds. Red-orange flowers appear in spring.
One experimental animal study suggest that “S. frutescens shoot aqueous extract possesses analgesic, antiinflammatory, and hypoglycemic properties, and thus lend pharmacological credence to the suggested folkloric uses of the herb in the management and/or control of painful, arthritic and other inflammatory conditions, as well as for adult-onset, type-2 diabetes mellitus in some communities of South Africa.”
Sutherlandia frutescens is a much-respected and long-used medicinal plant that is also an attractive garden plant, and has been cultivated in gardens for many years, for its fine form, striking colour and luminous flowers.
The common name hierba del cancer stems not from the ability of the plant to fight cancer but rather because of the local use of the word cancer to mean an open sore. The plant is used as a remedy in Belize for a variety of serious skin conditions such as fungus, ulcers, ringworm and itching or burning labia in women. It is used throughout Latin America as a diuretic. The leaves are used in Guatemala not only as a diuretic but also to treat kidney-related problems. In Haiti it is used to treat diarrhea, inflammations and dyspepsia. In a study of plants used in Guatemala as a diuretic and for the treatment of urinary ailments, extracts of the plant were shown to increase urinary output by 52%. A dried leaf tincture has been shown to be active against Staphylococcus aureus but inactive against some other bacteria.
Excellent remedy to wash skin conditions of the worst kind such as chronic rashes, blisters, peeling skin, deep sores, ulcers, fungus, ringworm, inflammation, itching and burning of labia in women – boil one entire plant in one quart water for 10 minutes; strain and wash area with very hot water 3 times daily. Leaves may be dried and toasted and passed through a screen to make a powder to sprinkle on sores, skin infections, or boils. For stomach complaints or urinary infections, boil one entire plant in 3 cups water for 5 minutes; drink 3 cups of warm decoction 3 times a day (1 cup before each meal). The local use of the word “cancer” refers to a type of open sore. A dried leaf tincture was shown to have in vitro activity against Staphylococcus aureus.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.