Kougoed another form of happiness | Cancer Bouquet
Kougoed is a plant that has been used in South Africa for centuries as a tranquiliser, and its effect is very similar to that of the antidepressant Prozac. Now a pharmaceutical company wants to exploit it commercially.
Healer Hendrick Jap Klaase pulls a handful of dried leaves and twigs from a gunny sack. In the small room are pots and bottles filled with combinations of plants, herbs and roots. "Cancer bouquet, asthma bouquet and haemorrhoid bouquet," she points out. This is not white magic. Klaase knows how to combat ailments naturally using plants.
Kougoed another form of happiness | Floating
The 63-year-old South African rubs a dried plant between his hands until it is almost a powder. The leaves and twigs are to be put in the mouth like chewing tobacco. The taste is bitter. A woman lies on a sofa and sleeps while chewing the plant. "See how the room floats," the healer asks me. The walls and ceiling sway peacefully back and forth. "It's as if you've had too much wine," he jokes.
In popular parlance the plant is called kougoed (something to chew) or kanna. The scientific name is sceletium tortuosum. The healer prescribes it for clients who have problems with flatulence, who do not sleep well, to combat pain or for general malaise. The plant has effects on the nervous system. An important element of the plant is mesembrine, which can act against depression.
Simon van der Stel
Although South Africa occupies no more than two percent of the earth's surface, it is home to almost ten percent of the world's 24,000 plant species. The healer Klaase can name around thirty plants in his region that have healing properties.
Kougoed has been used for centuries. Especially by the San or Bushmen, hunters who gather plants and chew them while hunting. The Dutch governor of Kaap, Simon van der Stel had a drawing of a plant in his travel diary of 1685 when he travelled to Namaqualand and described the San as 'looking anaesthetised'.
Kougoed another form of happiness | A lot of tension
With the general increase in stress, HGH Pharmaceuticals believes there is a market for the plant. " We have received permission from the South African authorities to research and cultivate the plant," says director Nigel Gericke, a medical doctor and botanist. HGH wants to bring a kougoed extract it calls Zembrin to the North American market next year. Large quantities of kougoed are stored in the port of Cape Town.
What is special about the marketing of this plant is that, if sales are successful, it is not only the company that will be able to profit from "ordinary people". The modest healer Klaase will make an immediate profit and his community will receive money for their knowledge of the plant.
Rewarding old wisdom
All over the world, attempts are being made to reward traditional knowledge of nature in order to combat so-called "biopiracy". Through biopiracy, firms extract material from third world countries, market it, patent it and as a result make money while the communities from which the material originates get nothing in return.
For example, jeans are bleached with bacteria from a lake in Kenya from which only an American company makes a profit.
South Africa is trying to protect plant knowledge by law.
A permit is required to research plants, cultivate them and export them. For kougoed, which is otherwise widely sold illegally, HGH now has the rights. The law states that the commercial company must compensate the holders of the ancestral knowledge.
Possible Gold Mine
In the case of kougoed, the knowledge is held by the San and two small villages in the province of Noordkaap: Paulshoek and Nourivier, which helped HGH in the research and in locating the healer Klaase. " They will receive royalties from HGH for their knowledge of the plant," reports lawyer Roger Chennels, who represents the San in the negotiations. "How much money they will make depends on success," says Chennels. This means that villages where there is no development at all may be living on a gold mine.