Sceletium tortuosum – Kanna
Family: Mesembryanthemaceae
Common names


Sceletium tortuosum (Kanna) plants are climbing or creeping. The slender branches become with age. The leaves have recurved tips and 3 to 5 major veins. The flowers are very and of medium size (20 to 30 mm diameter). Petals are white to pale yellow, pale salmon or pale pink. The calyx has four or five sepals. Fruit are 10 to 15 mm in diameter and open when wet.
Sceletium tortuosum is considered as ‘not threatened’. It ranges from Namaqualand to Montagu through to Aberdeen and commonly occurs in patches and is usually found growing underneath shrubs in partial shade. The plants are insect pollinated. Seed dispersal occurs during rainfall.
Cultural value
The Khoisan people of South Africa, who use Sceletium tortuosum in folk medicine, introduced it to the western world. The earliest European written records of the use of Sceletium tortuosum date back to 1662. The Dutch, called it ‘kougoed’ which literally means, ‘chewable things/goodies ‘ or ‘something to chew’.
This mood-enhancing plant is known in its distribution territory as “canna”, “channa” or “kanna” (not Cannabis). It was so esteemed among indigenous pastoralists and hunter-gatherers that they travel hundreds of miles to collect plants in the wild.
The Hottentots and Bushmen tribes of South Africa have used Sceletium tortuosum as a mood-elevating herb. Although primarily chewed, there are reports of it being taken as a tea, smoked, or powdered and inhaled as a snuff on its own or with other herbs.
Growing Sceletium tortuosum
Sceletium tortuosum, or Kanna, is an opportunistic species with a lifespan of approximately 3 to 5 years. Out of their natural habitat in the Succulent Karoo, plants of Sceletium tortuosum are easy to cultivate. Under controlled conditions plants are best kept potted in a sunny, protected place in porous soil. Their active growth takes place in autumn, winter and spring, with a rest period during summer when plants should not be watered. Propagation is by cuttings or seed. Cuttings take readily in sand whereas seeds do not always germinate easily. In nature, Kanna is generally found under bushes, where they get good sunlight for at least part of the day, on the windowsill, plants will flower readily, provided they get sufficient sunlight.