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Warburgia salutaris – Pepper Bark
- Pepper-bark tree
This is an evergreen, slender tree that grows from 5 to 10 m tall. The dark green, glossy leaves are paler green below with entire margins. They are simple, alternately arranged, elliptic to lanceolate. The midrib is slightly off-centre with a tapering apex and base. The leaves have a bitter, burning, aromatic taste.
This is a tropical forest tree which extends southwards as far as KwaZulu-Natal, eastern and northern Gauteng and across Swaziland. It also occurs in Malawi. Its growth habitat is forests and kloofs.
Medicinally, the pepper-like, bitter stems and root bark are used to cure many ailments. As an expectorant or smoked, they are a widely used remedy for common colds. Dried and ground, they make a snuff used to clear the sinuses. Taken orally they are believed to cure spots in the lungs. Both stems and root bark are a remedy for malaria. Powdered and mixed with water, they are believed to cure sores in the mouth. The wood is not well known for timber in South Africa probably because of its rarity. According to Palmer & Pitman (1973), in Kenya the leaves of the pepper-bark are sometimes added to curries, and the wood is sometimes used in building.
Growing Warburgia salutaris
Warburgia salutaris can be cultivated from seed as well as vegetatively from cuttings. Cuttings should be taken in spring. The tree grows in well-drained soil, with good aeration. Soil should be rich in organic matter in the form of well-rotted compost. The pepper-bark is an attractive evergreen tree for both small gardens and big estates. It is also a suitable plant for hedge as it responds well to pruning.