Category Archives: Culture

Autumn cleansing

Khoisan Home

Inspired by the Khoisan tradition of burning fynbos and fragrant herbs in their homes when moving or after a death, I’ve blended a special cleansing oil for my friend who moved into her new home last week.  The combination of Cape Chamomile, Cape Geranium and Kooigoed essential oils in a burner would also assist her emotionally in this time of transition.

With the first cold front moving in over the long weekend, autumn has arrived in the Cape.  Most people do spring cleaning, but for me autumn is an excellent time to reflect on cleansing and bringing a new fragrance into my home.

We are conditioned to associate particular smells with certain activities of rooms. The characteristics of each aroma group can help you select an appropriate fragrance for each room:

Florals: bedroom and living room

Herbs: study and kitchen

Citrus and fruit: bathroom and kitchen

Spices: kitchen and bedroom

Woods: sitting room and bedroom

Resins: hallway and study

Why not try a new fragrance in you home this season?  What is your favourite autumn cleansing ritual? Or for those living in the northern hemisphere, do you have a spring fragrance ritual?


Blue Mountain Sage for clarity

Cape Town Minstrel Carnival / Kaapse Klopse / Photo:

Today’s blog is inspired by the colour blue: the vibrant costumes at the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival on the 2nd of January (Tweede Nuwejaarsdag in Afrikaans), the mixed shades of the Indian and Atlantic oceans at Cape Agulhas and then the shy Blue Mountain Sage (Salvia stenophylla).

The essential oil of this South African herb is my choice for the second day of the new year as it can assist in creating positivity in one’s self. It is also good for space clearing, as well as supporting mental and emotional clarity. Think blue if you need to remove negativity and bring in fresh clear energy!

The oil of Salvia Stenophylla is not blue, but light straw-coloured. The fragrance has been described as: herby, fresh, camphoric, and spicy with a maritime note.  The last description captures the essence of this interesting fragrance. It is an indigenous (and better smelling) alternative to Tea Tree Oil and known for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflamatory properties.

Traditionally Blue Mountain Sage was used as a disinfectant by burning it in huts after sickness. The leaves were burnt as an insect repellant and also mixed with tobacco for smoking.

Try a combination of Kooigoed, Cape Chamomile and Blue Mountain Sage essential oils in a burner or use them individually for “smudging” – a Native American cleansing ritual. Something from Africa for an American tradition  could bring you clarity on Tweede Nuwejaarsdag…

Moving forward with Cape Chamomile

Cape Chamomile / Eriocephalus punctulatus / Boegoekapok

Whether you are reflecting on the past year or planning for the next one, Cape Chamomile can assist you in this time of transition.  This deep blue essential oil with its fine fruity fragrance is distilled from Eriocephalus punctulatus, an aromatic bush from the mountainous areas of the Eastern Free State and Eastern Cape Province.

Cape Chamomile will be my EOTD (Essential Oil of the day) for the last two days of the old year.  In some African cultures the fumes of the burning leaves, twigs and flowers are used to disinfect the home after a death has occurred and also to clear away any evil spirits (a similar way to Kooigoed) In the absence of having a twig to burn, I will have to use the essential oil in a burner.

Apart from the transitional properties, Cape Chamomile oil is used to alleviate stress, depression and anxiety. The presence of linalyl acetate in the oil means it has similar properties to lavender as a sleep enhancer and relaxant. It is not related to German and Roman Chamomile essential oil and is 100% South African.

Perfumers use Cape Chamomile to blend with delicate scents such as rose. I’ve discovered natural perfumes and candles with fynbos fragrances made by Mandy Aftelier. She combined Cape Chamomile with Blue Mountain Sage to create a true South African fragranced candle.

Whether you use Cape Chamomile for its fine fragrance, as a stress reliever or to clear your mind, heart or home – have a wonderful transition to 2012!

Goodwill with Kooigoed

Helicrysum Petiolare

This aromatic herb with its grey woolly leaves and persistent flower heads is one of the many everlasting species.  It is said that the oil that keeps the flowers “lasting forever” will also stop your skin’s aging process, which makes it a must have for your vanity case.

A dried bundle of this strongly aromatic herb is called Imphepho (Zulu) and is burned to invoke the goodwill of the ancestors. The smoke is reported to be sedative and inhaled by traditional healers to induce a trance.

The Khoisan stuffed mattresses with this herb, therefore the Afrikaans name Kooigoed or Hottentotskooigoed.  This everlasting is also used as cosmetic and perfume and is effective in keeping insects and parasites away.

Helichrysum petiolare

For survival in veld this should be your number one emergency plant: it can provide fragrant bedding without parasites, you can burn it to relieve insomnia and the oil from the crushed leaves may protect your skin against the harsh conditions. You might just return with a Botox from nature…

Perfume from Africa

Have you ever tried making your own perfume? And do you know that using solid perfume is an ancient African practice?  Finding a recipe for this took me on an interesting journey that I would like to share with you.

Perfumes have always played an important role in the life of the Khoisan people of Southern Africa.  Also known as Sanqua which literally means: “the people or men who use aromatic bushes to anoint their bodies” so the Dutch “bosjesman” became “boesman” in Afrikaans and “bushmen” in English.

This tortoiseshell powder compact is used for both fat and aromatic powder. It is tied to the body and is a symbol of a woman’s fertility. Buchu as main ingredient is symbolic of her feminine potencies, of fertility and giving life.

These are examples of fat containers. The Khoisan used to rub animal fat and powered aromatic plants in their skin for cosmetic reasons but also as an antibiotic protection. A practice that has now almost disappeared. A specific perfume named Sai was associated with potency and made of the fat of a wild cat and buchu. It was said that when a women wore that: “all the boys would come running!”

Due to the unavailability of wild cat fat I had to use beeswax, olive oil and essential oils for my own solid perfume. It is too soon to report on the potency properties but I will keep you posted.  Next time more about the fynbos essential oils that can be used for making your own indigenous fragrance.


1. Van Wyk, Ben-Erik and Gerick, Nigel. Peoples Plants: A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Briza: 2000

2. Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford: Body Arts

3. Low, Chris. Khoisan Healing: Understanding Ideas and Practices. University of Oxford D.Phil Thesis 2004