The fragrance of buchu is strong, wild and I would like to call it an “inner male” or animus aroma. Carl Jung described the animus (or a woman’s inner male) as positive energy that represents empowerment, the capacity to engage in and fight for what she wants, and the assertion of the live force.
My initiation into buchu was facilitated by the late Eps Joubert, an eccentric and passionate mathematics teacher and nature lover from Bredasdorp. He is also known as the “father” of the Foot Of Africa Marathon and his lasting gift to athletes from over the world is the fynbos route in the Bredasdorp mountain.
If I had to select one plant for introducing a visitor to South African fynbos fragrance, it would be the green, minty and fruity aroma of the Agathosma species. Agathosma betulina or round-leave buchu played an important role in the Khoisan culture, and have been used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes since early days. Brandy tinctures (“boegoebrandewyn”) for stomach problems and vinegar infusions for washing and treating wounds are early Cape remedies.
The Khoisan’s close relationship with buchu includes this fragrant plant being an agent of both physical and mental transformation. During initiation rites for girls reaching puberty, buchu was sprinkled on standing water to pacify the “watersnake” or “rainbull”. Its invigorating and stimulating properties were also utilized in rituals to “wake up the body”. For an interesting article about buchu as presenting the “life force” in the Khoisan tradition, please visit africanaromatics.com.
Buchu essential oil with its intense and overpowering fragrance should be used with care, but in times when you want a strong, blackcurrant or Bourgenons de Chassis flavour in you home or life, it is perfect. As a men’s cologne or facial wash for teenagers it may create a balance between “pacifying” and “lifting up”!
After experimenting with buchu essential oil in soap making and solid perfume, I came to the conclusion that this fragrance I would keep close to my body (as in a Khoisan tortoiseshell powder compact) but not directly on my skin. And used daily in an exfoliation soap, it might keep the “inner man” alive and happy!
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.
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…
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 http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/bodyarts
3. Low, Chris. Khoisan Healing: Understanding Ideas and Practices. University of Oxford D.Phil Thesis 2004 http://www.thinkingthreads.com/files/Khoisan_thesis.pdf