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The genus name Alepidea means ‘without a scale’, from the Greek a-, meaning without, and lepis meaning ‘a scale’. This species is named after the amaThembu, people whose historical territory is the former Transkei, now in the Eastern Cape, where this plant occurs.
Alepidea amatymbica belongs to the Apiaceae, commonly known as the carrot family, members of which are usually aromatic herbs, stems often with pith or hollow internodes and flowers in flat-topped inflorescences. This family includes economically important food plants such as carrots, celery, and parsley, and consists of ± 446 genera and ± 3 540 species that occurs around the world. Alepidea is a genus of 28 species of herbaceous geophytes, endemic to grassland areas of eastern and southern Africa and northwards to Kenya and Ethiopia.
Alepidea amatymbica has three recognised varieties:
Alepidea amatymbica Eckl. & Zeyh. var. amatymbica, and var. microbracteata Weim., from the Umzinto region in southern KwaZulu-Natal, and var. aquatica (Kuntze)Weim., from the mountains of the Eastern Cape. The variety aquatica has longer, narrower leaves, and the variety microbracteata has much smaller involucral segments than the typical variety.
Alepidea amatymbica can be distinguished from the other 2 smooth-fruited species Alepidea macowanii and Alepidea multisecta by its regularly dentate leaf margin lacking any deeper incisions.
Widely used for colds and chest complaints, as well as Asthma, Influenza, Abdominal cramps.
The rhizomes and roots have a variety of medicinal and traditional uses, and harvesting of the rhizomes usually results in the death of the plant, which is why this species is now facing the threat of local extinction
Red list conservation status: Endangered (EN)
Over exploited and is now endangered.
In its natural state Alepidea amatymbica is distributed along the Amathole Mountains in the Eastern Cape, extending north-eastwards to southern KwaZulu-Natal and along the eastern border of Lesotho, and northwards to the Free State, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and eastern Zimbabwe. It is usually found in damp grassland near streams from 1 520 to 2 590 m altitude. It is common in the summer rainfall grasslands of southern Africa.
A. amatymbica is an herbaceous perennial plant with dark green leaves arising from a single or branched rhizome. It is a robust, erect plant, up to 2 m tall in grassland; the leaves form a loose rosette with the margins of the leaves prominently toothed, each tooth ending in a bristle. The flowering stalk hollow up to two meters in height, rising above the surrounding grasses, with numerous small flowers arranged in dense, rounded heads. The inflorescence is widely branched, with a number of small, star-shaped white flowers about 250 mm in diameter.
The rhizomes and roots are either chewed or used in the preparation of an infusion that is used as a remedy for colds, coughs and influenza by Zulu people. Ikhathazo is used by Sotho and Xhosa people to treat respiratory tract infections, rheumatism and gastro-intestinal complaints.
In Zimbabwe the rootstock is used to repel bees and as a protective charm. It has been reported that the dry rhizome and roots are smoked or powdered and taken as a snuff by diviners and healers to assist in divination and communication with ancestors. Smoking the roots reportedly results in mild sedation and vivid dreams and the dry rhizome and roots are used as a lotion to wash the divining bones. Marijuana (dagga) smokers are seen mixing it in their cigarettes and it is said that it takes away the smell of the herb.
Some of the phytochemicals isolated and characterized to date from Alepidea amatymbica include kaurene-type diterpenoids and their derivatives like ent-9, (11)-dehydro-16-kauren-19-oic acid, ent-16-kauren-19-oic acid, wedelia seco-kaurenolide, and 313-acetoxy which is believed to constitute up to 11.8% of rhizome and root dry mass. The activity of the medicine can most likely be attributed to the diterpenoids it contains. Several diterpenoid kaurene derivatives have been isolated from the rhizomes and roots. Lipophilic extracts of the powdered dried rhizomes of A. amatymbica collected in different localities also confirmed the presence of ent-9, (11)-dehydro-16-kauren-19-oic acid (la), ent-16-kauren-19-oic acid, wedelia seco-kaurenolide, and the 313-acetoxy derivative of 3, previously reported as constituents of the roots and aerial parts of A. amatymbica. The extracts contained additional kaurene derivatives not previously reported. A comparative study of dichloromethane extracts of the roots of several Alepidea species showed the presence of kaurene derivatives in every case. The distribution of all the major compounds found in Alepidea amatymbica is summarized in Table 2. The highly resinous rhizomes contain kaurene-type diterpenoids.
Different pharmacological areas were revealed in the literature search on A. amatymbica investigation. These include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antihelmintic, antimalarial, antihypertensive, and diuretic activities. There is however a dearth of information in literature on the pharmacological effects of the active principles of A. amatymbica. Hutchings reported the performance of screening tests on the basis of personal communication with a pharmaceutical company indicating the antimicrobial, antihypertensive, and diuretic activity.
The primary threat to Alepidea amatymbica is over-exploitation for the traditional medicine trade. The species, which is known by the Xhosa as Iqwili, and Ikhathazo by the Zulu, is extremely popular and in high demand. Dold and Cocks (2002) found Alepidea amatymbica to be one of the 20 most prevalent species in Eastern Cape ‘muthi’ markets, and estimated that more than 1 200 kg were sold annually in the region. This species is always present at the King William’s Town market with material sourced from Pirie, Gwiligwili, Cata, Katberg and other parts of the former Ciskei escarpment, where there is no regulation of natural resource exploitation (A.P. Dold pers. comm. 2016). The high demand for this species has led to over-exploitation in some areas. Traders and harvesters report that it is no longer present in the source areas for the Mthatha market, indicating that it has now very scarce in Transkei area of the Eastern Cape (S. Cawe, Xhosa ethnobotanist, pers. comm. 2016). Field surveys for a taxonomic revision of Alepidea sections Setiferae and Leiocarpae (Hutchinson 2016) found this species difficult to locate in the wild in all but the most inaccessible areas of the Eastern Cape. At Mount Insizwa in the Mount Ayliff district, local herdsmen informed researchers that harvesters had eradicated all A. amatymbica plants on the lower slopes. Remaining subpopulations could only be reached after more than an hour’s walk to more inaccessible areas near the mountain summit. Increasing scarcity of plants in the Eastern Cape have led to harvesters starting to target subpopulations on privately owned farms. Landowners in the Hogsback area are reporting large loads removed by vehicle from their farms (A.P. Dold pers. comm. 2016). A. amatymbica is not just heavily exploited for Eastern Cape traditional medicine – it has also been recorded in trade as far as the Faraday Market in Johannesburg (Hutchinson 2016) and used by Rastafarian herbal healers in Cape Town (Nzue 2009). Over-exploitation of wild populations is also occurring in KwaZulu-Natal. A small study conducted in the Coleford area, southern Drakensberg, found that the species had virtually disappeared from communally owned areas, but could still be found in relative abundance on access-controlled privately owned land (O’Connor 2004). The maximum recorded density in privately owned areas was 5.7 plants/sq. m (mean = 1 plant/sq. m), but no plants were seen after nine hours of searching in adjacent communal areas, suggesting it had been eradicted from communal areas. It is important to note that were suitable habitat exists, A. amatymbica can be very common, even locally dominant. However, at a landscape level, it is relatively scarce because the areas of suitable wetland habitat are usually small (O’Connor 2004). O’Connor (2004) further estimated that the Coleford subpopulation had less than 180 000 individual plants, and that if 1.82 million plants were harvested annually for the Durban market (as cited by Mander 1998), then 10 areas equivalent to Coleford were being cleared annually for one market.
Medicinal Plants of Southern Africa. Ben-Eric van Wyk, Bosch van Oudtshoorn, Nigel Gericke
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