Mondia whitei

White's ginger


Mondia, umondi (Zulu)


Derivation of name and historical aspects

The first indication of the medicinal use of Mondia whitei was recorded in the mid-1860s. A farmer from KwaZulu-Natal, A.S. White, sent the roots to Kew (London, England) via a renowned botanist in the Cape of Good Hope and wrote that the plant was widely collected by the Zulu people. It was used for promoting appetite and aiding with digestion. These roots were nurtured in London and after three attempts at growing them, they eventually flowered.

The plant looked distinct and was placed under a new genus (Chlorocodon) which refers to the bell-like flowers. However, it was later moved to the genus Mondia, which is derived from the Zulu word for ‘plant’ – ‘umondi’. The epithet whitei was given in honour of A.S. White, the farmer who first sent the roots to England.

Plant parts used

The roots are commonly used for making a flavoured tea to treat aches and pains. The leaves can also be dried and crushed into a powder. This is then mixed with water or food and taken as a daily supplement. The raw leaves can be consumed as an addition to vegetables or salads – the early Portuguese in Angola used the leaves as a substitute for spinach.

The stem of White’s ginger can be used to make woven ropes as the fibres are tough and resilient.

Medicinal Uses / Ethnopharmacological uses

White’s ginger has various medicinal uses, including the treatment of pain, hypertension, stroke, anemia, anorexia, stress, hangover, asthma, allergies and sexual dysfunction. It can also be used to improve sleep, promote urination, ease birth pains and freshen breath. The plant has great nutritional value as it contains the vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as the minerals, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium and protein.

Health benefits

White’s ginger is known to be a mild laxative, but also has antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic and aphrodisiac properties.


White’s ginger is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa, the plant grows in the coastal and midland regions of KwaZulu-Natal, and extends upwards into Limpopo. It prefers dense bush in forests and woodlands and grows in moist conditions. It has also been recorded in swamps. White’s ginger grows from sea level up to an altitude of 1800m.


Wild populations are reducing as a result of over-harvesting for its various uses.


Mondia whitei is listed as an endangered species. It has become hard to find in the wild as a result of over-exploitation. It is reported to be extinct from the wild in its main area of exploitation in the Tugela River in South Africa (Cartan & Crouch 1998). This is because the roots are harvested and so the plant is destroyed when utilised.

Some initiatives have been set-up to cultivate White’s ginger on commercial farms or small-scale agricultural projects.

Botanical Description

White’s ginger is a perennial and robust climber that grows from a tuberous rootstock. It can reach between three and six metres high. However, it is a slow-growing plant, taking up to 15 years to reach maturity. The roots taste like liquorice or ginger and have a vanilla-like odour. The leaves are large and have a deeply-notched heart-shaped base, positioned opposite one another on the stem. The surface of the leaves have fine hairs and star-shaped stipules.

The flowers are also large and die after three to four days. They have five petals with a maroon colour, yellow centres and a green outline. They have a fruity but unpleasant scent which becomes stronger in the late afternoon. They are probably pollinated by flies. The plant flowers from October to March in the southern regions of its habitat, and from May to August in the northern regions. White’s ginger produces large fruits that are woody and contain up to 300 seeds.

Preparation and Dosage

Traditional healers mix the roots with hot water to create a tea. The leaves and roots can also be dried and taken in powdered form.

Active Ingredients

2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzaldehyde, propacin 1, coumarinolignan, isovanillin 6

Pharmacological Effects

Various studies have been conducted in South Africa on the pharmacological effects of White’s ginger. The results show that the roots have anti-schistosomiasis activity, the leaves have antidepressant, antiepileptic and anticonvulsant effects, as well as considerable selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) activity. The flowers also have an antidepressant effect as one study noted a moderate inhibitory effect on neuronal uptake of serotonin.


According to the Red List of South African Plants, Mondia whitei is currently listed as Endangered.


The main threat to the species is over-exploitation by local communities for subsistence and commercial purposes. Loss of habitat is also a major threat to White’s ginger.



Subscribe and receive 15% discount on your first order!