Search

Fascinating facts and beliefs about the devil’s thorn

The devil’s thorn contains saponins. These are chemicals that react with water to produce a slimy mucilage that acts like soap. To demonstrate, one must simply pick some of the leaves, add a few drops of water and rub one’s hands together. This mucilage acts as a great detergent, removing dirt particles and transporting them away from the surface, just like any household detergent!

Becoming sick while stranded in the bush is a recipe for disaster, so it’s good to know that Mother Nature has provided us with the ability to clean our hands before eating! Clothing can also be cleaned effectively using the devil’s thorn.

The name, devil’s thorn, comes from the shape of the seed, which is a robust oval parcel adorned with two sharp vertical-facing thorns. These thorns are reminiscent of the horns of the devil, and the plant’s scientific name (Dicerocaryum eriocarpum) also stems from the word “dikera”, which means “two horns”. These vicious-looking seeds are designed to stick into animals’ feet and hooves, in order to disperse them far from the parent plant.

There are many other beliefs and uses surrounding the devil’s thorn and its mucilage. Parts of the plant are soaked overnight in water, and the ensuing mucilage is used as a lubricant for both animal and human births. There are also reports that the birth canal can be dilated with its application. For livestock suffering from constipation, mucilage can also be used to aid in remedying the problem.

In the Okavango Delta in Botswana, hunters believe that bathing in an infusion of the roots, mixed with some other plants, will mean that a hunt will be successful. The Bayei tribe believe that if a man has sexual relations with a woman who has miscarried, he will die within 24 hours. The only remedy for this unfortunate situation is to visit a traditional healer.

The roots of the devil’s thorn are chopped, dried in the sun and then burnt. The man and woman must sit over the smoke, facing one another, and inhale it. After this, the plants’ remains are ground into a powder and applied to incisions made on the joints of the couple.   Following this ritual, the man and woman are free to indulge in … themselves, without the danger of premature death!

Photo credit: Tigris

About the Author:
Picture of Annemi Zaaiman

Annemi Zaaiman

Explore more

elephant herd in Pridelands with the mountain range in the background
Blog

The Elephant is Watching You

Many people love encountering elephants on their game drive in the South African bush, regardless of whether it is on an individual or a whole herd. Besides the obvious visible behaviour, there are many smaller signs of body language. Knowing them and being able to interpret them can increase your enjoyment of any elephant sighting.

Read more
Blog

The African Wild Dog

African wild dogs are a sight to behold with their colourful coats and long, elegant legs, especially in large packs. Unfortunately, the wild dog is one of the most endangered carnivores on the continent. We find out what makes them unique and how conservation initiatives strive to protect them.

Read more
Blog

The people you meet on an EcoTraining course

Have you decided to take an EcoTraining course? Then, a wealth of information is available to take in beforehand. The course descriptions, enough pictures on social media to make you daydream for hours, packing lists, and videos on EcoTraining’s YouTube channel. You name it, it’s there! One thing you won’t be able to find out upfront, though – unless you sign up with a bunch of friends – is who will be the people joining you on the course. In this story, Wim reflects on the fantastic group on his 35-day Practical Field Guide course.

Read more

Start your wildlife career

Want to become a field or nature guide? Explore our immersive courses and training programmes for professional safari guides and guardians of nature, taught and led by experts in the industry.

EcoTraining offers career and accredited courses, wildlife enthusiast courses, gap year programmes and customised group travel courses.

Join our nature-loving community.