We are all too familiar with modern marketing claims that boast about wonder drugs, but traditional herbal medicines were not immune from such exaggeration either. The so called Eight-day healing bush or Agtdaegeneesbos, Lobostemon, is a Cape member of the Borage family, Boraginaceae. There are about 28 species of Lobostemon, more or less confined to the Cape Floristic Region. All of them probably have similar herbal properties but the name Agtdaegeneesbos is usually associated with Lobostemon fruticosus. The plant was traditionally used for anything from general wounds to blood poisoning, ringworm, or even syphilis. Usually a poultice was made from the leaves and the slimy paste applied to the affected area. However, the efficacy of this (and the alleged timescale of eight days) is yet to be proven. Indeed, members of the Borage family often contain liver damaging alkaloids and any product that contains them for consumption should best be avoided.
However, there is no doubting that they are wonderful plants from an ornamental perspective. The species here at Phillipskop is Lobostemon curvifolius and at this time of the year it forms a rounded bush covered with large pink bell-shaped flowers. The greyish foliage is almost hidden by the flowers but at other times of the year it still forms an attractive bush that is a pleasing contrast to the small needle-like leaves of many fynbos shrubs. Being resprouting shrubs, they also respond well to pruning, so can be kept neat and compact in a garden setting.
Lobostemon curvifolius grows from Houw Hoek and Caledon, as far east as De Hoop. Here and around Stanford, the flowers are almost entirely pink, but elsewhere the flowers range to a violet-blue colour laced with pink. Like its European counterparts, Borage (Borago officinalis) and Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare), Lobostemon curvifolius is an excellent bee plant. The broad bell-shaped flowers with wide-open mouths are very welcoming for bees, which find it a good source of nectar. So when the bushes are in bloom, they are alive with bees buzzing from one flower to the next. The plant may not quite live up to its pretentious common name, but it really ought to be more widely cultivated in gardens for its bee-friendly and colourful flowers.