South Africa to sell 'happy plant'
Published 02/10/2010 | 08:39
South Africa is planning to sell a mood-lifting plant worldwide.
For hundreds of years indigenous South Africans have chewed the sceletium tortuosum plant that they say relieves stress and hunger and sedates and lifts moods.
Now they have a licence to study and market it, and want to sell it over-the-counter.
Researchers say the plant has great potential and could also help boost the local economy.
However, the American pharmaceutical company working on the project says it does not know whether the plant has been approved by US regulators or how soon it may be available to consumers.
On Friday South Africa's environmental minister travelled to the country's arid south-west where the plant is found to celebrate the issuing of the first licence of an indigenous plant to the South African company HGH Pharmaceuticals.
HGH has not registered the product, which they will market as a dietary supplement, in any country, as the company is still compiling scientific and technical data, says Nigel Gericke, director of research at HGH. "We're positioning (the product) for everyday people who are having a stressful time in the office, feeling a bit of social anxiety, tension or in a low mood," he said.
The plant - known within South Africa as Kanna, Channa or Kougoed - has been used by the San people to reduce hunger, thirst and fatigue and is said to have sedative, hypnotic and mood-elevating effects. It is commonly chewed, but also can be made into tea or smoked.
Ben-Erik Van Wyk, a professor of botany and plant biotechnology at the University of Johannesburg, said he had researched the plant extensively and found no ill effects or evidence of dependency.
Prof Van Wyk, who has worked with a researcher at the company that will be marketing it but is not involved in the project, said he hoped the plant may draw attention to the wisdom of the ancient San people, sometimes referred to as Bushmen. When chewed, the plant gives a slight head rush, which is similar to the effect of smoking a cigarette, Prof Van Wyk said.