Ubulawu: Southern Africa’s Undiscovered Psychoactive Plant Healing Medicine.

Ubulawu: Southern Africa’s Undiscovered Psychoactive Plant Healing Medicine.

Ubulawu is an undiscovered − to Western society, yet an anciently used African plant medicine that heals the body and mind. Ubulawu is made mostly from the roots but sometimes the stems or bark of particular subtle acting psychoactive plants. Though a number of different species are used as ubulawu in Southern Africa, what is common to all these species and what makes ubulawu, ubulawu, is its ability to open the mind and increase sensitivity and intuition.

Ubulawu in the Xhosa language is derived from the word that means: “The Spirit that directs one” which indicates the action of the medicine to enhance ones ability to listen to ones deeper spiritual truths.

Ubulawu is prepared by soaking a certain amount of the roots or stems into 10 litres of water. This preparation is churned with a forked stick usually made from other medicinal trees. The species used in ubulawu often produces foam when churned though this is not always the case. In the morning, first thing before food or liquids are consumed, the person churns the ubulawu (ideally in a quiet, undisturbed space where one can burn a candle and have objects of prayer and spiritual devotion) and typically prays to ones deceased ancestors, protective deities and to the medicine itself for healing and knowledge. The person then drinks enough of this liquid to feel full and then vomiting is induced with two fingers placed to the back of the throat.

Ubulawu is used by the indigenous people of Southern Africa to cleanse the body so as to cleanse the mind. Vomiting, or what can be called emesis therapy, is an important treatment method used in both African and Ayurvedic (Indian) traditional medicine (Sobiecki, 2012). In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as vamana therapy, and is used to rid the body of excess mucus and water (that is known as kapha) that collects on the lungs and “disturbs the mind and clouds the senses” (Frawley 2000). This is the same purpose that the medicine has in Southern African healing as my late teacher Mrs Letty Maponya indicated when she said: ““It [ubulawu] is important to clear the lungs, which if she does not do, “clouds her inner vision.” (Sobiecki, 2012). There is an important relationship between having a clean body (chest and stomach) and a clean and open mind in African traditional medicine.

South African traditional healers use ubulawu to open their intuition and dreaming, to bring forth their gifts of healing and increase their learning ability. It is also used in people who need to heal aspects of their minds, while laypeople use it for dreaming and to increase general health and energy. It is a wonderful tool for integrating the self. Thus, ubulawu can be said to be both a physical and psycho-spiritual healing medicine. My late teacher explained that ubulawu as a medicine “gives you what you are” (Sobiecki, 2012). This in my experience is exactly what the medicine does, by slowly encouraging an opening of ones own deeper awareness you can face deeper questions about your life and therefore the medicine can teach you about yourself. In this way ubulawu is similar to the psychoactive plant teachers of the Amazon, both having the ability for one to learn new knowledge via the medicines.  Ubulawu works similarily to ayahuasca in opening the mind, though it does this much more gradually over days and vomiting is induced rather than occurring spontaneously as happens with Ayahusaca. Ubulawu is a legal traditional medicine.

From my experience the process of using ubulawu requires discipline and as it is an opening medicine, even though gradual, it can lead to intense states of self introspection and questioning after around two weeks in some cases. People differ in how they work and respond with the medicine too. Therefore, using ubulawu is a process of healing that requires mentoring and guidance by the facilitating teacher. Different ubulawu species should not be mixed and used without the guidance of a trained traditional healer as the incorrect mixtures can cause physical and psycho-spiritual disturbance and worsening of conditions. That is why I recommend using only one species at a time as a medicine.

As with any mind opening medicine the correct dosages is important as well as the right setting. One should try focus on ones internal process rather than be directed outwards during the time using the medicine. Social entertainment and sexual relations should be avoided. However people can still work using the medicine though one should try be as self contained as possible. The ability of ubulawu to open to deep states of mind and allow for dream journeying, makes it very much a shamanic medicine. Ubulawu is a safe medicine though as with any vomiting therapy ubulawu is contraindicated in people with problems with cardiac or gastric sphincters, reflux disease, hiatus hernia, peptic ulcer disease and surgery done on the stomach.

From my knowledge ubulawu is one of the most powerful ways to cleanse the body and to open deep levels of the mind. Being initiated as an inyanga-herbalist with ubulawu it was fascinating for me to see how the medicine promoted an increased sensitivity to ordinary stimuli and like an internal mirror it slowly yet surely made me face deep questions related to my life-path.

By showing me parts of myself in this gentle yet powerful way, ubulawu can be considered a profoundly instructive plant teacher medicine that we in the West can utilize as a shamanic technology to know and heal ourselves.

For mentoring on Ubulawu Jean can be contacted at phytoalchemist@gmail.com

His practice website: http://www.phytoalchemy.co.za

His research sites: www.khanyisagarden.co.za and www.ethnobotany.co.za


By Jean-Francois Sobiecki

I am an ethnobotanist and healer with a passion to research medicinal healing plants and to create healing gardens where we can study traditional medicine for application in health promotion and re-connection to nature.

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