Medline lives in Ward 16 Chivi district, rural Zimbabwe. Her area has been receiving less and less rain over the past decade. Farmers like here have resorted to planting small grains, although some still stick to growing maize which has been dwindling in productivity over the years. For this reason, field crops fetch no income for Medlineís family of two adults and 7 dependents.
This year, Medline joined the Natural Resources Production Cooperative that sells resurrection bush twigs to Bio Innovation Zimbabwe, to raise money to look after her family since her husband is not employed. The plant is available in abundance on the hills around her home.
Of all the plant species that exist, this one possesses fascinating traits! A number of resurrecting plants exist in Southern Africa but Myrothammus flabellifolia is exceptional in that it is the only woody resurrection plant. This particular plant, commonly known as resurrection bush, Mufandichimuka (Shona) and Umafavuke (Ndebele), is a woody shrub with tough branches. For most of the year it looks like an upright bundle of red-brownish sticks with dead leaves, no more than 30-50cm high. When the rains come the seemingly dead leaves quickly revive and become green -in some cases there are little red flowers as well- hence the name resurrection bush.
The resurrection bush is very widespread in Zimbabwe. It is found only in shallow soil over rock, crevices and rocky hillsides, in full sun, where few other plants survive. The plant can also be cultivated.
Apart from resurrection bush, Medline also sells vegetables from her garden, marula kernels and dried Zumbani tea leaves, but resurrection bush is the most rewarding. She spends less time on it because the production is straightforward (twigs are harvested when dry), and the prices offered are good.
Farmers trained by BIZ are made aware of business opportunities around local resources and most importantly to safeguard these resources for future generations. In the case of resurrection bush, only twigs or leaves are harvested meaning that the bush and roots are preserved to enable more twigs to re-grow.
Collection is done between May and September, after the rains. Harvesting can also be done during short dry spells during the wet season, when the plant has dehydrated. For tea producers, the smaller twigs and dry leaves are collected. For extract production and ornamental use, longer (20cm), dry, leafy sticks are picked.
The leaves are used as a traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments such as colds, kidney problems, asthma, backaches and headaches. Inhalation of smoke from burning leaves treats chest complaints and asthma. Decoctions (herbal or iced tea) treat coughs, influenza, mastitis, backache, kidney disorders, haemorrhoids and abdominal pains, scurvy, menstrual pain, hypertension, halitosis and gingivitis.
The remarkable properties of this plant are the same ones that make resurrection bush tea so refreshing and good for you. Brimming with anti-oxidants and essential minerals, this tea boosts the immune system and builds stamina, calms inflammation and promotes anti-ageing effects.
A study at the University of Zimbabwe comparing resurrection bush tea to rooibos tea found that resurrection bush tea has antioxidant properties comparable to rooibos. Resurrection bush tea is a rich source of phenolic compounds which act as antioxidants and strong inhibitors of the oxidative stress arising from exhaustion and other body reactions like phospholipid peroxidation (a leading factor in premature aging).
Resurrection bush also has potential as an essential oil for use in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and perfume industry. Recent studies have shown that the extract from the aerial parts of the plant can be used as a skin conditioning agent. The ground leaves have also been tested for use as a spice in Japan.
Informal trade in Zimbabwe is mostly through herbalists and across borders. The formal trade is to herbal tea processors, but is currently very small. With more awareness of the benefits of the tea, volumes could increase significantly. Export opportunities exist also, mostly for extract production for cosmetics. There is a small niche market also in ornamentals: when water is added, a dry sprig turns green in a matter of hours.
For resurrection tea, check out the shelves at your local supermarket! For more details on resurrection bush and the other underutilised species BIZ works on, check www.bio-innovation.org and www.facebook.com/naturallyzimbabwean, and visit us at our offices (48 Harvey Brown, Milton Park, Harare) or Maasdorp and Amanzi markets.
Tracy Mapfumo is a researcher/trainer at Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe (BIZ). She graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Agriculture-Plant Science at the University of KwaZulu Natal in 2015. She then joined BIZ in 2016 with the goal of learning more on how to tackle the topical issue of food insecurity in Zimbabwe. At BIZ, she carries out small research projects for both current and potential BIZ species. In addition, she trains rural communities on diet diversity and nutritional benefits of traditional foods. She is also involved in consumer awareness. Tracy currently writes an article on any of the BIZ species every month for a local magazine. If she is not at work, you will probably find her in her kitchen trying out recipes with indigenous ingredients or in the garden where she grows all kinds of indigenous plants.
Bio Innovation Zimbabwe (BIZ) develops and promotes underutilised, mostly indigenous and often wild-harvested, plant species to strengthen food security and create wealth among Zimbabweís small-scale rural producers. To increase local consumption of Zimbabweís natural foods, the Zimbabwe Traditional and Organic Food Forum (www.naturallyzimbabwean.com), of which BIZ is a founding member, organises an annual food and seed festival.