Musk plant is a bush-like and compact shrub, which grows up to a height of 3 meters. This aromatic herb is somewhat juicy and its branching pattern is asymmetrical. While the young branches of this species are slightly ruby hued and swathed with glandular hair, the mature stems are smooth and brownish. In fact, both surfaces of musk plant leaves are also covered with glandular hairs, which make them somewhat sticky when touched. The leaves of this species have a vivid green hue and, to some extent, have a heart shape. The margins of the leaves are irregular and have blunt teeth.
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The color of the flowers of this species varies from white to lilac, while some flowers may also be pink. The appearance of plants largely depends on whether you are growing a male or female plant. Musk plant is dioecious in nature and the male and female flowers appear on separate plants. The spikes of both forms have different shapes and size. The male flowers grow copiously creating a mist-like effect. On the other hand, the female musk flowers are more compact.
Generally, the flowers of musk plant appear when the shrub has shed its leaves and stand bare. These flowers are borne in the top segment of musk plant branches. This plant is also called ibosa, a name that has its origin in the Zulu word, which denotes the aromatic leaves of the plant. The Zulu people employ this plant for its therapeutic properties.
Members of the Zulu community use this herb for treating several health conditions, including stomach aches, alleviating chest problems and malaria. They also inhale the crushed musk plant leaves to relieve headaches. This plant is vulnerable to frosts and if you are growing the musk plant in places having colder climatic conditions, it is advisable that you plant them in pots. The musk plant is an excellent garden plant and grows rapidly, attaining a height of 80 cm just in one year. Moreover, the plant also bears flowers from the first year of its existence. This shrub thrives well when grown in light, well composted and properly drained soils. It has a preference for watering during the summer months, but barely needs water during the winter. Therefore, it is a very good plant for areas receiving rainfall in summer. It is essential to trim the musk plant every year after the flowering season in order to keep it tidy and well shaped. Moreover, pruning also helps to promote flowering. It is advisable that unless you are growing this shrub in extremely hot regions, you position the plant in full sunlight. However, if the climatic conditions in your region are very hot, you will do well by planting them in some shade, especially during the midday.
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Musk plant is shrub-like and has aromatic foliage and bears magnificent flowers in winter. This species produces chunky leaves with creased margin. The leaves are covered with glandular hair on either side, making them sticky when touched (as mentioned above). The potent aroma exuded by these leaves linger in the air even when they become dry. People in Africa, where this plant has its origin, added these leaves to stored grains and seeds in order to keep injurious pests like weevils at bay. The leaves are also used to prepare a tea that is drunk to treat colds and flu.
All the branch tips of musk plant are covered with snow-white blooms during winter. This species is so productive that the smallest musk plants also produce flowers during the winter months. These plants may bloom for over two months, since the new buds keep on opening at the tip of the branches. Musk plant is partially deciduous in nature. However, it depends on the climate in the area when the plants are grown. As a result, there may be many musk plants that are bereft of their leaves by the time they start flowering.
The species name of musk plant is riparia, which denotes plants growing on river banks. Hence, it is natural that most of the plants of this species are found growing naturally on the banks of rivers in their native land. Aside from this, musk plants are also found growing on hillsides and arid wooded valleys. This plant grows best when placed under direct sunlight. However, if you are growing musk plant in very hot areas, it is advisable to place them under some shade, especially during midday.
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The aromatic, spicy flowers of musk plant attract lots of bees, which help in pollination. You may plant this species outdoors to fend off mosquitoes. The dried, fragrant flowers are widely used in pot pourri.
Musk plant is employed for treating infections related to the chest and cough. The leaves as well as the tender stems of this species are generally used in traditional herbal medicine in all places where this plant grows naturally. Herbal practitioners value this herb for its antiseptic properties. It is often used for treating respiratory problems, coughs, diarrhea, stomach ache, fever, angina pectoris, dengue and malarial fevers, toothache, headache and yaws.
An infusion prepared from the leaves and roots of musk plant is employed in the form of an emetic. Apparently, inhaling the aroma of the crushed leaves of this plant helps to alleviate headaches.
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It has been found that the essential oil extracted from the leaves of musk plant possesses mild anti-malarial activity against two different strains of Plasmodium falciparum. A diterpene present in musk plant has anti-spasmodic activity similar to that of papaverine.
An extract from musk plant leaf contains 80% ethanol and findings of several studies have shown that it possesses anti-viral and anti-microbial activities. This extract is effective in slowing down the growth of Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Microsporum canis, Mycobacterium smegmatis, and Trichophyton mentagrophytes.
More often than not, the musk plant has a preference for a sun-lit position. However, when this plant is grown in extremely hot regions, it grows better when positioned in partial shade. This herb flourishes when grown in light well composted soil with adequate drainage. Musk plant grows somewhat rapidly and can grow to a height of 80 cm just in one year. Musk plant also starts flowering in a year from the day of sowing its seed. The plant is not loathed to trimming and it is best to prune the hard parts once the flowering season is over. This will help the plant to remain tidy as well as floriferous. This species is dioecious in nature. In other words, the plants are either male or female plants, and it is essential to grow both forms in close vicinity if one desires to procure its seeds.
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Musk plant grows rather rapidly and fills up the empty spaces very fast. This plant has a preference for regular watering during the summer months, but hardly requires any watering in winter. This species can be easily propagated from its cuttings. Since musk plant is a rapidly growing shrub, it needs to be trimmed after every flowering season. You can grow this species in a pot or in the form of an ornamental plant in your garden.
Several therapeutically active compounds found in the musk plant include diterpenes, an essential oil (1.9%) - the main constituents of which are α-terpineol (22.6%), β-caryophyllene (7.9%), fenchone (13.6%), phytosterols and perillyl alcohol (6.0%).