- African Geranium
Umckaloabo (botanical name Pelargonium sidoides or P. sidoides) is a member of the geranium family and bears long, packed out, heart-shaped leaves, which are velvety, stalked and somewhat aromatic. The petals of this plant have a deep red-purple, nearly black hue and can be seen almost throughout the year. In many ways, umckaloabo are very akin to Pelargonium reniforme. However, the flowers of Pelargonium sidoides have a darker hue, nearly black, and are comparatively smaller. On the other hand, the therapeutic properties of umckaloabo seem to be of more important compared to Pelargonium reniforme. Pelargonium reniforme grows to form of a low height rosette producing greyish-green crinkled leaves having distinctly creased edges. The plants look very attractive even when they are not in bloom. As the flowers are extremely small and somewhat spidery, they do not appeal much.
Umckaloabo is found growing naturally in places where the climatic conditions range from arid to dry. Although Pelargonium sidoides possesses the aptitude to endure frosts, the plants become dormant during prolonged periods of drought or when they are grown in places having extremely cold climatic conditions. The roots of Pelargonium sidoides comprise compact, underground branched tubers. The roots of umckaloabo grow deep into the ground, enabling the plants to endure the veld fires that break out often in several areas of their natural habitat. Extracts from the root system of the herb are used to prepare several remedies.
For several centuries, inhabitants of South Africa have employed the roots of umckaloabo to prepare traditional remedies for diarrhea, respiratory problems, liver complaints and dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation). Since 1983, Pelargonium sidoides root extracts are available over-the-counter in German pharmacies and have been used extensively for treating infections of the respiratory tract, throat and the sinus. Currently, scientists are experimenting with an aqueous formulation of Pelargonium sidoides root extracts called EPs 7630® with a view to examine their potential for treating severe bronchitis, common cold and acute pharyngitis (also known as a severe non-group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus tonsillopharyngitis).
Way back in 1897, Charles Stevens left England for South Africa with the hope of curing himself of tuberculosis. In South Africa, the Englishman sought advice from a local healer belonging to the Basuto tribe who offered him a decoction prepared from a native plant. The decoction cured Charles Stevens fully and he returned to England with this strange remedy. Soon, the remedy became very popular all over Europe and was called “Steven’s Consumption Cure”. Adrien Sechehaye, a missionary physician, learnt about Steven’s cure in 1920. On his part, Adrien Sechehaye cured over 800 patients in different parts of Switzerland for the following nine years with a homeopathic version of Steven’s remedy. He published various medical case studies in 1929.
With the advent of synthetic medications for tuberculosis, people in the West almost forgot about Steven’s remedy. However, it is interesting to note that European researchers “rediscovered” the medicine recently.
It has now been learnt that the “mysterious” medicine Charles Stevens received from the traditional Basuto healer was nothing but a traditional South African remedy prepared from Pelargonium roots, which is a unique geranium species found in that country.
People in South Africa widely use the plant umckaloabo in the form of a home remedy for several health conditions. Often this herb is used in non-prescription medications for treating cold and flu. Umckaloabo is also used to prepare syrup for treating cough, tender throat and several other ailments. In addition, it is also employed for treating common respiratory problems and promoting respiratory health.
Umckaloabo, commonly known as umcka or Pelargonium sidoides, may be used successfully to treat a number of health conditions related to the respiratory tract, including common cold, infections of the upper respiratory tract, severe bronchitis and tonsillopharyngitis. In addition, this herb is effective for treating severe rhinosinusitus. Umckaloabo is an effective anti-bacterial agent and, hence, prevents bacteria from sticking to the mucus membranes. This herb is sold in various forms – tablet, cough drop and syrup, for numerous uses. When employed in the form of a home remedy, umckaloabo primarily works to cut down the ailment period and, at the same time, alleviates the symptoms. Formulations prepared from Pelargonium sidoides also work to combat bacteria, loosen up mucus and also serve as an antiviral agent.
Pelargonium sidoides also possesses the aptitude to invigorate the immune system, thereby aiding to put off the spread as well as growth of an infection. This is the main reason why many people use this herbal remedy as a substitute for various traditional antibiotics. Umckaloabo is also known to treat tuberculosis successfully. In addition, Pelargonium sidoides is also effective in treating acute as well as chronic throat, nose and ear infections.
It has also been found that umckaloabo also possesses the potential to combat H.pylori infection. This stomach bacterium is responsible for stomach ulcers. You may also use Pelargonium sidoides for treating infections by herpes simplex virus, as it is effective in preventing as well as reducing its replication.
This herbal remedy forms a part of the conventional treatment in South Africa and adjoining regions. Moreover, currently it is also used in England, Germany and various other countries.
The therapeutic attributes of Pelargonium sidoides are attributed to the various elements enclosed by the plant. Chemical analysis of the plant has revealed that it contains gallic acid, flavonoids and gallic acid methyl ester (also known as polyphenols), which mainly contribute to the herb’s curative properties. Umckaloabo also contains the essential minerals calcium and silica.
For several centuries, many native tribes of South Africa and neighbouring regions, including the Basuto, Mfengi, Xhosa and Zulu, have been using Pelargonium sidoides for treating common cold, coughs, infections and irritations of the upper respiratory tract and even gastrointestinal problems. Thanks to the advantages offered by contemporary science and modern clinical researches, we are now able to comprehend how this traditional herbal remedy works so successfully.
Findings of several researches have revealed that umckaloabo possesses antibacterial and antiviral properties. The antibacterial and antiviral effects of Pelargonium sidoides on the body are attributed to the presence of gallic acid and coumarins in the plant. It has also been found that umckaloabo works effectively to prevent bacteria and viruses from attaching to mucous membrane cells (especially those in the throat, sinuses and respiratory tract), thereby putting of the replication of these microbes. Findings of a number of studies have also shown that umckaloabo stimulates as well the macrophages in our body. In fact, macrophages work to engulf and consume pathogens, in addition to employing other lymphocytes in our body to respond to and eliminate pathogens.
Presence of too much mucous in the throat, sinuses and throat, especially those that are dense and muggy, provides an excellent hotbed for bacteria and viruses to replicate fast. Since umckaloabo possesses expectorant properties, it is effective in expelling all microbes that succeed in attaching themselves in the infected mucus. Hence, Pelargonium sidoides works to successfully prevent the further growth of the infections. In addition, it has been found that gallic acid present in umckaloabo is immunomodulatory, which means that use of this herb and formulations prepared from it facilitates in sustaining the balance of the immune system. This, in turn, helps to regulate the inflammatory process.
Pelargonium sidoides contains a number of bioactive elements, including tri-oxygenated coumarins, tetra-oxygenated coumarins, gallic acid methyl ester, gallic acid, an assortment of flavonoids, in addition to considerable amounts of essential minerals like calcium and silica. It has been found that Pelargonium sidoides encloses two different coumarins – umckalin and the 7-O-methyl ester of this coumarin, accompanied by four additional methoxycoumarins plus three distinctive coumarin sulphates. This herb also contains scopoletin as well as 6.7.8-trihydroxycoumarin.
Side effects and cautions
Although umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides) is generally known to be safe for use by most people, this herb and its therapeutic preparations should not be used by people who are known to be allergic or hypersensitive to the herb, any of its constituents or other plants belonging to the Geraniaceae family. It has been found that sometimes the use of umckaloabo results in skin rashes in humans.
In fact, as in the case of any other herb, you should check with your physician before you start using medications containing umckaloabo or any of its extracts.
Generally speaking, most people have no adverse effects due to umckaloabo, provided it is used for a short-term. Nevertheless, there have been some reports of skin rash accompanied by itching (at times occurring together with swelling under the skin or constriction of the airways, breathing problems, circulatory failure, rapid heartbeat and even diarrhea), gastrointestinal irritation and conjunctivitis following the use of this herb and/ or medical formulations prepared from it.
People suffering from liver diseases should exercise caution while using umckaloabo. Similarly, people enduring problems related to the heart should also be careful while using umckaloabo (Pelargonium sidoides). Even asthma patients should try to avoid this herb and remedies containing it or its extract.
Use of Pelargonium sidoides may augment the chances of bleeding. Hence, people suffering from bleeding disorders should exercise additional caution while using this herb. People who are taking blood-thinners or medicines that may enhance bleeding risks should also use this herb carefully. Some people taking such drugs may require dosing adjustments.
Pregnant women as well as nursing mothers should avoid umckaloabo or any medication prepared from it, as there is no scientific evidence regarding the effect of the herb on women during such periods. Similarly, children below the age of one year should not use umckaloabo under any circumstance.
In case the symptoms of a patient do not improve even using umckaloabo for some days, it is an indication of the fact that the person may be suffering from a more serious condition. In such cases it is essential to stop treatment with umckaloabo and consult a physician at the earliest. Although umcka or Pelargonium sidoides is believed to be a safe herbal remedy for most people, any person enduring kidney problems should not use this remedy. Similarly, those who are taking warfarin should also stay away from using umckaloabo.