Lion’s Tail – Leonotis leonurus
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Leonotis leonurus, also known as Lion’s Tail and Wild Dagga, is a plant species in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. The plant is a broadleaf evergreen large shrub native to South Africa and southern Africa, where it is very common.
The shrub grows 1 to 2 m tall by 0.46 to 1.1 m wide. The medium-dark green 5.1–10 cm long leaves are aromatic when crushed. The plant has tubular orange flowers in tiered whorls, typical to the mint family, that encircle the square stems. They rise above the foliage mass during the summer season, with flowering continuing into winter in warmer climates.
In its native habitats Leonotis leonurus attracts nectivorous birds, as well as various insects such as butterflies. The flowers’ mainly orange to orange-red colour and tubular shape are indicative of its co-evolution with African sunbirds, which have curved bills suited to feeding from tubular flowers.
Leonotis leonurus is cultivated as an ornamental plant for its copious orange blossom spikes and accent or screening qualities for use in gardens and parks. It is a moderate drought tolerant plant, and a nectar source for birds and butterflies in landscape settings.
Lion’s tail can especially be found in other subtropical and Mediterranean climate regions beyond South Africa such as California, Hawaii, and Australia where it has naturalized in areas. In cooler climates it is used as an annual and winter conservatory plant.
An animal study in rats indicated that in high doses, lion’s tail has significant toxicological adverse effects on organs, red blood cells, white blood cells and other important bodily functions.
Leonotis leonurus has long been used in traditional African herbal medicine for fevers, headaches, dysentery, flu, chest infections, epilepsy, constipation, delayed menstruation, intestinal worms, spider bites, scorpion stings, hypertension and snakebites. Externally, it is often used for hemorrhoids, eczema, skin rashes and boils.
One experimental animal study suggests that “the aqueous leaf extract of Leonotis leonurus possesses antinociceptive, antiinflammatory, and hypoglycemic properties; thus lending pharmacological credence to folk usage of the herb in the management and/or control of painful, arthritic, and other inflammatory conditions, as well as for adult-onset, type-2 diabetes mellitus in some communities of South Africa.”
The dried leaves and flowers have a mild calming effect when smoked. In some users, the effects have been noted to be similar to the cannabinoid THC found in Cannabis, except that it has a much less potent high. It has also been reported to cause mild euphoria, visual changes, dizziness, nausea, sweating, sedation and lightheadedness.
It is sometimes used as a Cannabis substitute by recreational users as an alternative to illegal psychoactive plants. The smoke is reported to have an unpleasant taste and to be an irritant to the lungs and throat. The picked and dried leaves are also commonly brewed as a minty tea.
Warning this plant has weed potential. Harvest your flowers and keep it under control.
All information provided is for informational purposes only. Please seek professional advice before medicinal use of any plants.