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Mood-lifting South African Plant To Be Researched

October 2, 2010

A plant that has been used for hundreds of years by indigenous South Africans for reducing stress, relieving hunger, sedating and elevating moods, has now been approved for study and market, and it could soon be for sale over-the-counter worldwide.

The plant, sceletium tortuosum, has great potential and could boost the local economy, researchers studying the plant and its effects told the Associated Press (AP).

The American pharmaceutical company working on the project said, however, that it does not know if the plant has been approved by the US government, or how soon it could be available to customers.

South Africa’s environmental minister journeyed to the country’s southwest on Friday, where the plant is found, to celebrate the issuing of the license of the indigenous plant to South African HGH Pharmaceuticals.

HGH has yet to register the product, which will be marketed as a dietary supplement, as the company is still compiling data. “We’re positioning (the product) for everyday people who are having a stressful time in the office, feeling a bit of social anxiety, tension or in a low mood,” HGH’s director of research, Nigel Gericke, told AP.

The plant, known as Kanna, Channa or Kougoed by native South Africans, has been used by the San people for hundreds of years to cut down hunger, thirst and reduce fatigue. The plant is said to also have sedative, hypnotic and mood-elevating effects. It is usually chewed, but can also be made into tea or be smoked.

The plant has been extensively researched and has been found to have no ill effects or evidence of dependency, according to Ben-Erik Van Wyk, a professor of botany and plant biotechnology at the University of Johannesburg, who studied the plant.

Van Wyk, who worked with a researcher at HGH but is not involved in the project, told AP that he hopes the plant will draw attention to the wisdom of the ancient San people and their culture.

The plant gives off a minor head rush when chewed, similar to the effect of smoking a cigarette, Van Wyk said, adding it is a product with much potential. “Anyone who has chewed it and has experienced the sensation of the plant definitely knows there’s something happening.”

Traditional remedies are quite often shunned as an old-fashioned, old wives’ tale, and often outdated. “If this product becomes a huge success, the culture will become more respected and better known,” said Van Wyk.

Gericke first discovered the plant in 1985 while browsing through a botanical book in a library in Australia. When he returned to South Africa, he and a psychiatrist searched for the plant to research its doses and side effects.

HGH has an agreement with New Jersey-based PL Thomas & Company, which plans to launch the product in 2011, according to a spokeswoman.

However, it could be some time before US consumers get a chance to try a pill containing the plant’s extracts, which HGH hopes to market over-the-counter as Zembrin. The HGH spokeswoman said she was not aware whether the product has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

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