An inventory of Vhavenḓa useful plants

K. Magwede, B. E. van Wyk, A. E. van Wyk

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73 Citations (Scopus)


An inventory and analysis of the general uses of plants by the Vhavenḓa, a cultural group who historically occupied the region known as Venḓa, currently referred to as the Vhembe District, Limpopo Province, South Africa, are presented. Information on plant uses was gathered through a literature review and interviews conducted amongst Tshivenḓa-speaking rural communities in the Vhembe District. The aim of the study was to document all Vhavenḓa useful plants, i.e., all plants of cultural and practical importance in fulfilling the everyday needs of the people. A total of 574 plant species from 355 genera and 121 families was recorded. In addition 897 vernacular names have been recorded, of which 224 (25%) is published here for the first time. The list includes 189 trees, 143 shrubs, 170 herbs, 44 climbers, 21 grasses, four sedges, one parasite and two epiphytes. The number of species in the main use categories are as follow: medicine (384), vegetables (128), edible fruits (123), firewood (101), craftwork (93), construction (91), magic (45), beverages (34), cordage (31), ornamental (26), shade (22), fodder (16), birdlime or rubber (14), famine foods (11), snuff ingredient (11), edible caterpillars feeding on leaves (10), dyes and leather tanning (eight), live fence (seven), vegetable condiments (six) and fish poisons (six). Minor uses include edible seeds, edible cooked tubers, edible flower nectar, ritual purposes, edible gum, edible root tubers, edible rhizomes, edible gums, musical flutes, edible nuts, edible corn, edible leaf sap, soda for cooking vegetables, coffee substitutes, toothbrushes, polish, cosmetic oil, arrow poisons, insects repellents, soap substitutes, adhesives, toys and others. The top ten plant families i.e., those contributing the highest number of useful plant species are Fabaceae/Leguminosae (64 spp.), Asteraceae (33 spp.), Malvaceae s.l. (32 spp.), Apocynaceae s.l. (24 spp.), Euphorbiaceae (22 spp.), Poaceae (21 spp.), Rubiaceae (20 spp.), Solanaceae (20 spp.), Amaranthaceae (19 spp.) and Cucurbitaceae (18 spp.). The data is not only a contribution to the cultural heritage of the Vhavenḓa, but also of considerable scientific and practical interest. It provides the basic information that researchers can use to compare historical and contemporary biocultural plant-use patterns in southern Africa, as well as in controlled future studies to test the efficacy/merits of specific uses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-89
Number of pages33
JournalSouth African Journal of Botany
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • Checklist
  • South Africa
  • Soutpansberg
  • Traditional plant use
  • Tshivenḓa
  • Useful plants
  • Venda
  • Vhavenḓa ethnobotany
  • Vhembe District

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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