The Cape Snow-bush, wild Rosemary or Kapokbos (Afrikaans) Eriocephalus africanus is one of the shrubs that most people in the Cape know because it is so common in the veld and easy to identify with its thin, grey leaves, which smell like Vicks when crushed. It is also a well-known medicinal plant and an excellent shrub for the water wise garden.
Looking at the leaves that are arranged in tufts along the branches, it is easy to see a number of features that help the plant to survive with little water. Special features include the grey leaf colour which reflects sunlight and thereby reduces leaf temperature. The minute, silvery hairs covering the leaves trap moisture and thus reduce transpiration. The small, needle-shaped leaves are another adaptation that limits water loss. The aromatic oils are also thought to help reduce water loss. Shrubs growing on the coast have succulent leaves, whereas those growing away from the coast have thinner, less succulent leaves.
Flowering times vary, but the best displays are in winter when the whole shrub is covered in small, white flowers. On warm days many bees are attracted to the flowers, seeking their small amounts of nectar. Soon after flowering, fruits are formed that are covered in long, white hairs. These attractive, fluffy seed heads look like cotton wool or snow, which gave Eriocephalus the common name kapokbos in Afrikaans. (Kapok refers to snow). In the past people used to collect the heads and stuff pillows with it for a lovely fragrant sleep. I also use it in cooking as a delicious alternative to Rosemary, which always reminds me of Karoo lamb.
The Cape-Snow bush leaves are distilled to make an Essential Oil known as Cape Chamomile
- Cape Snow-bush Essential Oil is warming to the emotions and useful in the treatment of depression. It helps in the “letting go” of negative thought-forms to clear the mind and achieve a positive and gentle perspective.
- Useful in the treatments of colds and flu – eases coughing and helps the body to expel mucous.
- It also aids digestion, calms intestinal cramps, relieves flatulence and colic; and is useful in the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery.
- Cape Snow-bush Essential Oil is said to be excellent for treating scanty or painful menstruation and oedema of the legs (especially pre-menstrual oedema).
- This oil is especially useful in the treatment of patients with addictive personalities and for those who have no time to allow themselves healing.