22 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Plant Wisdom of Hans Jumat

The Baviaanskloof is a long narrow valley in South Africa’s south-eastern quarter. Alongside the river that flows down its middle are farms. But the mountains themselves are wild - parts of them essentially unexplored and trackless.

On a farm called Bokkedaat we were introduced to a man called Hans Jumat, a grey-haired man with a young, interested face who pays attention to plants.

Hans never went to school and is completely illiterate. He doesn’t know a single Latin name for a plant - he calls them by their real names, he says.  But his knowledge is extensive, and he’s taught the odd botanist a thing or two about the plants in this region, part of a World Heritage Site.

His plant knowledge, he says, comes from his mother. She too was a farmworker, but knew about plants, which ones healed, which ones could be eaten.

He shows us the bloubos (which has blue ash when burnt, and which has berries loved by baboons). It burns so quickly and leaves so few coals that it’s said that the man who brings these branches home for kindling it heading for divorce.

Then the taaibos (which literally means ‘tough bush’, impossible to break after rain),  and the renosterbos (rhino bush) that heals a person of heartburn if you stew its stems and leaves in hot water.

There is kaaingbos, which has fatty-tasting seeds (kaaing is mutton fat, grilled to a crisp).

Further on, we see a kapokbos (snow bush) in full fluffy white flower. Then there is the wolwedoring, a raggedy looking tall shrub which only has leaves in winter. For a child with ear infection, take seven leaves, bruise them and wet them. Take the juice and put in child’s ear.

Every now and then Hans bends over and affectionately passes his fingers over a plant - they are like old friends to him.

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