Gladiolus; Gladiolus natalensis
Most Europeans are under the wrong impression on the origins of this wonderful plant. The Gladiolus was first discovered near the end of its range in KwaZulu Natal in the late 1820's. The name G. natalensis was then used for the species farmed in Holland. Professor C.G.C. Reinwardt at Leyden distributed plants under this name to growers. No other species of the genus has caused so much taxonomic confusion and misunderstanding. It was given no fewer than 27 synonyms based on plants from tropical Africa and Madagascar, and 14 more based on southern Africa collections.
Gladiolus occurs virtually throughout the grasslands, savannas and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. It also occurs in Arabia and Madagascar. Across its range there are a number of variants, the most important of which are two exclusively tropical African subspecies. How much of the Gladiolus remarkable wide distribution across Africa is due to deliberate human activity, we may never know.
A strikingly ornamental plant, Gladiolus is widely cultivated. A southern Africa form, flowering in late summer, is perhaps the best known in horticulture. The species was well established by 1866 in the gardens of Europe. More important, however, than its value as a wild species in gardens, is the role of the Gladiolus from southern Africa in the breeding of the modern Gladiolus hybrids. It is one of the species that led to the development of the large-flowered Gladiolus cultivars, which are today among the world's most important cut-flower crops.
Gladiolus is an African medicinal plant recorded in the human pharmacopoeia. Gladiolus is recorded (under several of its synonyms) as being used in southern Africa in treating a variety of ailments, including diarrhea and colds. It is a common component of the African herbalist's medicine horn, the "lenaka.”
Many African herbalists consider the Gladiolus to be a magical medicinal plant as it is used for the treatment of dysentery, constipation and diarrhoea. Ethno-botanical information has also noted that the Gladiolus is widely used throughout sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the best natural human system regulators known to man.
It is often prescribed as a booster for patients with low energy levels and for hypochondriacs. An added benefit is regular bowel movements.
In parts of West Africa, Gladiolus is used in preparations to cure both constipation and severe dysentery. At least in West Africa there are records that G. dalenii is cultivated on farms in the forest, where it was introduced from the savannah country to the north.
Corms (bulblike underground stem) of G. dalenii are used as food in southern Congo (Zaire). The starchy corms are boiled and then leached in water before consumption.
The corm of Gladiolus edulis Burch. is edible. The Tswana eat the corm and small animals are recorded as eating it as well. The baboon and impala are animals that often dig the corm and eat it.
The southern Sotho use Gladiolus Dieterlenii Phillips with other plants as an enema as a remedy for lumbago and headaches. A decoction of the corn of Gladiolus ecklonii Lehm. is taken for the relief of rheumatic pains.
The Zulu make a medicine, to facilitate the birth of the placenta, from the corm of Gladiolus ludwigii Pappe and administer a decoction of the corm as an enema to relieve dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation). The corm is used in southern Africa as a remedy for impotency. The Swati use a decoction of the corm of Gladiolus multiflorus Bak. for dysentery.
The cooked corm of Gladiolus saundersii Hook. f. is eaten along with food by the southern Sotho for the relief of diarrhea. A decoction of the corm of Gladiolus psittacinus Hook. is said to be an herbal remedy for colds and dysentery.
The Shangaan use Gladiolus in conjunction with other medicinal plants and natural ingredients for a variety of ailments including hemorrhoids and epilepsy.
Note: Gladiolus medicinal properties change according to the environment in which it is found. Climate and soil play an important role in the concentration of its active ingredients and medicinal properties.