Many of the medicines we find in drugstores today are derived from plants that healers and herbalists have been using for centuries. The African wild potato is a prime example.
The plant is native to grasslands and woodlands in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Generally, it’s considered nontoxic. As a medicine, South Africans have used it to treat a range of ailments. As a charm, it’s said to ward off storms and nightmares.
A number of researchers believe the African wild potato has the potential to join mainstream medicine too.
You Say Potato…
The African wild potato goes by many names: Bantu Tulip, Papa Silvestre Africana, and Pomme de Terre Sauvage d'Afrique. But its most common name, African wild potato, is a misnomer.
The plant bears no relationship to the potatoes you’re probably most familiar with. It’s actually part of the lily family. It grows about 15 inches tall with curved, spike leaves and bright yellow, star-shaped flowers. It has slender corms (the bulbous base of the stem) instead of potato-like tubers.
The Special Ingredients
The African wild potato contains several active ingredients that are of medical interest, including hypoxoside and phytochemicals.
The compound hypoxoside contains a derivative known as rooperol, a proven antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect the body against free radicals that cause damage and can lead to diseases like cancer, heart failure, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Phytochemicals are substances that occur naturally in plants. They perform a number of functions, including acting as antioxidants in the body. Sterols and sterolins are phytochemicals in the African wild potato. They have fiber-like capabilities that can boost the immune system. They may even have cholesterol-reducing properties.
Putting the Wild Potato to Work
Name an ailment, and South Africans have used the African wild potato to treat it. A few of the conditions the African wild potato is used to treat include:
- prostate disorders
- urinary tract infections
- heart disease
Is It Effective?
Researchers are interested in studying the African wild as a treatment for a number of conditions.
Many academic sources have researched the anti-tumor properties of the African wild potato. Its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, and antidiabetic capabilities are well known. But new evidence suggests that phytosterols act against cancerous and premalignant cells.
Type 2 Diabetes
A number of studies, including this one, indicate the African wild potato may be useful in managing type 2 diabetes by stimulating secretion of insulin. However, a South African study found that it, and other herbal extracts use to help manage the condition, have the potential to cause a deterioration of kidney function. Research is ongoing.
The Immune System
The African wild potato contains a substance called beta-sitosterol, which is believed to help strengthen the immune system. Results of one study showed that capsules containing beta-sitosterol in a mixture can provide a boost to the immune system after physical stress, such as exercise.
Beta-sitosterol also has been used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, a common non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate.
The active biological agents in the African wild potato, including hypoxoside and sterols, have proven benefits. However, more study in humans is needed. The substance appears safe, but may have damaging side effects such as kidney impairment. There is no consensus on proper dosage.
All in all, is this spud a dud? No. But it’s not quite ready for market.