Many of the medicines we find today are derived from plants that healers and herbalists have been using for centuries. The African wild potato is a good example.
The plant is native to grasslands and woodlands in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. In healthy people not taking other medicines, it’s considered nontoxic. As an herbal supplement, South Africans have used it to treat many conditions. It’s also said to ward off storms and nightmares.
Many researchers believe the African wild potato has the potential to join mainstream medicine. But most of these studies have been done in vitro or in rats. More human studies need to be done to uncover its potential benefits and potential harms.
The African wild potato goes by many names: Bantu Tulip, Papa Silvestre Africana, and Pomme de Terre Sauvage d’Afrique. Its scientific name is Hypoxis hemerocallidea. But its most common name is the African wild potato.
The plant has no relationship with the potatoes you’re probably most familiar with. It’s actually part of the lily family.
It grows about 15 inches tall and has curved, spiked leaves and bright yellow, star-shaped flowers. It also has slender corms (the bulbous base of the stem) instead of potato-like tubers.
The African wild potato contains several active ingredients that are of interest, including hypoxoside and phytochemicals.
The compound hypoxoside contains rooperol, which is an antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect the body against free radicals that can damage cells and cause many diseases. These diseases include cancer, heart failure, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Phytochemicals are substances that occur naturally in plants. They act as antioxidants in the body. Sterols and sterolins are phytochemicals in the African wild potato. Sterols and sterolins boost the immune system, and may even help reduce cholesterol.
South Africans, particularly traditional Zulu healers, have long used the African wild potato to treat many conditions. A few of these include:
- prostate disorders, like enlarged prostate and prostate cancer
- urinary tract and bladder infections
- HIV and AIDS
- inflammation, and conditions like edema and arthritis
Usually people take African wild potato by mouth, but sometimes in the form of an extract, supplement, or tea. And sometimes people apply it topically to help heal wounds or use it as a general immune booster.
While people throughout South Africa use the African wild potato, there is little research to confirm its effectiveness. More research is being conducted to test whether it can treat some medical conditions in humans. These conditions include:
Many academic sources have researched the antitumor properties of the African wild potato. Its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, and antidiabetic capabilities have been noted.
These early findings were taken from what scientists call “in vitro studies.” This means the studies were done with test tubes and not humans. Other studies have been conducted in rats.
New evidence suggests that the African wild potato can fight cancerous and premalignant cells. It also has properties that might prolong survival in patients with lung cancer. But much more research is needed to confirm its efficacy.
Type 2 diabetes
A number of studies show that the African wild potato could help manage type 2 diabetes because it would stimulate the secretion of insulin. But a South African study found that it could also impair kidney function. Research is ongoing.
The immune system
The African wild potato contains a substance called beta-sitosterol, which scientists believe could help strengthen the immune system. Results of one study showed that capsules containing beta-sitosterol can boost the immune system after physical stress, like exercise.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
South Africans have commonly used the African wild potato as an herbal treatment for HIV and AIDS. Some South African doctors prescribe it for their patients. But there is little evidence that it’s effective.
One study found that the African wild potato significantly inhibited metabolism of anti-retroviral medications. These are the highly effective drugs used to treat HIV. But other studies have not found this to be the case.
The biological agents in the African wild potato, including hypoxoside and sterols, have proven benefits. But more study in humans is needed.
The African wild potato appears safe, but may have damaging side effects, like kidney impairment, and could interfere with HIV medications. There is also no consensus on proper dosage.
You should always talk with your doctor if you are interested in using any herbal therapies, particularly if you are already taking other medications.