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Discover the Traditional Uses of Euclea: Magic Guarri and More

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

This blog about guarri plants was written by Bushwise Professional Field Guide student Bridget Malepe. As part of their training, each student submits a researched blog based on a topic of their choice. Opinions contained in these blogs are the student’s.

We have different species of guarri trees in the Lowveld – namely the magic guarri, Natal guarri, common guarri and blue guarri. I will only mention the ones I grew up knowing from my village – the magic and the Natal guarri. 

Magic guarri (Euclea divinorum) 

The genus name Euclea comes from Greek mythology, where the goddess Eukleia was the personification of good repute and glory. The specific name divinorum is in reference to the plants used by sangomas in the parts of Africa. 

It is an evergreen small shrub that grows mainly in drainage lines and sodic areas. The bark is smooth and gray, but it cracks when the tree gets older. The tree bears clustered berries seasonally which are favoured by birds. The leaves are not favoured by most animals as they have an unpleasant smell, but you may find kudu feeding in it mainly in dry seasons. 

Traditional remedies with guarri

The use of the plant is widely used in traditional remedies hence the divinorum part of the Latin name alludes to this trait too. Decoction of the roots can be used on babies to treat the depressed fontanel, while the infusion can treat infertility, pregnancy pains, abdominal pains, bilharzia, toothache and earache. 

An ointment prepared from the crushed dried roots materials is rubbed over the body to control convulsions or powder added to soft porridge can treat diarrhea. 

Growing up fetching water from the Olifants River, we used to put some of the branches on the surface of the bucket to act as a lid to prevent the water from splashing out. The guarri can be used to put out fire in the bush. It is also used by trackers as it takes time to dry out due to the waxy coating on the leaves, so that when animals brush through it they disturb the water, giving an indication of how recently they went by. 

Creative uses of guarri branches


An image of a magic guarri bush growing in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park.

The branches are also used in often creative ways such as a toothbrush, paint brush and water detector. To create a toothbrush you must break the branch, peel the bark, chew the end until the fibers separate and then use it to brush your teeth with the ashes of a leadwood willow tree as a toothpaste.

Back in the days guarri branches were used to detect water. To do this, you would break off a Y-shaped branch, with the shorter parts in each hand and the tail facing outwards. The tail will dip downward if there’s any water underground while surveying. 

Growing up we used to collect the berries from the tree and put them in a plastic bread bag. We’d seal the bag, crush the berries, open a small hole in a corner and drink the juice. We also used to make extra cash for ourselves by collecting berries for a family that made beer out of the berries. 

Of all its many uses, the guarri is not used for the most obvious – firewood. This is because it is believed that the tree has supernatural powers. Some tribes believe that when you hang a bit of the guarri branch on your doorstep it works as a lucky charm and wards off evil spirits and witches. 

Natal guarri (Euclea natalensis)

The Natal guarri also occurs in my guiding area. It may be confused with magic guarri but the leaves of the Natal guarri are hairy and less wavy. It grows in full or partial shade with fertile soil and moderate to good water. The fruits are more edible than the magic’s. 

Just like the magic guarri, the Natal guarri is used as medicine. The decoction of the bark and the roots can treat worms, stomach disorders, toothache, chest pains, urinary tract infection and abnormal skin growth. It can also be used as a toothbrush. 

I grew up knowing these trees and I witnessed most of its uses. I learnt to appreciate them. It’s so fascinating that one plant can do so many things. 

Did you know there were so many uses for guarri? Learn all about medicinal plants and their connection to local cultures when you experience a Bushwise course.

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