Eriocephalus is a genus of African flowering plants in the daisy family.
The plants are more or less sclerophyllous bushes or shrublets, some species tending to be thorny, leaves silky-greyish, most species are finely villous, but some are glabrous. They have a characteristic, somewhat spicy aroma, especially when bruised. It has been compared to the scent of rosemary, though it is not convincingly so. However, the plants have been used similarly in cooking. The leaves are generally ericoid, alternate or sub-opposite, often fascicled.
The flowering heads are small, with short, racemose, or sub-umbellate peduncles. In a few species, the flowers are solitary. The flowers are heterogamous, with a few female florets in each head and several bisexual, sterile disk florets. The head becomes very woolly after flowering, surrounded by involucral bracts. The receptacle is paleate and woolly.
The various species occur mainly in South Africa and Namibia.
Medicinal and other Uses:
Free-range livestock browses the plants to different degrees. Along with various other Karooid bushes, this lends the meat a distinctive flavor and a character that some people relish in Karoo lamb, for example.
Various species also have been used widely in folk medicine. When lightly rubbed, the leaf of Eriocephalus africanus has a pleasant odor. The plant yields 0.3% of a dark green petroleum ether extract, which, on steam distillation in vacuo, delivers 10 to 15 percent of a relatively viscous, yellowish, volatile oil. It has an herbaceous and balsamic odor. This species, Eriocephalus ericoides, and also Eriocephalus racemosus, have been used at the Cape for their diaphoretic and diuretic effects.
Together with Metalasia muricata, Eriocephalus punctulatus has been used by the Southern Sotho to fumigate the hut of a person suffering from a cold or diarrhea and to fumigate a hut during illness or after death.
The Nama used a decoction of Eriocephalus umbellulatus DC., as a colic remedy, and the early Cape settlers used it similarly. Extraction yields a light-yellow volatile oil with a sharp, pleasant, aromatic odor and a burning taste. Until modern times the plant has been used as a household medicine in the Western Province, as a tincture for heart troubles and edema, and as a foot bath for various conditions.
Some species and varieties are gaining in popularity as garden plants, partly because of their herbal and culinary value, and partly because of their Karooid character and attractive, persistently snowy appearance, both in flower and seed. They also are valued in bird-friendly gardens because some species of birds actively collect the woolliness of the empty seed follicles for their nests.
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PS. I am busy saving for a few upcoming Landscape Photography Trips to Scotland, and Namibia, a few road trips in the USA, including Route 66, and a few local National Parks and Botanical gardens in South Africa. The most important trip is honoring my promise to Dad to return to Scotland and capture the beautiful landscapes and Puffins. Your help to make these trips a reality would be much appreciated in today’s economy.