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What is Buchu?

By Geoff Wakeling
Updated: May 16, 2024

Used as a formal and common term, the word buchu is often used to describe a group of herbs in the Agathosma genus. Covering approximately 135 species that originate in Africa, the flowering plants fall into the Rutaceae family and are widely called bucco, bookoo, and boegoe in addition to buchu. There are two distinct varieties within the Agathosma genus that are formally known as buchu: the true variety Agathosma mucronulata and the false species Agathosma ovata.

Widely reputed for their traditional use as medicinal treatments, these two varieties are also often renowned for their fragrance. A small, woody-stemmed plant, they grow to between 12 and 39 inches (about 30 and 100 cm) tall with leaves growing off of the main stems in clusters. Fragrant flowers of white, red, pink, or purple are located in clusters toward the end of each stem. Hailing from Africa, the plant is often found growing on hillsides where conditions are bright, with a fertile yet well-drained soil.

Buchu leaves in particular have an extensive history for use as a medicinal herb. Exported around the world since the late 1700s, it has widely been used for treating urinary tract infections along with gastrointestinal ailments. Containing essential oils in its leaves, buchu was discovered as an early source for natural treatments. Still used in modern times to treat ailments such as cystitis and other urinary tract problems, the oil is extracted from the leaf and normally made into tea.

A buchu tea can be particularly beneficial to those who experience urinary tract conditions as it can help to break the cycle of continuous infections that affect the bladder. Boiling the leaves in hot water for a few moments before cooling off and drinking typically allows for the volatile oils to pass through the urinary tract, killing off infection-causing bacteria as it does.

Also used to combat bloating within the gut, in addition to helping stave off kidney problems and gall stones, the leaves of the buchu herb have been used to develop modern natural medicines in the form of capsules. For those not wishing to take tea infusions of the leaves, many natural health outlets provide capsules, largely used for the treatment of yeast infections.

While it has a long tradition in medicine, buchu typically is not recommended for those with serious illnesses due to the lack of knowledge surrounding possible side effects. For this reason, it also is not recommended for women who are either pregnant or breast feeding. Highly regarded for its fragrant flowers, the use of the herbs leaves for infusion also can often lead to urine that smells like black currant.

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