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The real life magic of magic guarri

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

This blog is by Bushwise Professional Field Guide student Molly Swan. As part of their training, each student submits a researched blog based on a topic of their choice. 

3 min read

South Africa is known to many as a place to visit to see stunning animals such as elephants, rhinos, lions and cheetahs. But if you look closer, you can see and learn so much more. As you immerse yourself, you start to feel calm and revived and you start to ask, why do I feel this way and why does nature have this effect on people? 

Those who are spiritual find a deep connection here in the bush and some refer to it as magical. Healing medicinal properties and sacred cultural beliefs stare you right in the face in the form of trees, plants and flowers.

The magic guarri tree


A magic guarri tree against a backdrop of a dam in the African bushveld. This photo was taken by the author.

The magic guarri tree is found all over the bushveld and holds many secrets in its sacred and medicinal ways. Its scientific name is Euclea divinorum. Euclea comes from the Greek word for ‘famous’ (referring to the fine wood) and divinorum is a reference to the medicinal diviners in Africa.

You will often find it alongside thorn bushes, and it does not discriminate with soil type which is why you can spot so many along thickets. You will know it’s a magic guarri because of its dense shrub shape, its pronounced wavy leaves and clusters of berry shaped fruit. The bark also has a greyish-greenish appearance that is lighter than other varieties. 

Birds and kudu enjoy snacking on the guarri tree, but most other animals stay clear of this one due to its unpleasant taste.

But why is it called the magic guarri? 

A giraffe feeds on the leaves of a guarri tree.

The Zulu culture believes that if you chop down the entire plant their whole kraal – an enclosed shelter for huts or cattle – will be destroyed. In other cultures, they will hang a piece of the branch at the entrance of their homes to repel witches and evil spirits. It is also believed that if you carry a piece of the plant with you, it will bring you good luck, and it might even help you find that special animal you have come all the way to South Africa to see. 

Making an infusion or powder from the roots of the tree, the guarri is said to have many medicinal properties. These include but are not limited to treatment for headache and toothaches, constipation, diarrhoea, convulsions, and infertility. It can also relieve abdominal pains and pains during pregnancy.

Practical uses of guarri

A Bushwise student and trainer cew on the stem of a Magic Guarri tree, turning it into a tooth brush (one of the plant’s many practical uses in the bush).

One of the most creative ways you can use the guarri is by using it as a toothbrush. Scrape away the outer bark of the branch and expose the green. Then place the branch in your mouth and start chewing, you will then notice the ends start to separate into nature’s own toothbrush. Of course, if nature provides a toothbrush, it must also provide toothpaste? Indeed, it does! From the ash of the leadwood tree – which is now a protected tree.

The roots are also used in other creative ways such as using the dark brown dye for basket ware, brewing beer and even lipstick. The fruit from the tree makes a beautiful purple dye. Because the wood is hard and somewhat heavy, it used to be used to make fence posts, mine props, hoes and railway sleepers. 

The magic doesn’t stop here. If a fire breaks out and there is no fire truck nearby, you can use one of the guarri’s branches with leaves on it to beat out the fire. This works because of the shiny, waxy coating on the leaves that do not fall off easily. It looks similar to a broom when in action. 

There are indeed three other types of guarri that we have seen here in the Lowveld: common (Euclea undulata), blue (Euclea crispa) and Karoo (Euclea ovata). Just as beautiful but perhaps not as ‘magical’. 

So next time you are in the bush look for the magic guarri and see what luck it brings you!

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