Plant Power

Indoor plants are the best way to bring nature into the home. But when thinking about which plant to choose, do you consider whether it’s indigenous, and how and where it was grown? This article will explore the best indigenous plants to include in each area of your home, the benefits and uses of each, and why we should be asking for organically grown when looking to green our spaces. 

Benefits of Organically Grown Indigenous Plants

  • Many can be harvested for flavourful foods, health-promoting tonics, delicious teas and other beverages, fragrant crafts, and first aid remedies. 
  • All play a role in biodiversity conservation, helping to restore local ecosystems and provide habitats for wildlife.
  • They support the local wellbeing economy, helping to create meaningful nature-friendly employment.
  • Many provide a feast for the senses, with a variety of naturally relaxing, health-promoting sights, smells, tastes and textures.
  • They create opportunities for children (and adults) to engage with nature, discovering and exploring the intricate web of life.

In the Kitchen

Indigenous plants well suited to the kitchen include culinary herbs, edible plants and first aid remedies. 

Aromatic herbs like African mint, wild garlic, wild rosemary and blue sage do well in large planters in sunny spots or in kitchen gardens. These fragrant, essential oil-rich plants are useful to flavour dishes, and can be used in much the same way as their overseas counterparts. Try a wild rosemary vegetable roast, new potatoes with chopped wild garlic leaves and mint, or a spekboom leaf and watermelon summer salad.  

Our indigenous herbs can also be used to create delicious beverages. Enjoy a calming yet refreshing African mint iced tea, vitamin C-rich num-num fruits in your morning smoothie, or a sprig of zesty spekboom in your gin and tonic. 

Minor ailments can be treated with indigenous first aid remedies made from your kitchen herbs. The soothing and mildly antiseptic sap from bulbine leaves and crushed spekboom leaves are useful in helping to heal minor burns and cuts in the kitchen. Try sipping on antibacterial and pain-relieving blue sage, wild garlic and honey tea to soothe a sore throat, or wild rosemary and mint tea for indigestion.

  • Bulbine – Bulbine frutescens
  • African mint – Menta longifolia
  • Wild rosemary – Eriocephalus africanus
  • Blue sage – Salvia africana
  • Spekboom – Portulacaria afra
  • Wild garlic – Tulbagia violacea
  • Num-num – Carissa macrocarpa

In the Bathroom

Bathrooms tend to have the highest humidity in the home, and suit plants that like the extra moisture in the air. Ferns enjoy this climate, and our indigenous krauss spike moss is a good choice here. Plants that are happy in lower light levels are also suited to bathrooms. Spatula-leaf crassula and hen-and-chickens look beautiful cascading down from a shelf or hanging baskets. The zebra plant is an easy-care option that looks great on a bright bathroom windowsill or countertop.

  • Krauss spike moss - Selaginella kraussiana
  • Spatula-leaf crassula - Crassula spathulata
  • Hen-and-chickens - Chlorophytum comosum
  • Zebra plant - Haworthiopsis attenuata

In the Bedroom

We spend a considerable amount of our lives tucked up in our beds, and quality sleep is vital for our wellbeing. Plants can play an important role in creating a peaceful space that encourages relaxation and calmness, and is conducive to deep restorative sleep. Indigenous plants that add sensual and calming interest to bedrooms include fragrant plants, small succulents and trailing creepers. The gardenia tree, with its aromatic white flowers and thicket spurflower with scented leaves, is happy in bright light areas.  Gorgeous rose- and peppermint-scented pelargoniums need some sun, and are best placed on a windowsill or sunny spot. Indigenous trailing plants to consider for a hanging basket or shelf include Cape ivy and canary creeper.  And for the romantics, look out for the extraordinary David’s root with its soft heart-shaped leaves.

  • Cape ivy - Senecio macroglossus
  • Canary creeper - Senecio tamoides
  • Gasteria - Gasteria liliputana var. bicolor
  • Gardenia tree - Gardenia thunbergia
  • Thicket spurflower - Plectranthus madagascariensis
  • Rose-scented geranium - Pelargonium graveolens
  • Peppermint-scented geranium - Pelargonium tomentosum

In the Living Area

Living rooms can provide a variety of plant-friendly spaces, and extra floor space may allow for larger plants and even small trees. Many of our indigenous fig trees, for example, are happy in bright to medium light. This includes the forest fig tree, which looks beautiful growing tall in a corner of the room. The large-leaf dragon tree is another option that grows tall and slim and enjoys medium to high light. The bird of paradise provides a spectacular indoor option in areas with a lot of bright light, as do our indigenous wild olive and sand olive trees.

  • Large-leaf dragon tree - Dracaena aletriformis
  • Forest fig - Ficus craterostoma
  • Bird of paradise - Strelitzia reginae
  • Sand olive - Dodonaea viscosa var. angustifolia
  • Wild olive - Olea europaea subsp. africana

Balconies & Small Gardens

If you are lucky enough to have a balcony or garden, you can greatly expand on how you create with nature and nurture wellbeing with organically grown, indigenous plants. If you do not have an outside area, explore if there are any spaces in your neighbourhood or at work that would be suitable.

By selecting the correct plants for your specific environment, you can create habitats for wildlife including birds, bees and butterflies, and play a role in biodiversity conservation. If you like entertaining, perhaps consider a garden full of fragrant aromatic plants and culinary herbs to flavour your inspired indigenous food dishes and drinks. Or what about an indigenous medicine garden where you can harvest useful, beneficial plants for your family and pets, and create first aid remedies for many common minor complaints?

  • Cape aloe – Aloe ferox
  • Spicy buchu – Agathosma capensis; Garlic buchu - Agathosma apiculata
  • Pig's ears – Cotyledon orbiculata
  • Starry wild jasmine - Jasminum multipartitum
  • Sour fig – Carpobrotus edulis

Plants add softness to the home, and a green haven to which to return. They’re fun to share with family and friends, and offer a means to connect with each other and nature. Owning organically grown indigenous plants takes this wellbeing-promoting ability to a whole new level - from conserving local biodiversity to soothing a sore throat, all while doing no harm. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cara Harris is the Creative Director of HAPPY BY NATURE, an indigenous nursery, nature shop and event space that promotes wellbeing in the middle of the Mother City. Everything they create and curate is locally sourced and organically grown. They are passionate about assisting Capetonians in creating urban gardens and green living/work spaces that nurture wellbeing. Whether you need a plant or nature-inspired gift, want to attend a workshop, require a consultation or just need a moment to reconnect with nature, pop in for a visit. They are always ready to share their wealth of knowledge over a glass of homemade herbal iced tea. www.happybynature.com