Claire continues the medicinal plants series, and writes:
Thank you to Meighan (Meighan@Flickr) of Vancouver, Canada for these photograph of a fascinating shrub, Leonotis leonurus (via the BPotD Flickr Pool). Original images are here and here. Thank you, Meighan!
To some, Leonotis leonurus is best known as wild dagga (a name sometimes used for Cannabis sativa, but note that Leonotis leonurus has no biological or chemical relationship to Cannabis sativa). However, to gardeners, one of its “lion” common names (lion’s ear, lion’s claw, lion’s tail) is more often applied to this lovely perennial shrub with bright orange pubescent flowers.
The species is relatively hardy as well as being tolerant of drought. In South Africa, it is found in grasslands where it grows among rocks. Of the nine recognized species of Leonotis, Leonotis nepetifolia is the only one naturally found outside of Africa (in southern India).
Leonotis leonurus is classified in the mint family, Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae). The Lamiaceae is chock-full of aromatic, herbal, and medicinal plants such as oregano, lavender, sage, rosemary, marjoram, thyme and teak, to name just a few. The medicinal properties of Leonotus leonurus are well-known to African and east Asian cultures (the species has naturalized through much of the tropical world). The Zulu and Xhosa peoples of southern Africa (along with others) utilize this plant for both human and animal medicine, including treatment of respiratory symptoms, snake bites, and skin ailments. Premarrubiin and marrubiin are two compounds present in the plants that may be linked to healing effects, as similar compounds are used in the treatment of wet coughs and bronchial disease. Leonurine, an alkaloid present in the leaves, shoots and flowers, is a well-known active compound in some communities — it is documented to have mild sedative and euphoric effects when smoked, hence the name “wild dagga”. Indeed, Leonotis leonurus was used by the Khoikhoi people as an inebriant (PDF).
I would think the majority of us prefer to enjoy lion’s ear in our gardens, as the flowers attract bees and butterflies in addition to their beautiful orange colouration. Since it has a late flowering season, I’m hoping that Meighan’s lion’s ear survived the cold front we had last week, so that it can be enjoyed just a little longer.