Ubulawu: Africa’s Self Transformation Plant Healing Medicine

Phytoalchemist-Herbalist-Medicinal Plant Researcher: Jean-Francois Sobiecki. BSc.Hons. EthnoBot. (UJ)., Dipl Clin Nutr. (Aus).




My path as a herbalist healer took a long time to realize where I was for many years seeking answers to who I am. The path was not easy, yet I found great breakthroughs with plant medicines such as Ayahuasca and then later in my African healing training with Ubulawu– an African Teacher Plant medicine that helped me see or face who I am. In this article I will share with you more about this mirror medicine that I believe can help many people to connect to the deepest parts of themselves on the path of self enquiry.

Ubulawu is an undiscovered − to Western society, yet is an anciently used African plant medicine that heals the body and mind. Ubulawu is commonly used in African society to open dreaming and intuitive sensitivity and this is why I think they are called “lucky medicines” because it is lucky to experience these things. Ubulawu is made mostly from the roots but sometimes the stems or bark of particular subtle acting African psychoactive plants. Though a number of different species are used as ubulawu in Southern Africa, what is common to all these species and what makes ubulawu, ubulawu, is its ability to open the mind and increase sensitivity and intuition.

Ubulawu is a powerful medicine to enhance ones ability to listen to ones deeper personal truths.

How It Is Made

Ubulawu is prepared by soaking a certain amount of the roots or stems into 5 to 10 litres of water. This preparation is churned with a forked stick usually made from other medicinal trees. The species used in ubulawu often produces foam when churned though this is not always the case. In the morning, first thing before food or liquids are consumed, the person churns the ubulawu (ideally in a quiet, undisturbed space where one can burn a candle and have objects of prayer and spiritual devotion) and one can typically pray to ones ancestral relatives, angels or whatever one believes in, to acknowledge their place and yours in the Universe we live in, as well as to the medicine itself for healing and knowing. The person then drinks enough of this liquid to feel full and then vomiting is induced with two fingers placed to the back of the throat.


Who Traditionally Makes It

Ubulawu is used by the indigenous people of Southern Africa to cleanse the body so as to cleanse the mind and to open knowing. Vomiting, or what can be called emesis therapy, is an important treatment method used in both African and Ayurvedic (Indian) traditional medicine (Sobiecki, 2012). In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as vamana therapy, and is used to rid the body of excess mucus and water (that is known as kapha) that collects on the lungs and “disturbs the mind and clouds the senses” (Sobiecki, 2012). This is the same purpose that the medicine has in Southern African healing as my late teacher Mrs Letty Maponya indicated when she said: ““It [ubulawu] is important to clear the lungs, which if she does not do, “clouds her inner vision.” (Sobiecki, 2012). There is an important relationship between having a clean body (chest and stomach) and a clean and open mind in African traditional medicine.

Opening Intuition + Dream Life

South African traditional healers use ubulawu to open their intuition and dreaming and to increase their learning ability. Some species are also used for people who need to heal aspects of their minds, while laypeople use it for dreaming and to increase general health and energy. It is a wonderful tool for integrating the self. Thus, ubulawu can be said to be both a physical and psycho-spiritual healing medicine. My late teacher explained that ubulawu as a medicine “gives you who you are” (Sobiecki, 2012). This in my experience is exactly what the medicine does, by slowly encouraging an opening of ones own deeper awareness one can face deeper questions about ones life and therefore the medicine can teach you about yourself. In this way ubulawu is similar to the psychoactive plant teachers of the Amazon, both having the ability for one to learn new knowledge via the medicines.  Ubulawu works similarly to ayahuasca in opening the mind, though it does this much more gradually over days and vomiting is induced rather than occurring spontaneously as happens with Ayahusaca. Ubulawu is a legal traditional medicine.

Intense States of Introspection

From my experience the process of using ubulawu requires discipline and as it is an opening medicine, even though gradual, it can lead to intense states of self introspection and questioning after around two weeks in some cases. People differ in how fast or slow they respond with the medicine too. Therefore, using ubulawu is a process of healing that requires mentoring and guidance by a trained teacher.

Different ubulawu species should not be mixed and used without the guidance of a trained traditional healer as the incorrect mixtures can cause physical and psycho-spiritual disturbance and worsening of conditions. That is why I recommend using only one species at a time as a medicine.


As with any mind opening medicine the correct dosages is important as well as the right setting. One should try focus on ones internal process rather than be directed outwards during the time using the medicine. Social entertainment and sexual relations should be avoided. However people can still work using the medicine (day jobs) though one should try be as self focused as possible. The ability of ubulawu to open to deep states of mind and allow for dream journeying makes it very much a shamanic medicine. Ubulawu is a safe medicine though as with any vomiting therapy ubulawu is contraindicated in people with problems with digestive problems such as cardiac or gastric sphincters, reflux disease, hiatus hernia, peptic ulcer disease or surgery done on the stomach.

Cleansing The Body

From my experience ubulawu is one of the most powerful ways to cleanse the body and to open deep levels of the mind. Being initiated as an inyanga-herbalist with ubulawu it was fascinating for me to see how the medicine promoted an increased sensitivity to ordinary stimuli and like an internal mirror it slowly yet surely made me face deep questions related to my life-path.

By showing me parts of myself in this gentle yet powerful way, ubulawu can be considered a profoundly instructive plant teacher medicine that we in the West can utilize as a shamanic technology to know and heal ourselves.

“Dream Root”

A word of caution is that some ethnobotanical-psychonautical suppliers here in South Africa provide incorrectly identified plants labelled as “dream root” but that are not the correct species. I would be weary of obtaining ubulawu from online suppliers and the best approach is to work directly with a healer.


What Does Jean Do?

Jean Francois Sobiecki is a herbalist healer and qualified nutritionist and one of South Africa’s leading psychoactive medicinal plant researchers (ethnobotanists).

His work of Phyto-Alchemy (pronounced “Fyto”) is about helping teach and guide people to heal themselves with through integrating:

Life and stress-anxiety counselling, nutritional assessments, plant medicines and self development process into a medicine wheel model he calls The Phytoalchemy Self Transformation Toolbox. Ubulawu is one such tool used in this process and can be used alone without the other techniques.

He has his practice based in Fourways Johannesburg, South Africa.

For more on his work see his practice page at www.phytoalchemy.co.za and for his papers and Khanyisa Garden Projects see www.khanyisagarden.co.za

Jean can be contacted at phytoalchemist@gmail.com and he does long distance skype consultations.

Ask Jean how he can help you on your healing path today!



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