A South African Ethnobotanist Breathes Life Into Plant Medicine


Jean-Francois Sobiecki

phytoalchemy-logo-s-300pixelAn Intro

Jean-Francois Sobiecki is a qualified South African ethnobotanist (medicinal plant researcher), herbalist, intuitive healer + nutritionist.

His life has been an initiation into:

+ Traditional Medicine

+ Healing

+ Personal Growth

+ Transformation


A Gift From Mom

Early in his journey, Jean discovered he had healers in his family from his mother’s side. This made him realize his attraction to healing plants was a gift from his family to help others later in his life.  Growing up, Jean went through the typical wounded healer’s crisis: he felt overwhelmed by being sensitive to energy + feeling, which later he developed as a means to heal others.

Jean has a practice called “Phyto (pronounced-Fyto) Alchemy”.Being a Phytoalchemist refers to Jeans path of using plant medicines
to help heal and transform his and others lives. He learnt from a young age about medicinal plants from encyclopaedias + his garden. His knowledge was intensified at a later age by a masterful South African traditional healer. At the same time, he was initiated with powerful plant medicines such as “ayahuasca”, “san pedro” + “ubulawu”.

Psychoactive cleansing plant; Silene Species

Learning With Jean

Jean uses all the techniques + processes he learnt on his path to guide his patients today in his practice.

+ Re-awakening the visualization world he learnt through western magician archetype mentors

+ Inner child work

+ Self-esteem counselling

+ South African traditional medicine initiation

Despite all the knowledge I gained from books + personal experience, I would not have made most of my growth without the help and teaching from my mentors


Traders + Healers in Johannesburg’s “Muti” Market


Diviners + Herbalists

Jean did anthropological fieldwork in the late 90’s to investigate the role of medicinal plants in the practice of South African traditional healers: the Izangoma (diviners) + the Izinyanga (herbalists). It was during this era that Jean met his most significant mentor, Mrs Letty Mamonyai Maponya.

Letty would become a close friend + teacher over the next 14 years, with whom he would learn about the world of African Traditional Medicine, healing + psychoactive (nervous system healing) plants.

Traditional Healing is really holistic healing combined with medicine. The Traditional Healer uses talk therapy (counselling), bone throwing (a divination similar to tarot cards), lifestyle guidance, as well as providing medicinal plants. This is all with the aim to help his or her patient to be well

Steaming Medicines

Medicinal plants are used in very practical ways in South African Traditional Medicine (SATM). The use of steaming medicines, for example, is very healing + relaxing:

+ Powdered-ground down tree barks are placed in a plastic washbasin

+ Boiling water is placed on them

+ They produce a steam

This steaming helps detox the skin as well as the mind from impurities. Westerns could benefit enormously from utilizing this simple yet effective treatment method, which we have mostly forgotten in modern day society!


Plants That Heal

Southern Africa is not only the cradle of humankind but also of medicinal + psychoactive plants. There are literally hundreds of plants that are used to heal nervous system conditions which require further investigation.

Jean has discovered through his research that both South American + South African healers use medicinal plants in the same initiation sequence in order to heal psychological illness. This could indicate a cross cultural technology of holistic medicine therapy-that most are not aware of.

This is a picture of “bozizo”


A powerful category of body cleansing + mind healing plant medicines
is “ubulawu”. It is used to cleanse the body of phlegm in order to open the mind. It leads to enhanced intuition + sensitivity. Jean warns that these particular ubulawu medicines should not be experimented with through online purchasing + without a traditional healer’s guidance. They can cause psychological confusion + harm when the wrong species are provided (species which Jean is finding from many ethnobotanical suppliers) or used incorrectly in the non-traditional methods.

Western experimenters are using powdered capsules. But traditionally they are used in small amounts with large amounts of water – 5 litres of water – to vomit + cleanse the stomach + chest with! This is a very old, trusted practice in many countries. South America, India, ancient Greece + Africa are all examples of where such practices have anciently been used. It’s alarming we have lost connection with it to such an large extent as modern people!

Preparing “Ubulawu” correctly

Plant Baths

Plant baths are also a very effective means to heal, that many westerners are not familiar with.

Jean’s passion is to teach people how to use plants in these ways:

+ To cleanse

+ To open

+ To strengthen a person

Khanyisa Healing Garden

Jean is currently in the process of creating a network of healing + research gardens (the Khanyisa Healing Garden Project) where this knowledge can be documented, preserved, studied + utilised for future generations for healing + community building.

While this project is being established, Jean is offering medicinal plant tours + private training for people who want to learn about these plants + traditional holistic healing as well as facilitating the ubulawu process of healing.    

While traditional medicine has much magical thinking that is over-sensationalized, there are many ways to use the traditional plant medicines: for healing physical illness, as tools for self enquiry, as a means of growth + self mastery. These ways are waiting to be taught to the western world!

Jean-Francois Sobiecki, one of South Africa’s leading specialist ethnobotanists (medicinal plant researchers) + a traditionally trained herbalist healer (Inyanga) offers:

+ Full or half day guided traditional medicine tours of the Johannesburg Muti (medicinal plant market) as well as the beautiful Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve in the South of Johannesburg

The aim is to explore + learn about African Traditional Healing + Medicine Practices

“Ubulawu” Medicine. It opens the mind to dreaming + intuition


+ Private half or full day tours with Jean = R2700.00 ($200) per person.
+ Group full day tour = R1800.00 ($135) per person on group tours (2 or more people).


To contact Jean: phytoalchemist@gmail.com, +27 76 163 0504. Practice: www.phytoalchemy.co.za

Research sites: http://www.ethnobotany.co.za/index.php/projects and www.khanyisagarden.co.za.

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