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A South African Ethnobotanist Breathes Life Into Plant Medicine

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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.

❤ Africa, Blog, Port Elizabeth

Connecting To Your African Heritage This Black History Month

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The Most Famous African Proverbs

South African Ubulawu

South African traditional healers use “ubulawu” to open their intuition and dreaming and to increase their learning ability. It’s a medicianal herbal plant. 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.

I recently published a piece written by a fellow South African + bona-fide traditional Phytoalchemist/Herbalist/Medicinal Plant Researcher. His name is Jean-Francois Sobiecki. He has his Honours in Ethno-Botany + his Diploma in Clinical Nutrition.

The piece is a fascinating look at a traditional herbal plant medicine called “Ubulawu” – made mostly from the roots but sometimes the stems or bark of particular subtle acting African psychoactive plants.



Herbs are a good way to reconnect to your African heritage because they are such an intrinsic part of traditional African rural life. Indigenous people of Southern Africa use herbs to cleanse the body + treat a variety of maladies. In using natural plant medicine, they also feel they cleanse the mind + open to ‘knowing’.

South Africa’s natural vegetation boasts an abundance of herbs and flowers which can be used for healing of all kinds.

The Cape Floral Kingdom is a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering only 78,000 square kilometres and featuring over 9,000 plant species!

Did you know that traditional healers remain the first port of call for the vast majority of South Africans? Up to 80% of the population currently choose accessible + affordable home-grown herbs + plants to treat a plethora of health issues.





Here are 5 of South Africa’s Top Performing Plant Healing Medicines.


+ Anti-inflammatory

+ Antiseptic

+ Treats high blood pressure, UTI infections, arthritis, gout and countless other ailments.

D E V I L ‘ S   C L A W

+ Treats pain

+ Enhances mobility

+ Provides relief from a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions, diabetes, neuralgia, headaches and menstrual problems

A F R I C A N   P O T A T O


+ Immune boosting

+ Effective in the battle against Cancer, TB, asthma, HIV Aids and a host of other chronic conditions.

S O U T H   A F R I C A N   G E R A N I U M


+ Antibacterial

+ Antiviral

+ Treatment of chronic respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis, sore throat, sinusitis, colds and flu.

A F R I C A N   G I N G E R

+ Treatment of coughs, colds, asthma, flu, candida and menstrual cramps

You can find these products at African Botanicals. Or, alternatively, Walmart has a lot in liquid form, such as Buchu here. Also, Nature’s Way has Devil’s Claw. This website sells African Potato in a cream format here.

❤ Africa, Blog, Port Elizabeth

Ubulawu: Africa’s Self Transformation Plant Healing Medicine

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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!



Blog, Port Elizabeth

Your New Year’s Resolutions + South Africa’s 3rd Largest City

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What’s on your New Year’s Resolution list?

If it’s got anything to do with health or travel – allow me to introduce one way you could tick both boxes in one fell swoop.

Visit Durban, South Africa.

In 2014, CNN rated it as “The coolest city in South Africa you’ve never seen” (See the article here Durban City).

It’s a major center of tourism because of the city’s warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches.

F A C T S   O N   D U R B A N

  • Mahatma Ghandi, leader of the Indian independence movement, began his political journey in Durban.
  • Durban city is home to The Ushaka Marine World – the worlds 5th largest aquarium
  • Shaka Zulu, the most famous Zulu king, ruled the lands surrounding Durban. Durban’s international airport was named after him; known as “King Shaka International Airport”. Nearly seven million passengers pass through the airport each year!
  • It hosts a fantastic travel conference each year, which Skybok had the pleasure of filming. Also see photos from my Township Tour in Durban.

W H E R E   T O   E A T  +  S T A Y   W H I L E   T H E R E

With almost 4 million people, you may need some suggestions on where to eat + where to stay.

I wrote about the Banting diet a while back here on The Starlit Path. I thought seeing as it’s a brand new year, I would share it again. (We all have some unwanted Christmas / New Year’s weight to lose).

As someone who takes health seriously, I’m always looking for healthier ways of eating which aren’t just fad diets. And I need a diet I can apply to any city I’m in.

In my article I listed places you could find Banting friendly restaurants in Cape Town.

This month I’m giving you places to reach for the trendiest health snack in Durban – rated 3rd on South Africa’s list of Top 10 cities to visit!

Whether you’re on vacation in Durban or live there, allow me to showcase the best restaurants offering Banting-friendly meals PLUS the best places to stay while you’re there!


Ebb & Flo, Umhlanga Rocks


Holiday Inn Express, Umhlanga Rocks


Republik, Durban North

  • This place offers a side of chicken strips which is Banting friendly, see my recipe for something similar here to make at home as a Banting snack!!


29 B&B’s/Guest Houses to choose from at Accommodirect 


Ciao Bella Cafe, Durban Waterfront


Waterfront Hotel & Spa, Durban Waterfront


Low Carb Love, Online

  • Threw this one in ‘cos I love the website!


Durban Central

Durban Beachfront

For more of my articles on Banting including recipes for salad + carb-free cocktails – see here.

For more awesome facts on Durban – see here.

For more on accommodation choices at Accommodirect – see here.

Accommodirect has over 12,000 subscribers on Facebook + recently published a cool infographic on the most expensive + least expensive destinations in South Africa to stay overnight.

They’re also giving a way a summer getaway to the value of R10,000 over here!

Pssst. “The Grand White SA” is a stunning event coming up in Durban on April 29th – check out more + get tickets here.

Port Elizabeth

Eating Duck at Crossways Farm Village

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Highlight on Crossways Farm Village in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Throwback to Crossways Country Kitchen in South Africa! It’s out in the countryside of a region called “Nelson Mandela Bay”- named after, you guessed it! Google this part of South Africa, it’s very pretty. This particular country restaurant offers delicious breakfast & lunch options and is situated in fresh, open green hills. I especially enjoyed the crispy pork belly with sweet potato & butternut mash (R120 / $7).

Welcome to new blog followers, great to have you.

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