Phil Clisby is guided through the mysteries of Nyika’s natural remedies
ou can use this to cure nosebleeds,” Whyte Mhone – our guide from Chelinda Lodge, high up on the Nyika Plateau – informs us, picking up a porcupine quill he has spotted lying abandoned on the track. “If you burn the end and sniff it, it aids clotting.”
As if this doesn’t seem far-fetched enough, he tells us about a friend of his at guiding school who came to the aid of a colleague who was suffering from a nose raining blood.
“Get some elephant dung, put it in a roll up and smoke it,” he told him. Unbelievably, his friend did – and, what do you know, the bleeding stopped.
I don’t know about you, but I now never leave home without some cigarette papers and a bag of elephant poo.
A relatively small man, with a thinning head of hair and a neat moustache, Whyte cuts a dashing figure in his uniform, complete with baseball cap and trousers tucked into his socks to guard against the wet grass – the plateau still damp from the rains that preceded my arrival.
As we continue on foot through the bush, Whyte extols the virtues of several more of Nyika’s resident plants.
“This is Artemesia – it’s added to anti-malarial tablets,” he says, pointing out a shrub with a grayish-green foliage.
As you would expect, Whyte is a wealth of knowledge about the habitat he operates in. But it is the way he brings the area to life with his stories that captivates me.
“In the villages they crush it and sniff it to cure coughs and blocked noses,” he adds.
We stop for a rest on the banks of Kaulime Lake. Folklore says that the lake is home to ancestral spirits who boast magical powers. “They are said to protect the area,” Whyte tells us. “If you are hunting, [the local people] believe that you should not kill more than two animals – enough to eat – otherwise problems or accidents will happen.”
The water is also believed to have special healing powers. “There was a very sick boy in the village, so the family went to the natural healer,” Whyte recounts. “He told the family to collect some water from the lake. So they took a white chicken and offered it as a sacrifice to the spirits. They took some lake water back to the healer, who mixed it with some herbs [and gave it to the boy]. The boy started speaking again and got better.”
Whyte says that many people come to the lake if they have problems or if they need good luck, praying that the spirits of their ancestors can help.
Interestingly, he adds, when trout were introduced into the various lakes around the plateau, Kaulime was the only one where the population didn’t prosper. The wrath of the gods, perhaps?
Further on, dotted among the swathes of silver and brown fern is a striking, feathery-leaved shrub that seems at odds with its plant neighbours. There is an arresting aroma in the air that for some reason makes me feel hungry.
“The currybush,” explains Whyte. “Antelope can’t eat the fern, but they love a good curry.”