Sceletium is found in the Succulent Karoo in South Africa from Namaqualand to Montagu and Aberdeen. It commonly occurs in quartz patches and is usually found growing under shrubs in partial shade.
The generic name Sceletium is derived from the Latin sceletus, referring to the prominent veins that persist as the skeleton-like structure of the dry leaves. The specific name tortuosum means 'twisted' or 'tortuous'. Common names in South Africa for Sceletium include Kanna (Khoi) and Kougoed (Afrikaans).
The Khoisan people of South Africa, who use the plant in traditional medicine, introduced this mood-elevating plant to the western world hundreds of years ago when South Africa was first colonised.
In recent years, preparations from Sceletium tortuosum have been commercialized as anti-depressants and to reduce anxiety, and there is high international demand for Sceletium products.
Sceletium tortuosum is an opportunistic species with a lifespan of approximately 3 to 5 years. It is easy to cultivate, and although it is grown commercially on a large scale there is tremendous conservation pressure on wild harvesting of Sceletium species.
ABioSA aims to help sector partners to open the market to Sceletium tortuosum products by formalising the industry, sustainably expanding production, ensuring consistent quality of material, and reducing market barriers.
Challenges and opportunities for the Sceletium tortuosum sector include:
- Some long-term players, but generally a burgeoning new industry with multiple new entrants
- Regulatory risk – Sceletium cannot yet be legally incorporated in products
- Risk of perception of poor quality if product is not standardised and provided at consistently high quality
- Risk of expanding faster than market demand and reducing value