Kim’s healing alchemy

Kim Jones at her medicinal herb stall in St Georges Mall.

Kim Jones found her home away from home more than a decade ago in the city centre, and she found it while doing what she loves.

Kim grew up in Elsies River, but moved to Delft at a young age. She had attended Gardens Commercial High School, so the city centre was familiar to her for years before she started trading in St George’s Mall as a seller of medicinal herbs. “I knew nothing about medicinal plants when I met my business partner over a decade ago. It only became a solid interest for me about three years ago when I moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg.”

Kim moved to Johannesburg to go to culinary school, however, that did not work. “But selling medicinal herbs has always been my part-time job. Wherever I moved to, when I came back, I come right back here and fell in. This is my home away from home.”

She said after she walked out of the kitchen, she had no choice but to pursue her part-time work full-time. “There was an opportunity to learn something new and I grabbed it with both hands. I refused to walk into a kitchen after the bad experiences I’ve had, this door was opened, and I’ve loved it since. This will always be my job.”

Kim said when she started selling medicinal herbs early in her life, she didn’t know the true value of the work she did.

“Ten years ago I didn’t know what buchu (boegoe in Afrikaans) was. I didn’t think I needed to look after my body because I had a nice body. It’s when you get older and you start getting ailments and you have a child that you start looking deeper into things.”

She said one of the things she learnt from working with people is sometimes they just buy goods from someone because the person listens. “Most people just buy herbs to talk. This is a place of meaning so people gravitate towards here as a place of healing.”

She also said that most of her customers are the tourists who visit the city centre, mainly because they are very health conscious. “A lot of our tourists prefer alternative methods for health. They will rather buy something here than at the chemist. But Capetonians prefer the chemist than buying medicinal herbs.”

Kim said the herbs, which were used by the Khoi people to treat their ailments, are usually bought from the “sakmanne” (men with bags).

“I don’t go to the mountains because it’s dangerous and I’m not as fit as I used to be, and I have my son to think about.”

And there are many things to learn when you sell medicinal herbs, said Kim. “We need to know about the anatomy of the body to know what to give people. You need to understand the mental, physical and spiritual side of it, because all of those factors nourish the body. And you have to understand the herbs. If you give someone something and it doesn’t work, they’re not going to trust you.”

She said one of the most common plant is “wilde als” (umhlonyane in Xhosa and Zulu and African wormwood in English).

“Als because it’s used for everything and ‘wilde’ because of it growing wild. This grows in most people’s gardens. We’re all sitting on a gold mine and most of us don’t realise it. If you drink als every day you will never need to go to a doctor. It’s used for weight loss, as a tonic, for colds and flus, for babies and their needs, everything, but it tastes horrible.”

She said with the modern lifestyle people live these days, people have moved away from having herbs in their fridges, but it is being revived slowly.

“I’m studying winemaking and I’m hoping to infuse wines with herbs and maybe foods. We also make our own shampoo, ointment and soaps.”

She said the thing people look for most is medicine to help with ailing libidos.

“Especially on a Monday and Friday. Buchu, a herb used for urinary tract infections, I sell mostly on a Wednesday because it’s market day. And one that attracts many people is snake leaf for food poisoning.”

And although Kim spends most of her life in the city centre, she said she seldom socialises in the CBD because safety has become an issue.

“Back in the day it was safe, not anymore. Town has changed a lot, but it is understandable, with the increase in drugs and crime. Why would I want to be in a place that is not safe?

“But I keep coming back because this is my home away from home. Everyone who comes to the city has a lot to offer.”