The mountainsides of the Cape Floral Region in South Africa are a wild, magical place. The area is home to more than 9,000 plant species, 69% of which exist nowhere else in the world. The beauty of the landscape is breathtaking, but hardly fragile.
Along the rugged terrain lives the Aloe Ferox, which is somewhat prehistoric in appearance with thick rubbery spiked leaves. You don’t want to bump into this! It’s related to the Aloe Vera plant, but larger, tougher and contains five times the mineral content. In fact, “ferox” means fierce. One plant can live up to 150 years and requires less than half a cup of water a year to survive.
The Buchu also lives here and is considered to be one of South Africa’s most important therapeutic plants. It’s potent anti-inflammatory properties reduces free radical damage. This small hardy aromatic shrub is a fighter, able to survive the extreme terrain and weather conditions far better than many of its counterparts.
And then there’s the Rose Geranium, an intriguing aromatherapy plant that produces an oil so pure it’s described as having magic powers, among them, stimulating the olfactory nerve and inducing feelings of well-being. A happy plant! The intense antioxidants are believed to improve circulation and assist with detoxification and anxiety, so much so, it was exported to Europe in the 1800s as a therapeutic treatment.
The People Behind the Plants
The indigenous people of the Cape Floral Region are known as Hessequa, meaning “people of the trees”, which refers to the tribe Khoikhoi that once occupied the land. The Hessequa are the only surviving group that inhabited the region in pre-colonial times.
The Aloe Ferox is at the center of preserving this ancient people’s history. The Hessequa harvesters, known as “tappers”, are wildcrafters, which means they sustainably harvest and care for their Aloe Ferox plants by hand. The system was established centuries ago and combines environmental conservation with economic opportunities for these rural communities.
The traditional tapping methods require only a few leaves from each plant to be harvested, which lightens the heavy load and prevents the plants from falling over. This synergistic relationship between the Hessequa people and the Aloe Ferox not only ensures the longevity of the species, but provides financial independence for an entire community.
The harvesting skills are passed down generation to generation and it’s not uncommon to see four generations working together on the hillsides. It’s safe to say the botanical extracts from these power plants are the lifeblood of this unique, rich culture.
Phyto Afriq, Skincare With a Cause
Phyto is the Greek word for plant, and Afriq has an astrological origin that means “from the heart.”
Phyto Afriq was born out of a lifelong love for the indigenous botanicals of South Africa’s medicinal plants and the rural entrepreneurs that rely on them.
The founder, Julie Scott, was inspired after her sister used the leaves of the Aloe Ferox and Buchu plant to holistically treat an autoimmune related psoriatic skin condition. She was stunned at how quickly it worked. Thus began a journey of rigorous research and development. Along the way Rose Geranium was added to the cauldron and the first in the line of products was created: Aloe Ferox + Ultra Hydrating Facial Gel.
The price tag is not cheap, $140, which typically far exceeds my budget. However, after reading about the values behind this brand I was compelled to purchase some. I admire the founder’s commitment to up-skill and empower people that have fewer opportunities. Also, a percentage of the proceeds are donated to a fund that supports rural entrepreneurship aimed at preserving the Hessequa wildcrafting communities.
Another element of the farmer/harvester relationship is that the farmers own the land and allow Hessequa families to live there freely. They allocate Aloe Ferox plants in large areas, fields or mountainsides, to individuals who are then the legal owners of the plants in their given area, forever, and they hand those plants down to their children.
“The farmer/harvester relationship is a unique one, happy and harmonious, based on a culture and system that has been in place for many years.” – Julie Scott
It’s interesting, man has come an astoundingly long way with innovation and technology, yet in this fast pace world sometimes returning to the basics is where progress is rediscovered. The potency of a hand-harvested product versus something cultivated with insecticides, herbicides or any other agricultural chemical process is incomparable. This is why the Aloe Ferox is called a “super plant.” Unlike strains of Aloe species in mass scale mechanized farming, it is 100% naturally occurring and wildcrafted. You can’t get more authentic than that.
Essentially, by purchasing this product you are paying it forward in three ways.
1.) Supporting sustainability practices that are better for the environment.
2.) Providing self employment opportunities that help preserve the heritage and culture of South Africa’s Hessequa communities.
3.) Lastly, since the ingredients in this product are hand-harvested, the purity and integrity are far superior than plants that have been leached by the chemical agricultural process, which means it’s healthier for you.
Phyto Afriq debuted in 2016 at the Indie Beauty Expo in New York City. It’s brands like this that represent the values of what it means to be indie. And it’s founders like Julie Scott that exemplify the spirit, creativity and passion of forward-thinking entrepreneurs that do more than make a product, they also support the greater good.