Leonotis leonurus

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Leonotis leonurus
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Leonotis
L. leonurus
Binomial name
Leonotis leonurus
(L.) R.Br.[1]

Leonotis leonurus, also known as lion's tail and wild dagga, is a plant species in the mint family, Lamiaceae. The plant is a broadleaf evergreen large shrub native to South Africa and southern Africa, where it is very common.[2] It is known for its medicinal properties. The main psychoactive component of Leonotis leonurus is claimed to be leonurine,[3] Leonotis leonurus has been confirmed to contain Leonurine according to peer reviewed journal published phytochemical analysis.[4] Like other plants in the mint family, it also contains marrubiin. The word "dagga" comes from Afrikaans, and derives in turn from the Khoikhoi "dachab". The word "dagga" has been extended to include cannabis in Afrikaans and South African English, so the use of "wild" serves to distinguish Leonotis leonuris from this.[5]

Leonotis leonurus flower.jpg


The shrub grows 3 to 6 ft (1 to 2 m) tall by 1.5 to 3.5 feet (0.46 to 1.07 m) wide.[2] The medium-dark green 2–4 inches (5.1–10.2 cm) long leaves are aromatic when crushed. The plant has tubular orange flowers in tiered whorls, typical to the mint family, that encircle the square stems. They rise above the foliage mass during the summer season, with flowering continuing into winter in warmer climates.[2][6]

Variation in flower color[edit]

A white variety (known colloquially as 'Alba') and a yellow variety also exist.


The native habitat of Leonotis leonurus is damp grasslands of southern Africa.[7] It attracts nectivorous birds (mainly sunbirds), as well as various insects such as butterflies. The flowers' mainly orange to orange-red colour and tubular shape are indicative of its co-evolution with African sunbirds, which have curved bills suited to feeding from tubular flowers.


Leonotis leonurus is cultivated as an ornamental plant for its copious orange blossom spikes, and is used as an accent or screen in gardens and parks.[2][6] It is moderately drought tolerant, and a nectar source for birds and butterflies in landscape settings.[2] It was introduced to Europe in the 1600s.[8]

Lion's tail can be found in other subtropical and Mediterranean climate regions beyond South Africa, such as California, Hawaii,[6] and Australia where it has naturalized in some areas. In cooler climates it is used as an annual and winter conservatory plant.[2]

Pharmacology and toxicology[edit]

Marrubiin has both antioxidant and cardioprotective properties and has shown to significantly improve myocardial function.[9][10]

Docosatetraenoylethanolamide (DEA) is a cannabinoid that acts on the cannabinoid (CB1) receptor which has been found in Leonotis leonurus var. albiflora Benth. whole flower extract.[11]

Leonotis leonurus contains several labdane diterpene–based compounds such as Hispanolone, Leonurun, and Leoleorins. C-N[4]

One experimental animal study suggests that the aqueous leaf extract of Leonotis leonurus possesses antinociceptive, antiinflammatory, and hypoglycemic properties.[12]

An animal study in rats indicated that in high doses, lion's tail has significant toxicological adverse effects on organs, red blood cells, white blood cells, and other important bodily functions. Acute toxicity tests in animals caused death for those receiving a 3200 mg/kg dose. A 1600 mg/kg extract led to changes in red blood cells, hemoglobin concentration, mean corpuscular volume, platelets, and white blood cells.[13]

Traditional uses[edit]

Infusions made from flowers, seeds, leaves, or stems are widely used to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, diabetes, viral hepatitis, dysentery, and diarrhoea.[14][15] The leaves, roots, and bark are used as an emetic for snakebites, and bee and scorpion stings.[16] The fresh stem juice is used as an infusion drink for "blood impurity" in some parts of South Africa.[17]

Recreational uses[edit]

The dried leaves and flowers have a mild calming effect when smoked. In some users, the effects have been noted to be similar to that of the cannabinoid THC found in Cannabis, except that it has a much less potent high.[18] It has also been reported to cause mild euphoria, visual changes, dizziness, nausea, sweating, sedation, and lightheadedness.

It is sometimes used as a Cannabis substitute by recreational users as an alternative to illegal psychoactive plants.

Legal status[edit]


Leonotis leonurus has been illegal in Latvia since November 2009, and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Possession of quantities up to 1 gram are fined up to 280 euros. Possession and distribution of larger quantities can be punished with up to 15 years in prison.[19]


Leonotis leonurus was banned in Poland in March 2009. Possession and distribution lead to criminal charges.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Leonotis leonurus". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2008-12-04.
  2. ^ a b c d e f MBC-Kemper Center - Leonotis leonurus . accessed 7.7.2011
  3. ^ Wing Shing Ho (4 September 2015). Active Phytochemicals from Chinese Herbal Medicines: Anti-Cancer Activities and Mechanisms. CRC Press. pp. 39–. ISBN 978-1-4822-1987-6.
  4. ^ a b Ofentse Mazimba (2015). "Leonotis leonurus: A herbal medicine review" (PDF). Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 3 (6): 74–82. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  5. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "PLANTS Profile for Leonotis leonurus (lion's ear)". United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
  7. ^ Umberto Quattrocchi (19 April 2016). CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology (5 Volume Set). CRC Press. pp. 2244–. ISBN 978-1-4822-5064-0.
  8. ^ Ernst Schmidt; Mervyn Lotter; Warren McCleland (2002). Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana Media. pp. 586–. ISBN 978-1-919777-30-6.
  9. ^ Popoola KO Elbagory AM, Ameer F, Hussein AA. Marrubiin. Molecules 2013; 18(18):9049-9060.
  10. ^ XinHua, 2010
  11. ^ Ethan Hunter; Marietjie Aletta Stander; Jens Kossmann; S. Chakraborty (December 2020). "Toward the identification of a phytocannabinoid-like compound in the flowers of a South African medicinal plant (Leonotis leonurus)". BMC Research Notes. 13 (1). doi:10.1186/s13104-020-05372-z. Retrieved 17 May 2022.
  12. ^ Ojewole JA (May 2005). "Antinociceptive, antiinflammatory and antidiabetic effects of Leonotis leonurus (L.) R. BR. [Lamiaceae] leaf aqueous extract in mice and rats". Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology. 27 (4): 257–64. doi:10.1358/mf.2005.27.4.893583. PMID 16082426.
  13. ^ Maphosa, V; Masika, P; Adedapo, A (2008). "Safety evaluation of the aqueous extract of Leonotis leonurus shoots in rats". Human & Experimental Toxicology. 27 (11): 837–43. doi:10.1177/0960327108099533. PMID 19244291. S2CID 27776434.
  14. ^ Van WJB, van OB, Gericke N. Medicinal plants of South Africa. Briza Publications. Cape Town, 2000.
  15. ^ Noumi E, Houngue F, Lontsi D. Traditional medicines in primary health care: plants used for the treatment of hypertension in Bafia, Cameroon. Fitoterapia 1999; 70(2):134-139.
  16. ^ Hutchings AH, Scott G, Lewis AB. Cunningham, Zulu medicinal plants, an Inventory. Natal University Press, Pietermaritzburg, 1996, 266-267.
  17. ^ Watt JM, Breyer BMG. Medicinal and poisonous plants of Southern Africa. E & S Livingstone. Edinburg, 1962.
  18. ^ "Erowid Leonotis leonurus (Lion's Tail) Vault". Erowid. 9 September 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
  19. ^ "Par Krimināllikuma spēkā stāšanās un piemērošanas kārtību" (in Latvian). likumi.lv. Retrieved 2013-06-23.
  20. ^ (in Polish) Dz.U. 2009 nr 63 poz. 520, Internetowy System Aktów Prawnych.

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