Kanna ~ Sceletium tortuosum

The Sacred plant of the African tribes Khoi and San, imported in Europe from the Dutch colony in South Africa

Name: Kanna 
​Synonymous: Canna, Channa,  Mesembryanthemum tortuosum
Botanical binome: Sceletium tortuosum L.
Origin: South Africa  

Benefits of Kanna 

Today fermented dried leaves and extract of Sceletium tortuosum are sold under the name of “Kanna“. Is a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety, part of the traditional medicine of the Khoisan population.

The benefits of Kanna include:

  • Relaxing effect
  • Anti-depressant
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Supporting and promoting a sense of well being 

The effect on the mood and the anti-anxiety effect is related to the large number of alkaloids contained in all the parts of the plant, especially the leaves.
The effects of those alkaloids, as Mesembrine and related compounds, is to block the reuptake (re-absorption) of serotonin and to work as PDE4 inhibitor:

The in vitro activity of mesembrine and related compounds as serotonin-uptake inhibitors provides preliminary pharmacological support for the use of Sceletium in products for stress, anxiety and depression, and may also provide a rationale for the apparent lack of dependence seen with long-term Sceletium use. The in vitro activity of mesembrine as a PDE4 inhibitor is another mechanism whereby Sceletium may act as an antidepressant, and suggests additional therapeutic potential.”

(Gerickea & Viljoen, 2008)

Who is Kanna

Kanna is the common name to indicate Sceletium tortuosum L., a small succulent plant native to the southwest regions of South Africa.

Sometimes, especially in the past, other species belonging  to the genus “Sceletium” (like Sceletium expansum or s. emarcidum) where indicate with the name of Kanna or Kanna-root, because very similar in the aspect and effects. Today the product named “Kanna” are generally made only with the species Sceletium tortuosum.

Kanna was for a long time used by the native tribes of South Africa due to its formidable properties. According to the records, the indigenous of Namaqualand and Little Karoo (in the south-west of South Africa) used to chew Kanna for a long time during the day to relieve hunger and sense of thirst, as an analgesic, and for improving mood. They used to collect all the parts of the small succulent plant (probably different species of Sceletium),  root, stalk, and leaves, and ferment them together before use, in order to obtain a more potent effect.

Now Kanna is available in many countries as extract, powder, tincture, pills, or tablets.

Traditional use

The two African tribes most commonly related to the use of Sceletium were the San (hunter-gatherers) and the Khoi (pastoralists). Those people are often called the collective name “Khoisan“. The indigenous used to smoke or chew Kanna, becoming “excited and intoxicated” (Lewis, 1998).

Kanna has chewed also for treat the toothache, and abdominal pains and for the relief of hunger and sense of thirst. Nama and San mothers used to chew the roots of different species of Sceletium and spit the resulting saliva into a baby’s mouth to promote their sleep.
Seems also that Kanna was used in combinations with Cannabis sativa  L. (“dagga” as they use to call it), and the latest observations (Paterson, 1789) seem to indicate a synergism between the two substances.

As said before, the indigenous use collects all the parts of the small shrub (probably different species of Sceletium),  root, stalk, and leaves, and ferment them together before use, in order to obtain a stronger effect. Today we know that this passage, fermentation, is important because it activates the active principles of the plant and different kinds of alkaloids with a lot of interesting effects on the body and the mind.

Botanical pills

Sceletium tortuosum is a small succulent plant native to the southwest regions of South Africa, a place characterized by an arid climate and very low rainfall. 
Those regions are known as “Namaqualand” and “Little Karoo” according to the first dutch information (1652)”. The climatic change and the impact of the environment led to the almost total disappearance of this plant in its natural state. Today Kanna is cultivated mainly in a controlled environment.

All the genus Sceletium (derived from “sceletus” = skeleton) are characterized by the skeletonized leaf venation pattern, visible in the dry and withered leaves. The habit of this plant is climbing or decumbent and generally, Sceletium grows under other bigger shrubs in partial shade.  The flower can be white, pale pink, or yellow

Modern use

Today Kanna is commercialized and available in fermented or not-fermented forms, such as dry milled powder, herbal tea, smoking cuts, extract, tablets, or pills. The concentration of alkaloids and the dosage can change in relationship with the brand. Always read the suggested dose of the producers.

Kanna and his product can be consumed as a
tea, capsules, smoked, vaporized, or snuff:

Format Description
Dry milled powderIt can be both fermented or not- fermented. The fermented form has a stronger effect. Generally is consumed with herbal tea or just mixed with hot water
Extract (with plant material)The extract has a stronger effect in comparison with the milled powder. The extract containing plant material can be used as a tea or be vaporized (suggested temp. for vaporization: 188°C) or smoked.
Extract (without plant material) The extract without plant material can be used as a tea, in the capsule of snuff.
If assumed as tea or capsule the effect last for more time (around 2 hours), while if snuffed the effect is felt after a few minutes and lasts for 30 minutes.
Tablet / pills The two well-known standardized extracts of Sceletium tortuosum are Trimesemine™ and Zembrin®, available as tablets or pills and use in several scientific types of research for testing the effect of Kanna’s alkaloids

Reference for the page:

  • Harvey,A.L.,Young,L.C.,Viljoen,A.M.,Gericke,N.P.,2011.Pharmacologicalactions of the South African medicinal and functional foodplant Sceletium tortuosum and its principal alkaloids. JournalofEthnopharmacolology 137(3),1124–1129.
  • N. Gericke, A.M. Viljoen / Journal of Ethnopharmacology 119 (2008) 653–663
  • Paterson, W. (1789) A narrative of four journeys into the country of the Hottentots and Caffraria. London
  • Rood, B. (1994) Uit die Veld-Apteek. Tafelberg, Cape Town. Rowley, G.D. (1978) Caryophyllidae. In: V.E. Heywood (Ed.), Flowering Plants of the World. Oxford University Press, UK,pp. 63-67.
  • Smith, M.T., Couch, N.R., Gericke, N., Hirst, M., 1996. Psychoactive constituents of the genus Sceletium N.E.Br. and other Mesembryanthemaceae: a review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 50, 119–130.
  • Watt, J.M. and Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G. (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa 2nd ed. Livingstone, London.


  •  https://sceletium.com/sceletium-botany/
  • http://www.entheology.org/edoto/anmviewer.asp?a=84