Catha edulis


Botanical name

Catha edulis

Other names

Bushman's tea; khat; boesmanstee (Afrikaans)




Small deciduous tree with drooping branches, up to 12 m in height; sometimes a shrub

Description of stem

Bark grey, smooth and often reddish on younger branches, coarse and cracked in a characteristic grid pattern on mature specimens

Description of leaves

Opposite on mature branches, alternate on young ones; oblong, leathery, bright green and shiny on upper surface, paler green below; net-veining conspicuous, especially on the lower surface; margin serrated or toothed with a gland per tooth; tapering apex and base; petiole about 1 cm; stipules sometimes present; petioles short and pink; leaves become yellow in autumn

Description of flowers

Very small white to yellow flowers in abundant axillary clusters; they are green inside

Desciption of seed/fruit

Three-lobed capsule of 1 cm that turns reddish brown as it ripens, mostly dehiscent; seeds winged

Description of roots




Propagation and cultivation

Popular as an attractive garden tree; grown from seed, truncheons or root cuttings; it is sometimes cultivated as a container, even a house-plant




Wood used in house-building and furniture; the leaves provide a widely used flu and cough remedy, also for general chest complaints or respiratory diseases; in the Middle East known as the source of a commonly used drug (khat); says that 80% of adults in Yemen use khat as a drug; it is exported to the USA (for one) on a large scale; the plant contains the recognised drug, cathinone

Ecological rarity

Common and widespread

Pests and diseases



Catha' = a derivation from the Arabic common name of this tree; edulis = edible (Greek); khat is dangerous in various ways to the health of children, older people over 55 and regular users; the ancient Egyptians may have believed that it gives access to divinity


Woodland, evergreen forest and wooded mountainsides

Distribution (SA provinces)

Eastern Cape; KZN; Mpumalanga; Limpopo


South Africa; Swaziland; Mozambique; Zimbabwe; Zambia; East and North Africa; southern Arabia and Yemen; it may have originated in Ethiopia and/or Yemen