Kanna is a ground cover herb that only grows in South Africa, which has been nicknamed by some ‘Kanna land’. In some areas, the herb is also called; kougoed, canna, canna-root, channa, gunna, and toruose fig marigold.
In the early seventeenth century, Dutch explorers and missionaries in South Africa reported that the Khoihkoi tribe otherwise known as the Hottentots would sniff, smoke, or chew a locally grown herb that they called Kanna for its inebriating effects. Kanna is still used in South Africa as a party type drug, and used in the same way as Cannabis is used in Western society.
The Name Kanna
The name Kanna is also used by South African bushmen for the Eland Antelope, in this are, the Eland is considered a ‘trance animal’, and has played a role in many tribal ceremonies for thousands of years. Some of the rituals and ceremonies that are associated with the Eland include; rain making ceremonies, divination rituals, healing practices, and trance dances. The Kanna herb was also used in many of these ceremonies.
The Hottentots chewed Kanna, or smoked a mixture of Kana and Dagga during their healing and ritual dances and, like the bushmen also used the same name for the magical Eland Antelope which was also incorporated into many of their rituals.
The Kanna plant looks very similar to the popular house-plant chicks and hens. It can grow up to 6 inches tall, has fleshy, a thick, smooth stalk, and low growing branches that spread away from the stalk. It has thick, angular leaves that grow out from the branches, and pale yellow flowers that grow at the ends of the branches. The plant also produces small angular shaped fruits that have small seeds.
Harvesting and Preparing
Traditionally, Kanna is harvested in October, when the plant is most potent. The plant material is then crushed between two rocks, stored in bags, and left for a few days to ferment. The fermentation process begins with the bags being set out in the sun to dry for about eight days. On day three, the bag is opened and the contents stirred. On the eighth day, the Kanna is removed from the bag and laid out in the sun to dry. As soon as it is dry, the Kanna is ready to be used, and is often ground into a fine powder, or chopped.
A quicker way of fermenting this herb is to toast a fresh plant on some glowing coals until it has dried completely, and then grinding the dried plant into a powder.
It is said that fresh Kanna does not have any potency, and it is only after the plant has been fermented in this way that it is psychoactive. The fermenting process also helps to reduce the amount of Oxalic acid in the plant, which can cause allergies and severe irritation. Because of this, Kanna should never be used until it has been through the fermentation process.