What is a Lion's Tail?

Autumn Rivers

The lion's tail is also referred to as Leonotis menthifolia, and is part of the mint family. This perennial plant from South Africa is known for having medicinal and sedative properties, as well as fragrant orange flowers. It is drought-tolerant and does best in full sun, though it can also usually stand temperatures that are below freezing. It tends to bloom in the late fall or early winter.

Lion’s tail is native to South Africa, where people often use it as a medicinal alternative.
Lion’s tail is native to South Africa, where people often use it as a medicinal alternative.

This plant's foliage is lush, deciduous, and evergreen, with a height of up to six feet (1.83 m), and a width of up to three feet (0.91 m). The flowers are orange, somewhat fuzzy, and in the shape of a tube; they tend to be perfect for floral arrangements. It should be known, though, that the lion's tail has spines that can prick those who handle the plant. Therefore, it is best to wear gloves when pruning this shrub, which should be done every year after the flowers bloom.

A good environment for this plant is in full sunlight, which means that it should be planted in an area that gets at least six hours of sunlight each day. It is best to use well-drained soil, and should be planted in either sandy or clay loam if possible. Though it is resistant to drought, the lion's tail does best when watered regularly, and fertilized in the spring. Despite the fact that this shrub thrives in full sun, it can usually survive temperatures near 20°F (-6.67°C), as it can typically grow back after it freezes. The bright orange flowers tend to bloom in the fall or winter, but the foliage stays green year round.

Those who live in this shrub's native South Africa have been using the lion's tail as a medicinal alternative for years. It can typically treat dysentery, headaches, asthma, muscular cramps, and snakebites, and can also usually bring down fevers. Some studies have found that the plant does indeed have anti-inflammatory properties, though it is not often used as a medicine in the United States.

In addition to its healing properties, lion's tail is also known for its ability to temporarily calm those who smoke it, despite the fact that it emits harsh smoke. Some lightheadedness may ensue afterward, as well, but the taste of the lion's tail when smoked is not considered good. The plant's dried leaves are also sometimes brewed to create mint-flavored tea that is known for helping to calm the senses temporarily.

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