The informal trade in indigenous herbs for steaming purposes is booming in Limpopo as many people believe it reduces the chance of contracting coronavirus. The belief is not backed by any scientific evidence.

Emmanuel Mungomeni and his mother, Gladys, sell a traditional herb called Tshiumbeumbe along the N1 between Louis Trichardt and the Hendriek Verwoed tunnel.

Emmanuel’s mother Gladys Mungomeni, who lost her job due to COVID-19, says selling Tshiumbeumbe has generated an income for her family.

“This Tshiumbeumbe helps people. You boil it and steam your face. It opens your lungs and nose. We get it from the mountain and many people are supporting us. We started today to sell this and so many people are buying. Tomorrow, we can buy bread. It is a long time since we had bread. I lost my job due to corona, but now I am making money to put food on the table.”

Concerns about steaming therapy

Limpopo Health MEC Doctor Phophi Ramathuba says she is concerned about reports that people have been using steaming therapy to treat COVID-19.

Some steam using pure water, while others add traditional herbs such as Lengana or Tshiumbeumbe.

Doctor Ramathuba says people with underlining conditions, such as hypertension, must not steam. She says steaming should also not be done every day.

“Not everyone can steam. This is where the danger is. People with other medical conditions are continuing to steam. Even when you go to your beauty spa they will tell you if you have hypertension don’t enter the steam room because we know your medical condition can complicate things. Steaming on its own, you sweat extensively; you lose a lot of fluids and electrolytes. If you have renal problems you might complicate your condition. I will say if you want to steam, you must first seek advice from your physician.”