Bush Survival

News update: 1st December

While it is fairly unlikely that any of our guests will ever be in a situation of having to survive lost and alone in the wilderness, learning basic survival skills is a fascinating addition to the Sabi Sabi safari. Both rangers and trackers are a great source of knowledge on how to “live off the land”; survive, eat and remain healthy should the need ever arise. While scouring the bush for animals, or during an exciting bush walk, guides will point out the various applicable flora and explain their myriad uses.

Over the centuries, local tribes in this region of South Africa developed great knowledge on the practical, nutritional and medicinal uses of the various plants, trees and grasses which grew around them – and they became very adept at creating lotions and potions to cure a variety of ills.

A poultice of Buffalo-thorn leaves can be used to bring down swelling, a decoction of the roots can relieve stomach upsets. Tambotie latex is an effective purgative. The Sausage tree is useful in curing many skin ailments. Elephant dung, which is undigested plant matter, can be set alight – carefully, in a protected area where there is no danger of causing a runaway bush fire. The smoke from the dung, when inhaled, is a wonderful cure for headaches.


Being lost in the bushveld, is no excuse for not attending to personal hygiene. The Guarrie bush can be used to make excellent toothbrushes. Simply cut the right size twig, peel off the bark, and use a stone to pound on the inner layer until it flares open to resemble the bristles of a toothbrush. No toothpaste – no problem. Find a Leadwood tree and burn a branch or two (being as careful as you were when burning the elephant dung to cure the headache you got while thinking of how you were missing your warm bed!) Mix the white ash with a little water to form a very effective paste. Both brush and paste have antibacterial properties that leave teeth healthy and sparkling. For an “in-between washing” antibacterial mouthwash, boil the roots and bark of a Knobwood tree for about an hour, and rinse your mouth with the resulting brew.

For clean skin – find an African Wattle tree. Soaking the roots in water creates an effective soapy body wash.

There is even a substitute for toilet paper – the soft leaves of the Weeping Wattle tree.

No bush survival kit is complete without insect repellent and here the beautiful wood of the Tambotie tree comes into its own. Cutting the wood needs to be done with great care, as the tree has a milky sap which can cause eye and skin irritation. Smoke from burning the wood is also really noxious and can cause severe stomach upsets. However, the wood is highly scented, and is very effective in keeping away insects. So, safely burning a few branches while making sure that the smoke is blowing in the right direction away from you, will keep mosquitos at bay. (Clothes hangers carved from Tambotie wood are remarkable for keeping fishmoths out of cupboards. Even small blocks of the wood will do.)

However, nobody can survive without food and water, so before worrying about staying fresh and clean, locate a supply of fresh drinking water. Once that has been done, it is time to find food. There is a big and very tasty variety of edible fruits and berries growing on trees and bushes in the African bushveld. Depending on the season, take your pick from the Sour Plum, Marula, Jackalberry, Wild Date Palm, Sycamore Fig, Jacket Plum, Magic Guarrie or White Berry. (Rangers will often stop on safari if these fruits are ripe and pick some for their guests to sample.)

If you are in need of protein, carefully drop some sap from a euphorbia into a bundle of grass (making sure that the toxic sap doesn’t get into your eyes – it can cause blindness). Tie the grass to a rock and drop it into the river. Nearby fish will be stupefied and will rise to the surface, making it possible to catch them by hand. If there is nothing on hand to do the tying, the bark of several bushveld trees and grasses can be woven into very strong rope.

After eating your scavenged meal of fresh fish and bushveld fruit, you can pick a thorn from any of the acacias to use as a toothpickor, leave your imagination behind and head back to your lodge for a truly superb breakfast, lunch or dinner.