Hoodia pilifera

Herbs gallery - Hoodia

Common names

  • Desert Cactus
  • Ghaap
  • Hoodia

The herb Hoodia pilifera gets is name from Van Hood, who was a keen and tender cultivator. On the other hand, the botanical name of the species is derived from the Latin term 'pilus', 'hair; trifle' + 'i' - the connective vowel is made use of in Latin from the Latin word 'fero', denoting 'to bear, carry and bring'. In effect, this refers to the apical hairy spines present on the tip of every tubercle (a small, firm, rounded nodule).

Native to South Africa, Hoodia pilifera is a leafless plant having a fat, succulent stem. Generally, it is found growing in parched areas at an altitude of approximately 300 meters to 900 meters. The Hoodia pilifera produces saucer shaped flowers that have a deep purple to nearly black to pinkish brown color inside, while on the exterior it has a reddish green hue. The flowers of this species may appear solitarily or even in small clusters or inflorescences. The flowers are somewhat diminutive having a corolla that is pinkish-yellow in most cases, while the corona has a yellow hue with a potent wicked smell. On the other hand, the pedicels are comparatively long which makes the flower somewhat droopy at times.

It may be noted that the Hoodia pilifera plants are uses in the same manner as the Hoodia gordonii to suppress appetite and thirst.

Hoodia pilifera is a succulent plant growing up to a height of 0.5 meters, having plump, uneven and thorny stems that originate from a common base. The flowers of Hoodia pilifera possesses the smell of decaying flesh with a view to draw flies and blowflies, which act as main pollinators. The seed capsules of Hoodia pilifera remind you of the horns of a goat and enclose numerous brown seeds having silky seed hairs. Currently, three sub-species of the Hoodia pilifera are known. The sub-species pilifera bears purple-brownish flowers that grow up to 20 mm in diameter, while the sub-species annulata bears flowers that have deep purple to black color and grows up to 20 mm to 30 mm in diameter with unfolding lobes. The third known sub-species is called pillansii which produces flowers whose color ranges from yellow to pink and are devoid of the elevated rim or annulus, which is present in the other two sub-species. The main species that is under commercial development is Hoodia gordonii, which produces large, flesh-colored flowers.

Parts used

The fleshy stems.


The stems of the plants belonging to the Hoodia species as well as other succulents are also known as carrion flowers or stapeliads - locally called 'ghaap'. Traditionally, the Khoi-San herders of Namibia and South Africa use the stems of the hoodia to suppress their appetite as well thirst. It may be mentioned that the appetite suppressant code has been isolated, recognized as well as patented. Currently, scientists are studying the appetite suppressant principle of the herb with a view to develop a medication to cure obesity.

In South Africa, the country where the plant originated, people use the Hoodia plant species as an expedient food during emergencies. In addition, it is also used as a source of moisture in ruthless parched surroundings. Hoodia pilifera possesses a bland, but cool and watery flavor. Some people consume the plant raw, while there are others who preserve it in sugar before eating the plant, especially the stems.

The unripe pods of Hoodia pilifera are a favourite among the people for its sweetness. Like Hoodia gordonii as well as many other succulents that are referred to as carrion flowers or stapeliads, plants of this species may be used to suppress appetite as well as thirst. To eat the plant, the stem is cut into small pieces, the skin is peeled to remove the thorns and consumed fresh. However, the most favourable dose of this herb is yet to be known.

Habitat and cultivation

Native to the arid regions of Southern Africa, hoodia has been cultivated on a trial level and is yet to be commercialized completely. Although it is very simple to cultivate the plants in the Hoodia species, the plants are vulnerable to root decay owing to excessive watering as well as lack of clean air. The plant generally requires watering during the growing season and very rarely during the winters. Normally, it is advisable to over-winter the plants when they are grown in warm conditions - at around 10°C. However, despite being native to Africa, the Hoodia species appear to grow excellently as well as produce flowers devoid of any additional heat that one may have considered necessary for cultivating these plants. Sometimes the plants are also able to endure temperatures close to 0°C or even below provided they are maintained in a dry state.

Spring: It is advisable to allow the Hoodia plants to remain outdoors during spring so that they may get the requisite water in the rain.

Summer: During summer, the Hoodia species grow excellently when placed in total sunlight or partial shade. While the plants belonging to this species are able to tolerate heavy rain, they are better off when the season is arid.

Potting medium: As the roots of the plants belonging to the Hoodia species are somewhat thin, the most suitable potting medium is grainy/ coarse, very easily draining compost including additional perlite or pumice. Growing the plants in clay pots also facilitates the plants to dry off between watering. If the plants are grown in pots indoors, the pots ought to be placed in brightest place in the room.

Plants belonging to the Hoodia species are mainly propagated through their seeds. These plants are rarely propagated from cuttings since the cut off ends hardly form a callus (the tissue forming over the wounds of plants, shielding the inner tissues and healing the part) from where the roots can be formed eventually. In Europe the plants produce seeds in March and April. The seeds should only be collected when the seed horns are semi-dry and begin to crack down the middle.

In case you wish to endeavour to take a cutting, give it time to dry for several days before you plant it.

Flies are the main pollinators for the plants belonging to the Hoodia species. This is a bizarre type of pollination and in biology, pollination by flies is known as myophily. It may be noted that the process of myophily occurs in a number of genera, including Huernia, Stapelia and Ceropegia. It is interesting to note that the life of the little hoodia plant commences under the safeguard of a nurse plant. In fact, a nurse plant is usually a shrub under which a young hoodia plant germinates and grows up. All the while the leaves and branches of the nurse plant shield the young hoodia plant from the strong rays of the sun.

The basic requirements for cultivating the Hoodia pilifera sub-species pillansii are the same as those required for growing other plants of this genus. Most importantly, the plants need to be cultivated on well drained soil. In addition, the plants require excellent lighting/ sunlight and ventilation, while they need to be watered alternately with periods of droughts in between. In effect, the plants also require hardening off between the growth periods with a view to diminish the possibilities of fungal infections that may cause their roots to rot.


Chemical analysis of the Hoodia pilifera plant has shown that similar to several other members of the family, plants belonging to this species also enclose cardiac glycosides or compounds that are bio-chemically related, for instance, pregnane derivatives. The key active compound found in hoodia is a pregnane glycoside, also known as P57.

Usual dosage

The Hoodia pilifera herb is consumed fresh after cutting a small part of the stem, peeling off its skin and removing the thorns. However, the most favourable dose of P57, the active compound found in Hoodia pilifera, is yet to be ascertained.


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