The “Super” in Super Happy Sunshine: Herbal Education on Sceletium with Rasa’s Clinical Herbalist, Ben LeVine

The “Super” in Super Happy Sunshine: Herbal Education on Sceletium with Rasa’s Clinical Herbalist, Ben LeVine

“A small plant found on the great mountains growing out of crevices in the rocks. It is chewed by Bushmen, and gives strength to their limbs; and takes away pain and makes their memory strong.”

Interview with /Xam San member, 1873


Sceletium (Kanna)
Tommi Nummelin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sceletium tortuosum is a beautiful desert succulent native to Southern Africa. For the San hunter-gatherers and Khoi pastoralists in this area, Scetelium is a traditional and sacred plant that has been used in healing ceremonies and celebrations for millennia. It is so revered, in fact, that it shares its native name “Kanna” with the majestic Eland antelope, a deeply significant and symbolic power animal for the San.


While the traditional uses and forms of Sceletium are many, a chew made from fermented leaves and stems is a wide-spread method used daily for deepening social connection and a sense of well-being. The succulent’s ability to boost mood and relax nerves is well known. Warriors returning from battle would take kanna to help them release the fear and tension carried with them from the battlefield.



The oral traditions and medicinal plant knowledge among the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa are rapidly eroding due to colonization, loss of land, acculturation, and genocide. In addition, many medicinal plants, including Sceletium, are over-harvested in the wild and under threat. For these reasons, we want to ensure that the Sceletium we offer is ethically sourced in a way that benefits the holders of traditional knowledge and protects the wild plant populations for future generations.

sceletium south african san council

We’re proud to share the work of our supply partner and use their Sceletium extract, Zembrin®, in our products. Zembrin® was awarded Africa’s first prior-informed consent benefit-sharing agreement, signed with the South African San Council after 2 years of negotiation, to formally recognize and honor the contributions of indigenous knowledge. Under the agreement 6% of all revenue generated is shared with the San.

In addition, the plants used for this extract are carefully cultivated to provide clean and potent raw material and take pressure off wild plants.

The late Gert Dirkse, right, the last great healer of the Kamiesberg Mountains, with Sceletium tortuosum, and Jap-Jap Klaase, left. Source


Modern pre-clinical and clinical studies have discovered the alkaloids that give Sceletium its cognitive and mood-enhancing abilities. These alkaloids function as both serotonin reuptake inhibitors and phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitors, a dual action that supports serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is known to help regulate mood, and maintaining normal levels of this neurotransmitter can have wide-ranging benefits on stress, sleep, and cognitive function.

Select studies:

Acute Effects of Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), a Dual 5-HT Reuptake and PDE4 Inhibitor, in the Human Amygdala and its Connection to the Hypothalamus (Terburg, et al., 2013)
Dose: 25mg of 2:1 kanna extract
Conclusion: A single 25mg dose significantly reduces anxiety-related amygdala reactivity. The amygdala is the brain's threat detection system and hyper-responsivity to mild threats is indicative of states of stress and anxiety.

Effect of Zembrin® (Sceletium tortuosum) on Brain Electrical Activity in 60 Older Subjects after 6 Weeks of Daily Intake. A Prospective, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, 3-Armed Study in a Parallel Design (Dimpfel, et al., 2017)
Dose: 25mg and 50mg of 2:1 kanna extract
Conclusion: The overall results support the use of Zembrin® as a functional food with potential to improve mental health and enhance well-being with respect to cognitive function, anxiety, stress and mood.


sceletium illustration
Illustration from 1685

In the toughest of times, plants help us overcome. Plants help us ground and center. Plants help us open our hearts and be more human. And we are deeply honored to introduce this sacred plant to you as a featured herb in our new Rasa Super Happy Sunshine.

Enliven your spirit & walk hand in hand with delight down an ancient road of herbal wisdom, aided by modern clinical trials & fueled by adaptogens.