Properties and indigenous knowledge of soil materials used for consumption, healing and cosmetics in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
More details
Hide details
School of Agriculture, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Submission date: 2022-05-18
Final revision date: 2022-11-19
Acceptance date: 2022-12-12
Online publication date: 2022-12-12
Publication date: 2023-01-03
Corresponding author
Nkosinomusa Nomfundo Buthelezi-Dube   

School of Agriculture, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Carbis Road, 3201, Scottsville, South Africa
Soil Sci. Ann., 2022, 73(4)157408
Ethnopedological studies focus on agricultural soils resulting in undervaluation of non-agricultural soil materials during land classification. In this study, ethnographic and ethnopedologic methods were used to obtain local knowledge and gain in-depth understanding of non-agricultural soils, their mineralogical and elemental composition relating to application in geophagy, healing and cosmetic purposes in two villages in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In each village a questionnaire was administered to fifty randomly selected individuals from which ten knowledgeable volunteers (including eight geophagists from two villages) provided details on the selection criteria, the desired properties and why the soils performed the claimed role. Users based their selection on macromorphological features (e.g. colour, texture and location within the soil) and indigenous knowledge. Geophagic materials were mainly sourced from C horizons. They were mostly fine-grained with mica, kaolinite and quartz, and elements such as copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), cobalt (Co) and lead (Pb). Natural pigments, such as iron oxides in highly weathered soils, were recognised as sunscreen materials. Although the mechanisms were not understood by users, laboratory analyses showed that the mineralogical and chemical properties of the soil materials played a crucial role. The sunscreen and healing capabilities of these soils were related to high contents of titanium (TiO2) and iron (Fe2O3) and the presence of kaolinite. Further appraisal of these soil materials is necessary for their conservation and inclusion in land classification.
Abrahams, P.W., Parsons, J.A., 1997. Geophagy in the tropics: An appraisal of three geophagical materials. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 19, 325–334.
Abrahams, P.W., Follansbee, M.H., Hunt, A., Smith, B., Wragg, J., 2006. Iron nutrition and possible lead toxocity: an appraisal of geophagy undertaken by pregnant women of UK Asian communities. Applied Geochemistry 21, 98–108.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry,2004. Toxilogical Profile for Cobalt. US Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta.
Badu, J. K., Nude, P. M., Dodor, D. E., Nartey, E. K., Adjadeh, T. A., 2020. Characterization of the geophagic materials and their associated rocks and soils from Anfoega, Ghana. Ghana Journal of Science 61(2) 133–155.
Buthelezi-Dube, N. N., Hughes, J. C., Muchaonyerwa, P., 2018. Indigenous soil classification in four villages of eastern South Africa. Geoderma 332, 84–99.
Cabral R., Alves, A., Ribeiro, F. M., Souza, J. V., Ribeiro, M., Santos, C., 2015. Peasant and scientific knowledge on planosols as a source of materials in the making of non-industrial pottery. Revista Brasileira de Ciência do Solo 39, 303–313.
Camp, K., Hardy, M., 1999. Veld condition assessment. Veld in KwaZulu-Natal. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture, Pietermaritzburg: 18–31.
Campbell, J., Morrison, A., 1963. Some factors affecting the absorption of vitamins. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 12, 162–169.
Carretero, M.I., 2002. Clay minerals and their beneficial effects upon human health. A review. Applied Clay Science 21, 155–163.
Carretero, M.I., Pozo, M., 2010. Clay and non-clay minerals in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries Part II. Active ingredients. Applied Clay Science 47, 171–181.
Chaushev, P.G., Dreyer, M.J., Gledhill, R.F., 2003. Hypokalemic myopathy due to ingestion of earth. Journal of Neurology 250, 114–115.
Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. 2004. International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, 11th Edition. Color Additive Information. Washington, DC.
Diffey, B., Robson, J., 1989. A new substrate to measure sunscreen protection factors throughout the ultraviolet spectrum. Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists 40, 127–133.
Diko, C.S., Diko, M., 2013. Geophagia among female adolescents as a culturally driven practice. Indilinga African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems 12, 242–251.
Diko, M., Ekosse, G., 2014. Soil ingestion and associated health implications: a physicochemical and mineralogical appraisal of geophagic soils from Moko, Cameroon. Studies on Ethno-Medicine 8, 83–88.
Dlamini, P., Chaplot, V.,2012. On the interpolation of volumetric water content in research catchments. Physics and Chemistry Of the Earth 50, 165–174.
Dlova, N.C., Nevondo, F.T., Mwangi, E.M., Summers, B., Tsoka‐Gwegweni, J., Martincigh, B.S., 2013. Chemical analysis and in vitro UV‐protection characteristics of clays traditionally used for sun protection in South Africa. Photodermatology Photoimmunology Photomedicine 29, 164–169.
Dreyer, M.J., Chaushev, P.G., Gledhill, R.F., 2004. Biochemical investigations in geophagia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 97, 48.
Ekosse, G., Ngole, V., 2012. Mineralogy, geochemistry and provenance of geophagic soils from Swaziland. Applied Clay Science 57, 25–31.
Ekosse, G.-I.E., Ngole-Jeme, V.M., Diko, M.L., 2017. Environmental Geochemistry of Geophagic Materials from Free State Province in South Africa. Geosciences 9, 114–125.
Ekosse, G.-I.E., Obi, L.C., 2015. Minerals in Human Geophagic Soils from Selected Rural Communities in Gauteng and Limpopo Provinces in South Africa. Journal of Human Ecology 50, 253–261.
Gee, G.W., Bauder, J.W., 1986. Particle-size analysis. [In:] Klute, A. (Ed.), Methods of soil.
analysis: Part 1. Physical and mineralogical methods. ASA, CSSA and SSSA, Madison, USA, 312–383.
Geissler, P.W., Prince, R.J., Levene, M., Poda, C., Beckerleg, S., Mutemi, W., 1999. Perceptions of soil-eating and anaemia among pregnant women on the Kenyan coast. Social Science and Medicine 48, 1069–1079.
George, G., Ndip, E., 1997. Prevalence of geophagia and it’s possible implication to health- A study in rural South Africa. 2011 International conference on environmental health and development. ICPBEE (2011) Lacsit Press, 4, Singapore.
Harvey, P.W., Dexter, P.B., Darnton-Hill, I., 2000. The impact of consuming iron from non-food sources on iron status in developing countries. Public Health Nutrition 3, 375–383.
Haydel, S.E., Remenih, C.M., Williams, L.B., 2008. Broad-spectrum in vitro antibacterial activities of clay minerals against antibiotic-susceptible and antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 61, 353–361.
Hoang-Minh, T., 2006. Characterization of clays and clay minerals in industrial application: Substitution non-natural additives by clays in UV protection. PhD thesis, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University Greifswald., Germany.
Hoang-Minh, T., Le,T., Kasbohm, J., Gieré, R., 2010. UV-protection characteristics of some clays. Applied Clay Science 48, 349–357.
IBM Corp. Released 2016. IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 24.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.
IUSS Working Group WRB, 2014. World Reference Base for Soil Resources 2014.
International soil classification system for naming soils and creating legends for soil maps. World Soil Resources Reports No. 106. FAO, Rome.
Judin, V. P.S., 1993: The lighter side of TiO2. Chemistry in Britain 29, 503–505.
Kambunga, S.N., Candeias, C., Hasheela, I., Mouri, H., 2019. Review of the nature of some geophagic materials and their potential health effects on pregnant women: some examples from Africa. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 41, 2949–2975.
Kongo, V., Kosgei, J. Jewitt, G., Lorentz, S., 2010. Establishment of a catchment monitoring network through a participatory approach in a rural community in South Africa. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 14, 2507–2525.
Li, T., Wang, H., Wang, J., Zhou, Z., Zhou, J., 2015. Exploring the potential of phyllosilicate minerals as potassium fertilisers using sodium tetraphenylboron and intensive cropping with perennial ryegrass. Scientific Reports 5, 9249.
Londono, S.C., Hartnett, H.E., Williams, L.B., 2017. Antibacterial activity of aluminum in clay from the Colombian Amazon. Environmental Science and Technology 51, 2401–2408.
López-Galindo, A., Viseras, C., Cerezo, P., 2007. Compositional, technical and safety specifications of clays to be used as pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. Applied Clay Science 36, 51–63.
Madikizela, L.M., Nkwentsha, N., Mlunguza, N.Y., Mdluli, P.S., 2017. Physicochemical characterization and In vitro evaluation of the sun protection factor of cosmetic products made from natural clay material. South African Journal of Chemistry 70, 113–119.
Manson, A., Roberts, V., 2000. Analytical methods used by the soil fertility and analytical services section. KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, p 5. N/A/2001/4.
Mashao, U., Ekosse, G.I., Odiyo, J., Bukalo, N., 2021. Geophagic practice in Mashau village, Limpopo province, South Africa. Heliyon 7, e6497.
Matike, D., Ekosse, G., Ngole, V., 2010. Indigenous knowledge applied to the use of clays for cosmetic purposes in Africa: An overview. Indilinga African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems 9, 138–150.
Matike, D., Ekosse, G., Ngole, V., 2011. Physico-chemical properties of clayey soils used traditionally for cosmetics in Eastern Cape, South Africa. International Journal Of Physical Science 6, 7557–7566.
Molefe, O., 2015. Physico-chemical characterization of African traditional cosmetics produced by the Ovahimba tribes of Northern Namibia. MSc. Thesis, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.
Morekhure-Mphahlele, R., Focke, W.W., Grote, W., 2017. Characterisation of vumba and ubumba clays used for cosmetic purposes. South African Journal of Science 113, 1–5.
Moyal, D.D., Fourtanier, A.M., 2008. Broad-spectrum sunscreens provide better protection from solar ultraviolet–simulated radiation and natural sunlight–induced immunosuppression in human beings. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 58, S149–S154.
Mpako, M.P., Matike, E.M., Ekosse, G.I., Ngole, V.E., 2011. Ceremonial usage of clays for body painting according to traditional Xhosa culture. Indilinga African Journal of Indigenous Knowledge Systems 10, 235–244.
Msibi, A.T., 2014. The prevalence and practice of geophagia in Mkhanyakude District of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MSc. Thesis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Munsell Color (Firm)., 2010. Munsell Soil Color Charts : with Genuine Munsell Color Chips. Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Nagoba, B.S., Pichare, A., 2016. Medicinal microbiology and parasitology. Prep manual for undergraduates, 3rd Edition. Elsevier, RELX India Private Limited, Haryana, India.
Nchito, M., Geissler, P.W., Mubila, L., Friis, H., Olsen, A., 2004. Effects of iron and multimicronutrient supplementation on geophagy: a two-by-two factorial study among Zambian schoolchildren in Lusaka. Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 98, 218–227.
Ng'etich, W.K., Mwangi, E.M., Kiptoo, J., Digo, C.A., Ombito, J.O., 2014. In vitro determination of sun protection factors on clay used for cosmetic purposes in Kenya. Chemistry of Materials 6, 25–30.
Ngole, V., Ekosse, G., De Jager, L., Songca. S., 2010. Physicochemical characteristics of geophagic clayey soils from South Africa and Swaziland. African Journal of Biotechnology 9, 5929–5937.
Ngomo, O., Sieliechi, J.M., Tchatchueng, J.B., Kamga, R., Tabacaru, A., Dinica, R., Praisler, M., 2014. Differences between structural, textural and rheological properties of two Cameroonian mineral clays used as cosmectic mask. Advances in Environmental Science Development and Chemistry, 424–431.
Okunlola, O., Owoyemi, K., 2015. Compositional characteristics of geophagic clays in parts of Southern Nigeria. Earth Science Research 4, 1.
Olowoyo, J.O., Macheka, L., 2013. An assessment of different soil types generally consumed by pregnant women in South Africa. Medical Technology South Africa 27, 5–8.
Orisakwe, O.E., Udowelle, N.A., Azuonwu, O., Nkeiruka, I.Z., Nkereuwem, U.A. and Frazzoli, C., 2020. Cadmium and lead in geophagic clay consumed in Southern Nigeria: Health risk from such traditional nutraceutical. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 42(11), 3865–3875.
Oudwater, N., Martin, A., 2003. Methods and issues in exploring local knowledge of soils. Geoderma 111(3-4),387–401.
Raymond, L.A., Johnson, N.E., 2017. Crustal Earth Materials. Waveland Press, New York.
Rifkin, R.F., 2012. Processing ochre in the Middle Stone Age: Testing the inference of prehistoric behaviours from actualistically derived experimental data. Journal of Anthropology and Archaeology 31, 174–195.
Rifkin, R.F., d'Errico, F., Dayet-Boulliot, L., Summers, B., 2015. Assessing the photoprotective effects of red ochre on human skin by in vitro laboratory experiments. South African Journal of Science 111, 1–8.
Saathoff, E., Olsen, A., Kvalsvig, J.D., Giessler, P.W., 2002. Geophagy and its association with geohelminth infection in rural schoolchildren from northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 96, 485–490.
Speer, R., 1984. Micas in igneous rocks. [In:] Bailey, S.W. (Ed.), Micas (Reviews in Mineralogy 13). Mineralogical Society of America, Washington, DC, USA, 299–349.
Sumbele, I.U., Ngole, V.M., Ekosse, G.I., 2014. Influence of physico-chemistry and mineralogy on the occurrence of geohelminths in geophagic soils from selected communities in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, and their possible implication on human health. International Journal of Environmental Health Research 24(1),18–30.
Veniale, F., Bettero, A., Jobstraibizer, P.G., Setti. M., 2007. Thermal muds: perspectives of innovations. Applied Clay Science 36, 141-147.
Yamamoto, O., 2001. Influence of particle size on the antibacterial activity of zinc oxide. International Journal of Inorganic Materials 3, 643–646.
Journals System - logo
Scroll to top