Stretched across the African savannah's, plains, and mountains, the grandeur of life is abundant and then some, from animals that walk and fly to the plants that sway in the wind. Among the living are the trees, varying in species. In the African context, trees symbolize growth, prosperity, wisdom, and adaptability and have the utmost respect in the spirit world. Although there are hundred of species spread across the continent, we'll review six trees which contain essential nutrients for sustaining life. While you read, collect commonalities these trees have and we'll discuss below!
You may be most familiar with the Oleifera species of moringa, also called Indian moringa; however, the Moringaceae family consists of 13 species. Specifically, there are nine species endemic to Africa; six species native to East Africa (M. arborea, M. borziana, M. longituba, M. pygmaea, M. rivae, and M. ruspoliana); two are native to Madagascar (M. drouhardii and M. hildebrandtii ); and one species is native to Southern Africa (M. ovalifolia ). The M. peregrina and M. stenopetala are endemic to Africa as well, and have the most extensive scientific data, unlike the species mentioned above (1). Despite the species, studies and traditional use have proven the frugality moringa tree.
"As sources of the usually short sulfur-bearing amino acids methionine and cystine, Moringa oleifera, grown for edible leaves, shoots, young fruits, and roots, is incomparable.” - Martin
The entire tree is edible, however people commonly consume the seeds, pods, leaves, and roots. People across various cultures include moringa as a staple in their diet. Many cook the leaves as spinach and feed it to the young children. The moringa tree is unique, as there are few trees that provide a complete protein profile. It's also rich in vitamin C, A, K, and numerous minerals.
2. Bitter Kola (Garcinia Kola)
Commonly used in ethno-medicine practice in Western and Central Africa, bitter kola (Garcinia kola) and it's relatives (G. livingstonei, G. gnetoides, G. staudtii, G. smeathemannii, G. ovalivolia, G. brevipediellata and G. mannii ) are used to treat upper respiratory issues such as coughing and is chewed for it's aphrodisiac properties. Properties of the kola nut proven by traditional African medicinal include:
It's also rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, C E, B1, B2, B3, calcium, potassium, and iron (2). One study found that the bitter kola showed a significant difference in the brains of malnourished rats. Amongst the four groups of the rats, one group was given a neurotoxin and another was given extracts of Garcinia kola before the neurotoxin was administered. They found no neural degeneration in the group that took bitter kola!
3. Black Walnut
The Tetracarpidium conophorum / Plukenetia conophora plant, also known as the African walnut or Nigerian walnut, flourishes in the forests of sub-Saharan and Western Africa, and is cultivated for nutritional and lifestyle purposes. The walnut leaves are eaten as greens; the oil is used as wood varnish and vulcanize oil; the walnut is eaten raw or roasted, as well as grounded up to be used as flour. A tree with multiple uses also has multiple benefit!
Black walnut can be incorporated into eating habits to sustain vital life. It's rich in fatty acids (omega 3's and oleic), polyphenols, zinc, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, B(1,2,3,5,6,9,12), C, and E (4,5). Medicinally, black walnut detoxifies the kidneys, relieves constipation, and soothes toothaches.
4. Sudan Gum
Known as a food additive in the cuisine world, sudan gum ( Acacia senegal ) has been used for centuries. Although it's indigestible for both humans and animals, the compound bypasses the small intestine and ferments in the colon, releasing fatty acids that have shown to have a prebiotic effect and manage metabolism. Arab folk medicine has used sudan gum for centuries, topically for wound cover and internally for intestinal issues. Recent studies have found that this fibrous gum with a potent anti-inflammatory property has an effect on chronic renal failure and sickle cell anemia.
Sudanese, especially those in the Kordofan region (also known as the gum belt), are now facing desertification due to the cultivation methods of sudan gum. They are continuing to restrategize and manage agroforestry of sudan gum to reduce the strain on the environment and the livelihood of those who live in the surrounding areas.
5. Jackleberry / African Ebony
Throughout the African savannah and swamp lands, jackleberry ( Diospyros mespiliformis ) sustains the wildlife and the native Africans near this dark wood tree. Beautiful canoes are carved from the dark wood of African Ebony; it's also used in house construction, instruments, and flooring. Once the tree's flowers bloom, bees swarm the tree. The fruit, also called African persimmon, although enjoyed as an edible, has medicinal properties. As a matter of fact, every part of the tree can be used medicinally! According to traditional medicinal practices, the:
roots (roasted and pulverized) have anthelmintic properties and may be used for jaundice, malaria, pneumonia, syphilis, and ease childbirth
bark, a vermifuge used in veterinary medicine, are taken for upper respiratory issues, wounds and ulcers
leaf (infused or decoction) may treat fevers, diarrhea, menorrhagia
infused fruit may be taken for dysentery and menorrhagia; the fruit ash is applied to fungal skin infections
seed decoctions are used for headaches
6. Mongongo / Manketti
Once a foreign and wild tree just twenty years ago, mongongo is rising in the beauty industry. The manketti tree is native to Namibia, but flourishes in other southern African countries such as Zambia, Angola, Malawi, and Mozambique. The bushmen of Kalahari know the mongongo tree (Schinziophyton rautanenii ) well, as the it's an integral part of their diet; in fact it has been for over 7000 years! The nutritious nuts are eaten raw, steamed, or roasted and the nut oil protects the bushmen from the harsh desert conditions.
The oil is also expressed from the seeds, oozing a rich yellow color. Mongongo oil is high in vitamin E, linoleic and eleostearic acids which have skin protecting properties, act as an emollient, and promote epidermis regeneration.
Commonalities & Conclusion
These six African trees have their own unique constitutes, however they share a couple things in common:
ALL of the parts of the trees are cultivated for medicinal use
They sustain the life of those in the surrounding areas where the tree lives, animal and human alike
These trees are the epitome of wisdom, sustaining all life forms, highly adaptable to the environment, and rely on the ecosystem to flourish. May we be like these trees, wholesome and abiding by our true selves, so that we all may flourish.
P.s. - within the next month, separate extensive articles will be written about each of these six trees. Join the email list to get a heads up!
1. Habtemariam, Solomon. The African and Arabian Moringa Species: Chemistry, Bio-activity, and Therapeutic Applications. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2017. Print
2. Ajayi, S. A., Ofusori, D. A., Ojo, G. B., Ayoka, O. A., Abayomi, T. A., & Tijani, A. A. (2011). The microstructural effects of aqueous extract of Garcinia kola (Linn) on the hippocampus and cerebellum of malnourished mice. Asian Pacific journal of tropical biomedicine, 1(4), 261-5.
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4. Ojobor, Charles & Anosike, Chioma & Chijiokes Collins, Ani. (2015). STUDIES ON THE PHYTOCHEMICAL AND NUTRITIONAL PROPERTIES OF TETRACARPIDIUM CONOPHORUM (BLACK WALNUT) SEEDS.
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6. Babiker, R., Merghani, T. H., Elmusharaf, K., Badi, R. M., Lang, F., & Saeed, A. M. (2012). Effects of Gum Arabic ingestion on body mass index and body fat percentage in healthy adult females: two-arm randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind trial. Nutrition journal, 11, 111. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-111
7. El-Kamali, H.H., 2011. Diospyros mespiliformis Hochst. ex A.DC. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Louppe, D. & Oteng-Amoako, A.A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 28 February 2019.
8. Grant, Amy. “Jackalberry Persimmon Trees: How To Grow An African Persimmon Tree.” Gardening Know How, 2018, www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/persimmon/jackalberry-persimmon-trees.htm.
9. Athar, M. and S. Nasir (2005) Taxonomic perspective of plant species yielding vegetable oils used in cosmetics and skin care products. African Journal of Biotechnology 4(1): 36-44.
10. “Mongongo.” PhytoTrade Africa, 27 Oct. 2015, phytotrade.com/products/mongongo/.