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Monday, December 5, 2011

BAOBAB TREE - THE TREE OF LIFE: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF BAOBAB TREE


BAOBAB TREE, ADANSONIA DIGITATA L. BAOBAB
There are eight species of baobab tree, one in Australia, six in Madagascar and this one which has made its home in the African savannah, and can be found in twenty Sub-Saharan countries in Africa. It has been used by Africans for millennia for food, medicine, ropes and mats as well as beverages and was a subsistence food. It still is for some, but since 2008 when its was approved by the EU as a Novel Food, and then in 2009 when the dried fruit pulp got approval as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) by the USDFA, things are slowly changing. Phytonutrient, a non-profit making organization has helped Africans use the fruit of the baobab tree to rise out of poverty by harvesting the gourd-like fruit and selling it to commercial enterprises which use the dried pulp in health supplements and in some foodstuff. It has been used in fruit bars and smoothies and can actually be used to cook with, if only the fruit could be transported. In some countries such as Malawi, there are sustainable projects with people encouraged to plant more baobab trees, but this is certainly a long-term investment, as the trees take many years to mature.
  The baobab tree is a member of the Bombacaceae family of plants, so is related to Bombax ceiba, the red silk cotton tree which grows in Asia and to the durian, the favourite fruit of many Thais.
  At one time scientists thought that the mighty baobab trees were in danger of extinction, because the young trees do not resemble their older relatives. Now we know that the baobab isn’t under any immediate threat, but that was before the Western world hailed the fruit as “King of the Superfruits”. (Superfruits include the mangosteen, kiwi fruit and pomegranates, among others.) The fruit tastes a little like a jackfruit or a melon, which you have to peel and discover the marshmallow-like fruit hidden in sinewy fibres. The fruit contains six times as much vitamin C as an orange, according to National Geographic and has twice as much calcium as cow’s milk. It is also rich in minerals such as iron, phosphorous and magnesium as well as being potassium rich, making it good for the health of the brain, nerves and muscles. It also contains some of the B-complex vitamins and vitamin A.
  It has been used in traditional African medicine for fevers, malaria, vitamin C deficiency, stomach ailments and upsets, and a multitude of other ailments. The young leaves are eaten as a vegetable, like spinach, and the fruit can be cooked with meat, poultry and fish according to some gastronomes.
  One tree, known as the Big Baobab has had its interior made into a bar, and can hold 60 people or more. That must be the world’s ultimate bar and can be found at Sunlands Nursery in the Limpopo province of South Africa. The tree has been dated as being 6,000 years old (at least) making it one of the oldest trees on the planet, as it was around when our iron Age ancestors roamed the African grasslands (which the savannah was at the time).
Bar inside Baobab
  There are many legends about this tree, explaining its name of “upside-down” tree. It was thought that God was offended by the tree and so planted upside down as a punishment. In winter the branches of the tree stretch skywards just as roots burrow into the ground. The flowers bloom at night and it is unwise to pick them as if you do, so the superstition goes, a lion will rip you apart. It is said that spirits dwell in the flowers. Other superstitions say that if you soak the seeds of the fruit in water and then drink it you will be invincible and strong as a lion. The water, thus drunk will also give protection from all evil.
  Elephants, monkeys and baboons feast on this fruit and the flowers are pollinated by bats and bush-babies which inadvertently carry pollen with them on their fur. This pollen is used as glue, while later the seeds can be pressed to make cooking oil or eaten raw or roasted. When powdered they can be used as a thickener for soups and stews too. They can also be ground after roasting to make a coffee-like drink. It is known as the “Tree of Life” because of all the benefits it has for the locals and wild life.
  The dried fruit pulp is being used in cosmetics and hair-care products as well as in food stuff, and it is to be hoped that we do not over-harvest this tree which has been a source of life for Africans for millennia.

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