Africa’s Ex­port King of the Jun­gle— and Su­per­food

Natural Solutions - - Food Matters | - BY MIKE A. MILLER

HIS­TORY Use of the baobab tree as medicine hails from an­cient times—as far back as an­cient Egypt, where its seeds have been found in tombs. It is thought that they used the fruit to treat fevers, dysen­tery, and open wounds. The tree is not na­tive to Egypt, how­ever, and the Egyp­tians likely re­lied on trade routes to source the cov­eted fruit. In­stead, the African baobab pep­pers dry, sandy sites south of the Sa­hara and Tan­za­nia. It’s safe to say that the baobab has been an in­te­gral part of the African land­scape for mil­len­nia.

In 1749, French ex­plorer Michel Adan­son found the handy fruit tree dur­ing his stay in Sene­gal and brought sam­ples back home. He was re­warded for “dis­cov­er­ing” the baobab tree, and it took af­ter his own name, un­der the genus Adan­so­nia. Only one species, Adan­so­nia dig­i­tata, is in­dige­nous to Africa, with “dig­i­tata” re­fer­ring to the tree’s hand-like shape. Other species of the baobab tree are na­tive to Aus­tralia and Mada­gas­car.

Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions, the old­est cur­rently liv­ing baobab tree is 3,000 years old—but the species is gen­er­ally thought to live for 1000 to 2000 years. The widest baobab tree is the gi­gan­tic Sun­land Big Baobab, mea­sur­ing 108 feet in di­am­e­ter and car­bon dated to be about 1,700 years old.

Africans have a long his­tory of us­ing the tree for its nu­tri­tional, medic­i­nal, and prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits. Lo­cal el­ders come to large de­ci­sions un­der its spindly canopy and it is widely revered for its wis­dom, ac­cord­ing to Les­lie Shages, African eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and trade spe­cial­ist, and nat­u­ral foods re­searcher. Highly re­garded as one of the most use­ful African trees, Africans not only eat the fruit, but use the seeds and leaves as medicine for ail­ments such as di­ar­rhea, malaria, and mi­cro­bial in­fec­tions.

But baobab isn’t out of tricks yet—its grey, fi­brous bark is used for mak­ing clothes, rope, and bas­kets. Its mam­moth, hol­lowed-out trunks have been trans-

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