Africa’s Export King of the Jungle— and Superfood
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-