Science & Nature

Aug 1, 2017

THE TREE OF LIFE

The Baobab embodies the African spirit. Tree of life, fertility and medical solution for many diseases, the Baobab has a unique importance for entire communities. There is a legend in Senegal (the image of this tree is part of the coat of arms of the country) which says that if a dead man is buried inside a Baobab, his soul will live as long as the tree exists.

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The scientific name is your Adansonia Digitata, but they're also known as Baobabs or Calabaceiras. In front of it, in many regions, the locals gather around the tree because it's their belief that the spirit of the Baobab will help them taking important decisions.

The Baobab is much more than a big, wide tree which can go across a millennium. It carries with it the strength of the African resistance, the history of the devotion of the black people and the power of transforming prejudices.

Today, many of the products resulting from this tree are marketed, mainly, in Brazil, and there are projects to expand its marketing in Europe. To this end, countries such as Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Angola are "open" to foreign investment in order to expand export.

With extraordinary trunks, that can reach to measure more than 20 meters in diameter, they are often used by the natives as housing or storage of agricultural products. In South Africa, in Modjadjiskloof, province of Limpopo, one of these trees was turned into a bar – the "Baobab-Bar", with a fifteen customers' capacity.

But these are not huge structures by accident: during the rainy season, water is stored inside its trunk – which is hollow and fire resistant – in order to face the dry months that follow, and there are records of Baobabs which can store up to over 100 thousand litres of the liquid.

In these plants, everything can be used. The fruit, called mukua, are rich in C vitamin, potassium and calcium. Its bark is used in the manufacture of ropes and fabrics; the leaves have medicinal properties and are used as a condiment; and, from its seeds, one can extract an oil, rich in vitamins A and F. Another curious fact is about its flowering that usually occurs during a single night.

Its fruit is considered one of the superfruits, for being a rich and complete food. The leaves are used in food, fresh or boiled, because they are also very nutritious. The seeds are eaten toasted or transformed into flour. Once dried and ground, they are also used to make a drink that resembles coffee.

Medicinal uses

The tree is really "powerful". The Baobabs' fruit is an excellent vitamin source (specially C and B complex vitamins), fibres, essential amino acids and iron, still possessing antiseptic, detoxifying qualities and depurative, antibacterial and aging retardant.

In Africa and in Brazil, nutritionists and some doctors recommend the use of the dried pulp powder and Baobab seed oil to treat hair problems, rashes and sunburn.

According to some experts, the Baobab powder intake allows the recovery of the immune system and the organic functions after exhaustion.

This tree is all harnessed: the fruits are consumed 'in natura'; the water contained in the trunk is used for drinking and cooking; the leaves are used both as food, as much as cooked for medicinal purposes; the dried pulp is used to make porridge, mush, thicken soups and sauces as well as cakes, ice cream, puddings, bread, couscous, yogurt and biscuits; and vegetable oil can be extracted from the seeds.

Where to buy

Currently you can buy Baobab powder for use as a dietary supplement, but both the vegetable oil as the essence and the powder are quite concentrated and can, depending on the sensitivity of each, produce adverse effects in the body. For this reason, it is better to consult a doctor about the necessity and usefulness of taking this supplement.

A non-profit organization, the Baobab Fruit co. from Senegal commercializes the fruit in Europe and North America and PhytoTrade Africa plans to sell the fruit to raise donations that allow "sustain" about 2,500,000 of poorer families in southern Africa.

The size of this tree is so impressive that some are used as houses, deposits of grain or animal shelters, but unfortunately the species is threatened with extinction.

This tree is divided into eight different species, six of them native to Madagascar, Africa, one from the Middle East and another variant, which appeared in Australia. All species, however, exist in other countries, including Brazil, being considered by some biologists as the oldest trees on Earth. It is estimated that they can reach up to 2000 years of existence, calculated by its diameter.

Legends of Baobab

There are several legends about the origin of the African Baobab, but two are best known. They say, at the moment of creation, God gave all animals a seed of a tree. The Baboon, a monkey known for your laziness, received the Baobab seeds and, rather than plant them, simply threw them on Earth. The seeds would have sprung forth upside down, leaving the roots visible and the cup buried. Some African tribes attribute the appearance of the tree to this amazing legend.

The second legend tells that the tree reigned over all of Africa, but the Baobab was so superb that the gods were angered and placed them upside down as punishment. The legend says that those who eat its fruits will be cursed with death by the mouth of a lion.

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