Baobab: Tree of Life at Risk

By Sandra Nomoto

Baobab trees or adansonia, native to Madagascar, mainland Africa, the Middle East, and Australia, have over 300 potential uses and can live up to 3,000 years old. Unfortunately, it is facing the threat of extinction primarily due to climate change, but also disease and insect infestation. In 2018, researchers reported that nine of the 13 oldest trees – some up to 2,500 years old – or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died in the last 12 years.

The fruit, which grows up to a foot long, can either be sucked or soaked in water to make a beverage. The pulp is used in both food and beverages, or as a fermenting agent in brewing or baking. Its iron-rich, spinach-like leaves can be boiled and eaten, or dried, and its seeds can be roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee, or pressed to make oil.

Baobab roots, bark, leaves, and pollen can be made into rope, mats, baskets, paper, cloth, musical instrument strings, waterproof hats, glue, and dye, providing an income for local communities.

Known widely as the “Tree of Life,” baobab is most commonly found as a dried powder which can be added to beverages and foods.

Its fresh fruit contains multiple vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, calcium, and protein. The pulp contains more vitamin C than oranges. The seeds and kernel contain fibre, healthy fat, and micronutrients, which helps to curb cravings, promote digestion, and slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. The antioxidants and polyphenols may help to reduce inflammation in the body.

Traditionally, baobab leaves, bark, and seeds have been used to treat many diseases including malaria, tuberculosis, fever, microbial infections, diarrhea, anemia, toothache, and dysentery. Its leaves and pulp have been used to reduce fever and stimulate the immune system.

Fresh baobab leaves are used to treat kidney and bladder disease, asthma, insect bites, and other illnesses.

Baobab seeds and pulp contain anti-nutrients, but are significantly reduced during processing.

More research is required to confirm its health benefits and study its effects on inflammation as well as on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Additional benefits include hydration and skin health, treating or preventing anemia and other antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antidiarrheal, antiviral, and antioxidant properties.

Not only is this tree valuable to humans, but it is also an important source of food, water and shelter for animals and insects. Its flowers are pollinated by bats and bush babies.

Farmers are discouraged by the fact that baobab trees can take up to 15-20 years to fruit, but recent research shows that grafting the branches of fruiting trees to seedlings can produce fruit in five years.

Much potential exists to perfect the process of identifying the best baobab trees for cultivation.

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