Medicinal Uses of Trees

Baobab. Brett Hilton-Barber
Picture Gallery

?Trees convey a sense of permanence and stability in our common experience . . . they have played a central role in Man?s rituals from time immemorial and sacred groves, whether hidden in the depths of forests or growing prominently on some significant hillside, are as much part of the African landscape as anywhere else in the world.?
Natural history writer Peter Borchert.


Kruger is a tree-lover's heaven. In all the regions, barring the mopane shrubveld, there are extraordinary trees ? some 336 species in all. The riverine forests in the north of the Park and the granitic foothills of the south-west are home to some of the most magnificent specimens, while some of the baobabs north of the Luvuvhu River may be more than 4 000 years old.

Kruger has hardy trees ? species that do well can withstand the vicissitudes of drought, over-browsing and periodic veld fires. Their distribution across the Park is primarily a consequence of the underlying geology, soil types and amount of rainfall.

Many of Kruger's trees and shrubs have medicinal properties that have been used for hundreds of years by African communities. Traditional healers still make use of many of these plants in treating a variety of physiological and psychological disorders. Here are some of Kruger's most common trees, the animals associated with them and their medicinal qualities and other uses.

?The thorns of the tree Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo thorn) are spaced along the length of every branch in pairs. One of the pair points robustly outward and forward while the other curves back and inwards in the opposite direction. The Nguni African legend says the thorns tell us something about ourselves ? that we must look ahead to the future?but we must never forget where we have come from.?
Ian McCallum (Ecological Intelligence Published by Africa Geographic Books)

MopaneMopane (Colophospermum mopane)
Characteristics
Deciduous tree that dominates the north; grows in tree, shrub and intermediate form; unmistakable ?butterfly? leaves; mopaneveld becomes golden in winter
Animal associations
Elephant browse leaves and bark; other animals eat fallen leaves, lots of insects which attract baboons and certain birds
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Wood extracts used to cure venereal disease; good firewood

Red BushwillowRed Bushwillow (Combretum apiculatum)
Characteristics
Deciduous tree that dominates the south; grows in tree and shrub form; thin pointed leaves; four-winged pods visible in autumn and winter
Animal associations
New growth very attractive to browsers in spring, particularly giraffe, elephant, impala and kudu
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Good for furniture; leaves used in medicine for stomach disorders


Knob-thorn acaciaKnob-thorn acacia(Acacia nigrescens)
Characteristics
Deciduous tree that produces a magnificent creamy-yellow flower that announces the arrival of spring in the lowveld; knob-thorns pronounced on younger trees
Animal associations
Leaves and pods form the main diet for giraffe, elephants, kudu, impala and steenbok; giraffe and baboons love the flowers; many raptors use the bigger knob-thorns for nesting
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Used to make furniture, lightning conductors and fighting sticks

TambotiTamboti(Spirostachys africana)
Characteristics
Semi-deciduous to evergreen that grows up to 18m; dark, rough bark that forms little rectangles on the straight trunk; narrow canopy; often grows in stands in brakwater areas
Animal associations
Porcupines are very fond of tamboti bark, especially in winter; leaves are browsed by black rhino, elephants, giraffe, eland, kudu, nyala, impala and bushbuck; fallen fruits are eaten by guineafowl and monkeys

Traditional medicinal and other uses
Poisonous latex used in fishing ? dropped into pools to stun fish to make them easier to catch; never braai over tamboti wood as it can cause severe stomach pains; small amounts of the latex are used to treat stomach pains and diarrhoea and dysentery; sought-after wood for furniture

Apple-leafApple-leaf(Philenoptera violacea)
Characteristics
Deciduous and semi-deciduous, drought-resistant tree with distinctive green-grey leathery leaves; beautiful lilac flowers in spring
Animal associations
Reliable winter-browsing tree for giraffe, elephant, kudu, impala, nyala; eland and Lichtenstein's hartebeest; also known as the ?rain tree? because the ground around the tree is often damp ? this is the result of falling secretions from aphids
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Roots are used in a variety of treatments ? from curing colds to treating snakebites; wood used for fencing

MarulaMarula(Sclerocarya birrea)
Characteristics
Deciduous tree that fruits from November to March; dappled bark makes it easy to identify
Animal associations
Favoured by wide variety of browsers, especially elephant and kudu, impala, baboons and monkeys; zebra eat fallen fruit
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Considered a sacred tree used in fertility rites; bark used in the treatment of malaria; potent alcohol can be brewed from fruit which is tasty and rich in Vitamin C

KiaatKiaat bloodwood(Pterocarpus angolensis)
Characteristics
Deciduous tree with distinct broad pods visible from late summer to mid-winter; yellow flowers in spring; rough dark grey bark; can grow to 30m
Animal associations
Elephant and kudu eat leaves, baboons and vervet monkeys browse on the pods and seeds
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Widely used for wood carvings and furniture; sap used to treat skin cuts and wounds and to treat eye cataracts; roots are used in concoction to treat blackwater fever and malaria; ashes of roots are used for asthma and tuberculosis; a liquid infusion of the bark is for headaches, stomach aches and piles

BaobabBaobab(Adansonia digitata)
Characteristics
Unmistakable deciduous tree with huge branches that appear root-like; brief flowering season in spring
Animal associations
Bark eaten by elephant; antelope chew on spongy wood to quench thirst; bats are part pollination agents
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Bark and leaves used to treat dysentery, malaria; drink made from fruit pulp is used to cure urinary problems and mild diarrhoea; leaves used to reduce fever; powdered seeds are a hiccup remedy for children

SycamoreSycamore fig(Ficus sycomorus)
Characteristics
Semi-deciduous tree with yellowish bark; roots usually exposed; grows up to 35m with spreading crown
Animal associations
Browsed by a wide range of animals, including elephant, giraffe, kudu, bushbuck, nyala, impala and baboon; fallen fruit are eaten by bushpigs and warthogs
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Used as the base block for making fire by rubbing wood; mixture of bark and latex used to cure coughs and chest ailments; inner bark makes good rope; fruit is edible

Ebony jackal-berryEbony jackal-berry(Diospyros mespiliformis)
Characteristics
Semi-deciduous to evergreen riverine tree; grows up to 25m; has dense crown and upright trunk with grey, fissured bark; flowers in early summer; fruits during winter
Animal associations
Fallen fruit eaten by jackal, kudu, impala and nyala; baboons and monkeys feed on fruit on tree; attracts lots of birds like green pigeons and brown-headed parrots
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Fruit used to treat internal parasites; extracts of bark and leaves believed to have antibiotic properties; leaves and bark used to disinfect wounds

Silver cluster-leafSilver cluster-leaf(Terminalia sericea)
>Characteristics
Deciduous tree with hairy, silvery leaves; rough grey bark; spreading crown
Animal associations
Generally low nutritional value but browsers love young leaves; elephant and giraffe sometimes eat the wood; wildebeest known to eat fallen leaves
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Roots used to cure diarrhoea and treat pneumonia; extracts of bark used to cure poisoning and treat diabetes

Fever TreeFever tree acacia(Acacia xanthophloea)
Characteristics
Deciduous and semi-deciduous tall tree with distinctive yellow-green bark
Animal associations
Elephants eat leaves and branches; baboons and monkeys eat flowers; trees often have weavers? nests
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Bark used for bringing down fever and treating eye infections

LeadwoodLeadwood bushwillow(Combretum imberbe)
Characteristics
Deciduous tree with extremely hard wood; recognisable by pale grey bark and location along drainage lines; four-winged pods in autumn
Animal associations
Leaves eaten by elephant, kudu, giraffe, and impala
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Revered as a mystical tree in indigenous folklore; leaves and flowers used to relieve coughs; good firewood


Weeping boerWeeping boer-bean(Schotia brachypetala)
Characteristics
Semi-deciduous to evergreen; up to 25m tall; dense clusters of bright red flowers from the start of spring to early summer
Animal associations
Baboons, kudu, giraffe and black rhino eat leaves; baboons also drink nectar from the flowers, which also attract lots of birds and insects
Traditional medicinal and other uses
A ?morning after? tree ? extracts of bark used for treating hangovers and heartburn

Rock figLarge-leaved rock fig(Ficus abutilifolia)
Characteristics
Deciduous tree with yellowish bark found on mountain outcrops; roots often visible across the rock face; grows up to 10m
Animal associations
Fruit eaten by baboons, monkeys, bushbuck, bushpigs, nyala and duiker
Traditional medicinal and other uses
Bark extract is a strengthening tonic for men



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