The Baobab-Africa’s Giant Tree

There are eight species of Baobab tree, but only one is native to the African mainland. Six of its relatives live in Madagascar and one in Australia. Baobabs only grow below 1000m (3,000 ft) in tropical and the oldest are said to be well over 2000 years old.

Baobabs can reach heights of up to 30m. The largest in existence now has a height of 22m  and a diameter of 47m.  Since fires have hollowed out parts of the trunk, the owner has turned it into a bar and wine cellar. Carbon dated at around 6,000 years old, this has a claim to be the oldest living tree in the world. Elsewhere those with hollow trunks have been used as burial sites and the trees have become sacred.

In many places, the enduring giant trees became a symbol of community, a place of gathering. In African villages, important decisions/dispute resolutions  are still done under the Baobab tree. Villagers/ nomads rely on this tree as a valuable source of water when the rains have failed and the rivers dried. A single tree can hold up to 4,500 litres of water. The bark and flesh are soft, fibrous and fire-resistant and can be used to weave rope and cloth. It is also used to make soap, rubber, glue and various medicines.

Baobab leaves can be eaten like spinach and  dried for use as a condiment. Natives eat the pulp for porridge. Farmers mixed this pulp with water to treat malaria. Inside the seed pods, a white pulp, when mixed with water, makes the most refreshing drink. The seeds are also roasted and eaten like groundnuts and if  crushed make a sort of peanut butter. The bark may be pounded and soaked and made into rope, fishing nets or clothes. The baobab fruit is particularly nourishing and rich in vitamins and antioxidants. It contains over six times more Vitamin C than oranges and twice as much calcium as milk. It is also high in anti-oxidants, iron and potassium and was traditionally used by sailors to stave off scurvy.
Now, the benefits of the Baobab are to be experienced by millions of overseas consumers, with the announcement (September 2009) that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the importation of baobab powder, made from the pulp of the fruit, into the US.
Creative Corner-The Baobab Tree (By Shaukat Zaidi)