One of a Kind
Traditional African healers believe they have one cure for a range of ailments including rheumatism, syphilis, snakebite and even tornadoes. This handy organic medicine is also useful for driving away evil spirits.
This miraculous medication is none other than the fruit of the sausage tree (Kigelia africana). A member of the family Bignoniaceae, this tree is the only member of its genus and is prolific throughout tropical Africa, Namibia and the northern provinces of South Africa.
Although the fruit is poisonous in its raw form, it can be safely eaten once dried, roasted or fermented, and is also used in a number of skin care products. In fact, the Tsonga women of the Zambezi Valley swear by its blemish-banishing properties and have been applying it to their skin for centuries.
Modern research suggests that Kigelia fruit extract may even be successful in treating skin cancer.
Apart from these benefits, this large fruit, which can reach up to 50cm in length and weigh 10kg, is also used to make loofahs for exfoliating the skin at bath time.
Kigelia can grow up to 20m tall, and although it is a decorative and sought-after garden specimen, careful planning is required during planting, as the heavy fruit can cause considerable damage to anything in its path, should it fall from the branches.
Along with the pretty flowers, the smooth grey bark, which peels with age, contributes to the visual appeal of the tree. The pale brown to yellowish wood is resistant to cracking and used in the production of furniture, boxes, shelving, building material and joinery, as well as mokoros (canoes).
This unique and attractive plant has won the hearts of gardeners worldwide and been successfully planted all over the world in places as diverse as India and Australia.
The attractive flowers and fruit hang down from long flexible, rope-like stems which originate on the branches and form convenient perches for the birds who visit the flowers in search of nectar. Insects, especially carpenter bees, also call on the flowers frequently and assist in pollinating the tree, along with bats, which enjoy the flowers which remain open at night.
Seeds are dispersed in the dung of various animals such as baboons, elephants, hippos, monkeys, porcupines, giraffes and bushpigs who find the fruit quite delicious. Kudu and elephants are also fond of the leaves and are often seen in the vicinity of sausage trees.