Baobabs

The baobab tree (Adansonia digitata L.) is a member of the Bombacaceae family and a genus of eight species of tree. The baobab is widely distributed through the savannas and drier regions of Africa but it is also common in America, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China and Jamaica.

The generic name honours Michel Adanson, the French naturalist who described Adansonia for the first time. Digitata refers to the fingers of a hand, which the leaflets bring to mind. The tree is also commonly called the upside-down tree, bottle tree, and monkey-bread tree.

The trees reach heights of 20 m with a trunk 10 m in diameter and branches 50 m in diameter.

The tree has long been an important source of human nutrition. Indigenous peoples traditionally use the leaves, bark, roots, fruits and seeds as foodstuffs, as well as in medical applications for humans and animals.

Upon pollination by fruit bats, the tree produces large green or brownish fruits which are capsules and characteristically indehiscent. The capsules contain a soft, whitish, powdery pulp and kidney-shaped seeds (15).

The baobab fruit pulp has a refreshing taste and is very nutritious, with particularly high values of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The pulp is a rich source of calcium (4), potassium and vitamin C (3). The fruit pulp comprises in total 80 % carbohydrates including 50 % dietary fibres, approximately half soluble and half insoluble. Recently, dietary fibre has gained increased importance as a component of the diet, thanks to its ability to influence multiple aspects of the digestive physiology (5).

Baobab fruit pulp is used for multiple medicinal purposes in many parts of Africa. Traditionally the pulp is used internally in cases of dysentery and diarrhoea as well as an immunostimulant (7). Aqueous extract of the baobab fruit pulp produces marked anti-inflammation, anti-pyretic activity (6) and hepatoprotective activity (7).