Baobab trees at sunset

The Baobab Tree and its Fruit

The baobab is perhaps the best known tree in Africa and grows in abundance in hot, dry lowland areas such as the Rift Valley. Its spreading crown of branches is bare of leaves for much of the year and reminiscent of a root system, hence the baobab’s common name: ‘The Upside Down Tree’. Its stout grey trunk can reach enormous sizes, in some instances over 25 metres in circumference.

 basket of baobab pods
The baobab belongs to its own botanical family – the Bombacaceae – and is extremely long-lived. It is common for trees to live to over 1,000 years and some specimens are believed to be as old as 3,000 years.

Baobab fruits are ovoid in shape and are formed from elaborate white flowers which are pollinated by bats. The fruit has a hard, woody shell with a velvety yellow-green coating. Inside the shell are the large oil-rich seeds, the fruit powder and fibres. Baobab fruit is harvested in Southern Africa between February and May.

Baobab Oil

Baobab Oil

Baobab seed oil is semi-fluid, golden yellow and gently scented. It is strongly non-siccative (ie. it does not dry out on contact with the air) and has a demonstrably longer shelf-life than many other natural seed oils. It contains almost equal measures of palmitic acid, oleic acid and linoleic acid. Although it is edible, its commercial use is primarily in the cosmetics industry. For more information see: oils.phytotrade.com.

Baobab Fruit Powder

Baobab Fruit Powder

Baobab fruit powder is a pale powder that forms naturally inside the fruits of the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata). It has an exotic tangy flavour due to its content of citric, malic and tartaric acids and is exceptionally nutritious containing high natural levels of antioxidants, essential minerals including calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium, and vitamin C. For more information see: www.baobabsuperfruit.com.

Traditional Uses and Known Properties

Baobab is known in Africa as The Tree of Life because there are many traditional uses for every part of it, from the leaves to the roots. The fruit powder is commonly with water and sugar to make a popular and refreshing sherbet-like drink. The powder is also used for porridge, sauces and other dishes and as a substitute for cream of tartar in baking, and a fermenting agent in traditional brews.

Medicinally, baobab fruit powder has many applications. It is taken to treat fevers, gastric complaints (perhaps due to its high magnesium content), malaria, haemoptysis (the coughing of blood from the lungs) and vitamin C deficiency. The fruit powder is also as a general health tonic, particularly among children, pregnant women and the elderly, perhaps due to its high calcium content.

Traditionally African people also eat the leaves of the baobab, which can be pounded to make a relish, and use the fibrous bark to make ropes, baskets and fishing nets.

However, for reasons of sustainability, PhytoTrade Africa encourages commercial production of products derived only from the fruit and seeds of baobab and not from the leaves or bark.

Map of Baobab distribution and the members actively involved in harvesting Baobab