Trichilia emetica – also known as the Cape Mahogany – is a beautiful slow-growing hardwood tree that grows up to 30m in height. It is evergreen with dark glossy leaves, red-brown bark and fragrant creamy yellow flowers. The trichilia tree is found across Southern Africa in low altitude, frost-free areas, mainly along rivers and the coast.

The pear-shaped fruits dry out and split into three segments, hence the name trichilia which means ‘in three parts’. Inside the fruits are bright red seeds that are rich in oil. A single tree yields on average around 20 litres of oil.

Traditional Uses and Known Properties

The oil, often called mafura butter is a central part of Southern African domestic life and is renowned for its cosmetic and healing properties. It is used on the skin to nourish and revitalise as well as to condition the hair. The butter is also used medicinally to treat rheumatism and heal wounds.


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


Trichilia Oil

Oil from the seeds of the trichilia tree forms a solid butter at room temperature and melts at 30˚C. The butter is rich in essential fatty acids (palmitic, stearic, oleic and linoleic) and has been shown to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity due to the presence of limonids such as Trichilin A. It has also been shown to scavenge free radicals more effectively than many other oils on the market.Product Applications

Product Applications

  • Skin butter to nourish and revitalise.
  • Conditioning hair care products.
  • Soaps.
  • Wood polish.


Scientific Literature

Useful studies on mafura butter/trichilia oil include:

  • Germano, M. P., D’Angelo, V.D., Biasini, T., Sanogo, R., De Pasquale, R. and Catania, S. (2006) Evaluation of the antioxidant properties and bioavailability of free and bound phenolic acids from Trichilia emetica Vahl. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 105(3): 368-373.
  • Grundy, I. M. and B. M. Campbell (1993) Potential production and utilisation of oil from Trichilia SPP. (Meliaceae). Economic Botany 47(2): 148-153.
  • Madembo, C. (2004) Preparation of a fixed oil from Trichilia emetica. Faculty of Pharmacy. Harare, University of Zimbabwe.
  • Venter, F. and Venter J. (1996) Natal Mahogany. Making the most of indigenous trees. Pretoria, South Africa, Briza publications: 154-155.
  • Watt, J. M. and Breyer- Brandwijk, M. G. (1932) Meliaceae In The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern Africa. Livingstone, Edinburgh, pp. 92-95.