Written by: Fausto Ciardo, camp manager at Selous Impala Camp
The African baobab (Adansonia digitata) is one very special tree on the continent, and here’s just 4 reasons why we treasure this majestic arbor at Selous Impala Camp.
1. They have amazing longevity
As the oldest natural things in Africa, they are living monuments; outlasting every plant and animal around them. These trees have evolved to have formidable resilience in order to survive in some of the driest, rockiest areas of this continent. Despite this hostile habitat African baobabs live longer and grow larger than most other trees in the world – this is the great paradox of their existence. Carbon dating has confirmed that some very old baobab trees have been around since the Great Flood, which took place up to 5 000 years ago.
2. Baobabs have many medicinal and spiritual uses
In Africa, the baobab fruit has been used medicinally for centuries to treat everything from vitamin C deficiency, fevers, malaria and gastrointestinal problems to heart disease, varicose veins and liver problems.
The fruit from the ancient baobab tree is an extremely rich source of polyphenals, which are known to be beneficial in reducing the glycaemic response – the rate at which sugar is released into the bloodstream. Now scientists from Oxford Brookes University have established that these polyphenals can be transferred into food products, raising the possibility of creating a range of ‘functional foods’ produced specifically to reduce the effects of Type 2 diabetes.
Wherever baobabs grow, they are central to traditional healing practices. Medicinal compounds are extracted from fruit, wood and leaves. Even today, the trees and the ground around them serve as stages for treatment rituals. Baobabs are vital in sustaining local people both culturally and nutritionally. They are often revered as homes of spirits or at least conduits to the ethereal world. Animists still also imbue the tree with its own spirit. And many Africans, whose spiritual lives remain uncluttered by the constraints of modern religion, find the base of a huge baobab a good place to pray to an omnipresent god.
3. Baobab fruits are a super food
As more scientific research on the remarkable nutritional value and health benefits of the baobab fruit emerges, people across the world are beginning to show an interest in products made from this up-and-coming superfood. Pure baobab fruit powder made from the dried fruit and baobab seeds are just a few examples of baobab products that can now be found in health food stores in the UK and the US.
The baobab fruit is being billed as king of the superfruits, and it has just been given EU approval to be used in smoothies and cereal bars.
The fruit is not only low in sodium, sugar and calories, but it has:
· six times more anti-oxidants than blueberries;
· six times more vitamin C than oranges;
· six times more potassium than bananas;
· more magnesium than coconut water;
· twice as much calcium than milk;
· 66% more iron than spinach when calculated by the gramme.
4. They provide shelter to man and animals
Baobabs undoubtedly dotted the African savanna while our ancestors still lopped along on four legs. The trees would have provided them with easily gathered fruit, while branches gave shelter from rain, sun and predators. As man gradually started to stand upright, his hands began to shape tools and he may have begun to harvest honey from bees’ nests in the trees, to appreciate the goodness in the leaves and to use hollow trees as cave-like homes.
Baobab trees in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania currently show green leaves and good health. It appears that they have appreciated the recent rains and we are grateful to them for hosting bush breakfasts during game drives or providing shade for a lazy afternoon nap! If you’re interested in exploring the Selous and seeing these majestic trees for yourself, contact Adventure Camps Tanzania.
To find out more about Selous Game Reserve, read: Selous: A Long Way From Anywhere