It is known as Dooki in Pulaar, Rat in Wolof, and the Mandinka tribe calls it Jambakatan kè, which means “the leaf which does not disappoint”.
The plant can grow as a bush or tree - in The Gambia, it grows up to a maximum height of 5 m, but in other West African regions, it can grow even up to 12 m high. The plant is very resilient. It is drought tolerant, survives where grasses will not, and recovers quickly from burning. It often grows gregariously on sandy and degraded soils.
The plant is highly valued in traditional medicine as it has many healing properties.
Jambakatang bark, leaves, and roots are cooked to produce yellow fabric dye. A unique textile known as the "mud cloth" or "bogolan" is manufactured locally. The black colour of the bogolan fabric is attributed to the chemical reaction of the tannins in the plant with the soluble iron compounds present in the fermented clay. Bogolan is a specialised traditional art originating in Mali. The brownish-yellow dyes are also used in leather tanning and to dye mats.
The yellowish wood is "hard and extremely durable" and is used for building frames, tools, and fuel. The plant is foraged by cattle, giraffes, and other animals, and its fresh young leaves, though very bitter, are occasionally eaten as a vegetable. They are cooked in a soup or sauce and sometimes eaten with cocoyam (Mandinka: Jabery). The plant is in the growing demand for the manufacture of bogolan textiles both in the local and international fashion world.
An infusion of the leaves is very popular during cold and flu season. It is a very effective medicine for allergies, and it provides cough relief, is a muscle relaxant, and a helpful remedy for nausea and upset stomach.
With important flavonoid antioxidant content, it also has anti-inflammatory properties. Combreglutinin, one of the tannins present in the plant, has interesting medicinal properties, particularly for the treatment of hepatitis B.
A decoction of the leaves, bark, and fruits is a very popular medication, mainly to heal urinary, liver, and kidney disease and all kinds of respiratory problems. The plant's bark, leaves, and roots extracts are used for traditional medicinal uses for treating various ailments from influenza, and rheumatism, to sexual issues such as impotence and syphilis. It is commonly brewed as a tea in tropical West Africa to relieve stomach issues and treat malaria in a concoction with many other leaves obtained in the bush.
The crushed or dry powdered leaves or bark are applied externally as a dressing on wounds. The Mandinka people take a leaf decoction in baths and by draught against general fatigue.
In the Senegambia region, it is one of several trees whose twigs are used as "chewing sticks,” toothpicks, and toothbrushes to clean teeth. Its bark also contains gum resin, which is used to fill cavities of carious teeth, dress wounds, fumigation, and incense. A decoction of the leaves is used for baths to relieve fatigue.
So, we are getting stocked up with this interesting and versatile herb to have it at hand when needed.
What about you?