Let’s talk about the African Baobab – Adansonia digitata
Baobab in Ruaha – photo by Flo Montgomery
They have amazing longevity.
They are living monuments, the oldest natural things in Africa, outlasting every plant and animal around them. These trees have evolved formidable resilience in order to survive in some of the driest, rockiest areas of this continent. Yet, for all the hostility of much of their 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, between 4 and 5000 years ago.
Baobab flower - photo by Rebecca Phillips, manager at Mdonya Old River camp in Ruaha
Baobabs have many medicinal and spiritual uses
In Africa, the baobab fruit has been used medicinally for centuries to treat everything from fevers, malaria and gastrointestinal problems, heart disease, varicose veins and liver problems to vitamin C deficiency.
The fruit from the ancient baobab tree is an extremely rich source of polyphenals, known to be beneficial in reducing the glycaemic response - the rate at which sugar is released into the bloodstream. Now scientists from the Oxford Brookes University have established that this benefit can be transferred into foodstuffs, raising the possibility of creating a range of "functional foods" produced specifically to reduce the effects of Type two diabetes.
Wherever baobabs grow, they are central to traditional healing practices. Medicinal compounds are extracted from fruit, wood and leaves. Even today, in Africa the trees and the ground around them serve as stages for rituals of treatment. Baobabs are vital in sustaining local people both culturally and nutritionally. It takes no great leap of belief to revere them as homes of spirits or at least conduits to the ethereal world beyond.
Animists still imbue the tree with its own spirit. Other Africans, whose spiritual lives also remain uncluttered by the strictures of modern religion, find the base of a huge baobab a good place to pray to a god that may be everywhere or more there than anywhere else.
Baobab flower - photo by Andrea Pompele
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 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).
It's being billed as king of the superfruits - the baobab fruit has just been given EU approval to be used in smoothies and cereal bars.
Baobab Fruit Has 6 x Antioxidants of blueberries
6 x Vitamin C of oranges
6 x Potassium of bananas
50% heart healthy fibre per serving
More Magnesium than coconut water
Twice as much calcium as milk
Gram for Gram, 66% more iron than spinach
Low in Sodium, sugar and calories
Elephants through a hollow Baobab trunk - photo by Rebecca Phillips
4. They provide shelter to man and animals
For sure baobabs dotted the African savanna while our ancestors still lollopped 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, it freed up his hands to shape tools and he may have begun to harvest honey from the bees’ nests in the trees, to appreciate the goodness in the leaves and to use hollow trees as cave-like homes.
Baobabs are one of the favourite trees of the leopard - photo by Rebecca Phillips
Walking safari in Selous - from Lake Manze camp
Impala camp car shelters under a Baobab - photo by Fausto Ciardo, manager at Selous Impala Camp
Baobab trees in Selous currently show green leaves and good health. It seems they appreciated the recent rains very much and we thank them for hosting our breakfasts out in the bush during a game drive or for a lazy and shady afternoon nap!
Sunset with Baobab in the Ruaha bush - photo by Rebecca Phillips