Health benefits of African Elemi

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African elemi Quick Facts
Name: African elemi
Scientific Name: Canarium schweinfurthii
Origin Angola, Mali, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, United Republic of Togo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Zambia
Colors Bluish-purple
Shapes Small drupe, glabrous, 3-4 cm long and 1-2 cm thick
Health benefits Beneficial for hypertension, dysentery, gonorrhea, coughs, chest pains, pulmonary affections, stomach complaints, food poisoning, anemia, eyes diseases, helminthes infection, goiter, toothache & cardiovascular health
Canarium schweinfurthii commonly known as the bush candle, African olive, African elemi is a species of large tree belonging to Burseraceae (Frankincense family). The plant is native to Angola, Mali, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, United Republic of Togo, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Zambia. Few of the popular common names of the plant are African Elemi, Bush candle tree, Schweinfurth’s olive, canarium, mupafu, ube osa, mpafu, kenari or mbani.

The African elemi tree is one of several sources of the economically useful oleoresin known elemi. In West Africa this resin is traditionally burned for fumigating dwellings and mixed with oil for body paint. African elemi bears edible fruit with a thick, dense, hard shell. The hard stones of its fruit are used for traditional divination among Plateau speakers in the Middle Belt of central Nigeria. African elemi oil could be extracted from the fruit. Regarded as local olive oil; this green oil could be used in cooking, as it is more nutritious and flavorful than the regular cooking oil. It can help improve the appearance of wrinkles by 20%. They contain oleic acid, which keeps the skin soft and healthy. It also helps to eliminates excessive cholesterol in the blood and protects the body against anemia.

African Elemi Facts

Name African elemi
Scientific Name Canarium schweinfurtii
Native Tropical Africa  including Angola, Mali, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, United Republic of Togo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Zambia
Common Names African Elemi, Bush candle tree, Schweinfurth’s olive, canarium, mupafu, ube osa, mpafu, kenari or mbani
Name in Other Languages Chinese:  Fei zhou gan lan
Danish: Afrikansk canarium, Afrikansk elemi
Dutch: Afrikaanse elemi
English: African elemi, Bush candle tree, Schweinfurth’s olive
Finnish: Afrikanelemi
French: Canari d’Afrique, Élémi d’Afrique
Fulah: Mbelametta
German: Afrikanische-Elemibaum, Afrikanische-Kanaribaum
Greek: Élémi
Italian: Canario africano, Elemi africana
Malay: Mubafo, Mupaxi
Luba Katanga: Mpafu
Portuguese: Elemi africana
Spanish: Alemí africana
Swahili: Mbafu, Mpafu, Kasuku
Swedish: Afrikansk canarium
Plant Growth Habit A large forest tree
Growing Climates Riverine forest, forest patches, rain forest, gallery forest, transitional forest
Plant Size 40 m high, but attaining 50 m or more
Bole Bole is straight and cylindrical attaining 20 m long, usually less, by 4.50 m in girth
Bark Bark thick, on young tree fairly smooth, becoming increasingly scaly and fissured with age
Leaf Pinnate, clustered at the end of the branches, and may be 15- 65 cm long, with 8-12 pairs of leaflets, mostly opposite, oblong, cordate at base. Leaflets are 5-20 cm long and 3-6 cm broad, with 12-24 main lateral nerves on each side of the mid-rib
Flower Creamy white unisexual flowers about 1 cm long grow in inflorescences that stand in the axils of the leaves and may be up to 28 cm long. The plant produced flowers during the dry season when the tree is leafless.
Fruit Shape & Size Small drupe, glabrous, 3-4 cm long and 1-2 cm thick. The calyx is persistent and remains attached to the fruit
Fruit Color Bluish-purple
Seed Hard, five-sided, 2 cm long and 1 cm wide, kernel edible and often eaten.
Plant Parts Used Root, bark, fruit, seed,  leaf, flower, gum and  resin
Health Benefits
  • Treatment of Intestinal Worms
  • Treatment of Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Dermatological Care
  • Treatment of Cough
  • Wound Dressing
  • Treatment of Leprosy
  • Protection against Adenitis
  • Treatment of Wounds

Plant Description

African elemi is a large forest tree that normally grows about 40 m tall, but it can also attain 50 m or more in favorable conditions. The bole is straight and cylindrical attaining 20 m long or usually less, by 4.50 m in girth yielding a high volume of timber. The bark is thick. On young trees it is fairly smooth and is split off in Gabon to make cylindrical boxes. With age it becomes increasingly scaly and fissured. The sap-wood is whitish to about 10 cm thick. Heart-wood is light brown to pinkish, darkening on exposure to a light brown mahogany color. It is coarse, softish, even woolly, and is scented. Sawing may be difficult owing to the presence of silica, and it tends to blunt tools, but otherwise it can be worked well. It is used locally for furniture, cabinetry, mortars, planks, canoes and more or less general construction work. The tree grows well in riverine forest, forest patches, rain forest, gallery forest as well as transitional forest.

Leaves

Leaves are pinnate, clustered at the end of the branches, and may be 15- 65 cm long, with 8-12 pairs of leaflets, mostly opposite, oblong, cordate at base. Leaflets are 5-20 cm long and 3-6 cm broad, with 12-24 main lateral nerves on each side of the mid-rib, prominent and pubescent beneath. The lower leaflets are bigger than the upper ones. The lower part of the petiole is winged on the upper side.

Flower

The creamy white unisexual flowers about 1 cm long grow in inflorescences that stand in the axils of the leaves and may be up to 28 cm long. The plant produced flowers during the dry season when the tree is leafless.

Fruit

Fertile flowers are followed by small drupe, bluish-purple, glabrous, 3-4 cm long and 1-2 cm thick. The calyx is persistent and remains attached to the fruit. Thin dark bluish skin surrounds a 3 mm layer of flesh that is the edible portion of the fruit. The fruit contains a hard spindle-shaped, trigonous stone that eventually splits releasing 3 seeds. Fruit is similar in size to an olive but is oiler than the African pear. It has a rich, creamy pulp like the avocado. The fruit known as ube okpoko by the Igbos and atili by the Hausas is similar to ube (African pear) yet so different.

Health benefits of African elemi

Listed below are some of the popular health benefits of consuming African Elemi

1. Treatment of Intestinal Worms

Resins collected from the elemi tree can be used for preparing herbal medicines that treat as well as fight against intestinal worms such as roundworm.

2. Treatment of Gastrointestinal diseases

Elemi bark is purgative in nature and it can be decocted and used for treating gastrointestinal diseases such as food poisoning, constipation, stomach upset, ulcer and dysentery.

3. Dermatological Care

The resins serve as emollient, which is effective for treating skin infections such as eczema, skin rashes, and prickly heat.

4. Treatment of Cough

The leaves can be squeezed and used alone or combined with other herbs for treating coughs and cold.

5. Wound Dressing

Elemi resin serves as an alternative for mastic used for dressing wounds.

6. Treatment of Leprosy

African elemi bark can be crushed and used for treating and preventing leprosy attack.

7. Protection against Adenitis

Elemi root offers protection against adenitis, which is a disease condition caused as a result of the inflammation of a gland.

8. Treatment of Wounds

African elemi seeds can be roasted and crushed into powder form, which is mixed with ointments for treating wounds.

Traditional uses and benefits of African Elemi

  • In the past, the resin was exported to Europe for pharmaceutical use.
  • It was used as a substitute for gum-mastic in making wound dressings in World War II.
  • The resin is used against roundworm infections and other intestinal parasites.
  • It is an emollient, stimulant, diuretic and has action on skin-affections and eczema.
  • The bark is emetic and purgative.
  • Decoction of the plant is used as a treatment against hypertension, dysentery, gonorrhea, coughs, chest pains, pulmonary affections, stomach complaints, food poisoning etc.
  • The pounded bark is used against leprosy and ulcers.
  • Root is used against adenitis whereas root scrapings are made into a poultice.
  • Leaves are boiled with other herbs and the decoction is used to treat coughs.
  • Seeds are roasted and pounded and the resulting powder is mixed with skin oil or jelly to treat wounds.
  • Its decoction is  used  to  cure  anemia,  eyes diseases,  helminthes  infection,  diarrhea,  goiter, gastro-intestinal  disorder,  toothache, cardiovascular health, yellow fever or to  ward off evil spirits.
  • Leaves are  used  as  stimulant  against  fever, malaria,  constipation,  diarrhea,  post-partum  pain, rheumatism and  sexual  transmitted 
  • Whole plant  decoction  is  a  treatment against  insects,  dysentery,  gonorrhea,  coughs,  chest pains,  pulmonary  affections,  stomach  complaints, food  poisoning,  purgative  and  emetic,   emollient, stimulant,  diuretic,  skin-affections,  eczema,  leprosy, ulcers.
  • Stem bark decoction is  used  as  a remedy  for  roundworms,  colic,  stomach  pains,  pain after  child  birth,  gale,  dysentery  and 
  • In Cameroon,  this  plant’s  resin  is burned  and  its  smoke  is  supposed  to  ward  off  evil spirits.
  • Decoction prepared with a mixture of leaf and stem bark  is  taken  as  a treatment  against  anemia,  diarrhea,  helminthes, toothache,  rheumatism,  roundworms,  fever,  malaria, pulmonary  diseases,  gastro-intestinal  disorder  and sexually transmitted 
  • Bark-decoction is widely used for dysentery.
  • In Sierra Leone a bark-decoction is drunk for coughs and chest-pains, and
  • In Congo the sap is eaten with cassava for pulmonary affections where a decoction is also taken in draught for stomach-complaints, food-poisoning, gynecological conditions requiring purging and emesis.
  • In Cameroons the bark is used for chancre.
  • Fresh bark is administered as an enema in Ivory Coast for intestinal pains and hemorrhoids and jaundice, and is sometimes given to pregnant women as a tonic.
  • In Congo it is put into steam-baths for rheumatism.
  • The root is used in Ubangi for treating adenitis: the root scrapings are made into a poultice.

Different Uses

  • Fuel: The elemi makes a good fuel wood, igniting readily and burning with a lot of heat. The resin burns readily and is used as a bush candle.
  • Timber: The sapwood, often very thick up to 15 cm is white with pinkish reflections. The heartwood is pinkish when fleshly cut but darkens to light brown mahogany color. The wood, slightly coarse in texture, has interlocked grains, thus causing a fine striped figure on quarter-sawn boards. Used as a substitute for true mahogany, it seasons slowly but fairly well, works easily, stains and polishes well. End splitting may occur during the drying process. The wood is attacked by termites and fungi. Impregnation of the heartwood is difficult.
  • The timber is used as core veneer, for decorative paneling, parquetry, furniture, flooring and for general utility purposes. Locally, the wood is used for mortars, planks, and canoes.
  • Gum or resin: The bark exudes a heavy, sticky oleoresin that smells like turpentine and solidifies to a whitish resin. It is obtained by slashing the bark and allowing the colorless expiation to trickle to the ground where it solidifies into a sulphur-yellow opaque resin. The resin is used as primitive illuminant and as incense and releases a lavender-like smell. The flame is very smoky and soot is collected as carbon-black from the outside of pots held over it for use in tattooing and to make ink in Liberia.
  • Essential oil: The resin contains 8-20 % of an essential oil, the main constituent of which is limonene. It is rich in phellandrenes, and contains also resins and a bitter principle.
  • Poison: The resin is used as a fumigant against mosquitoes.
  • Decorative product: The seeds are strung into necklaces or attached to traditional instruments. The bark of young trees is split off in Gabon to make boxes.
  • Shade or shelter: The elemi is often left standing on cleared land to provide shade and has potential as a wind break.
  • Reclamation: The tree has been planted for reforestation in Uganda.
  • Ornamental: The trees’ symmetrical branching makes it an attractive avenue and shade tree.
  • Intercropping: The tree does not compete with crops and has potential for intercropping.

Culinary Uses

  • The slightly greenish outer pulp of the fruit is oily and edible.
  • It can be eaten raw or softened in warm water to improve palatability.
  • It tastes similar to olives and is very popular as a snack among herders and children.
  • It is often used as a condiment.
  • The seed-kernel is oily and edible.
  • It is cooked, and is sometimes prepared into a vegetable-butter and eaten as a substitute for shea-butter.

Other Uses

  • Bark exudes a heavy, sticky oleoresin that smells like turpentine and solidifies to a whitish resin.
  • It is obtained by slashing the bark and allowing the colorless expiation to trickle to the ground where it solidifies into a sulphur-yellow opaque resin.
  • Resin is used as primitive illuminant and as incense and releases a lavender-like smell.
  • The resin burns readily is used as a bush candle.
  • Flame is very smoky and soot is collected as carbon-black from the outside of pots held over it for use in tattooing and to make ink in Liberia.
  • Resin is used to repair broken pottery, for caulking boats and as a gum for fastening arrowheads to shafts.
  • Resin is used as a fumigant against mosquitoes.
  • Elemi is often left standing on cleared land to provide shade and has potential as a wind break.
  • It has been planted for reforestation in Uganda.
  • The endocarp is used by children as spinning tops.
  • Seeds are strung into necklaces or attached to traditional instruments.
  • Bark of young trees is split off in Gabon to make boxes.
  • Wood is said to secrete oil and is used for canoe making.
  • It is used as a substitute for true mahogany.
  • Seeds can be used for ornamental purposes such as making necklaces, bangles and costumes.
  • Seeds can also be used for making local instruments.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=506415#null

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Canarium+schweinfurtii

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2696074

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canarium_schweinfurthii

https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=CASC28

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