The Sodom Apple: A Medicinal Tree

14 Apr

One of the things I love most about being in The Gambia is the way many people understand about the environment they live in. This is especially true when thinking about how trees and plants can be used as natural remedies.

Of course, many people in rural Gambia are very poor, and finding the money to attend the clinic to see a doctor, or to pay out for medicine, is often beyond their capability. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the medicines they need. When Lamin’s father had a nasty encounter with some bees (you can read about it here), Lamin found himself rushing round Brikama trying to find the medicines he needed as they weren’t available in the hospital.

So people are often very reliant on herbal remedies, taken from the plants and trees that grow here. At Balaba, Lamin has been very careful to keep a good range of plants and mature trees, so he often boils up leaves or roots if someone’s feeling under the weather. Although I must admit that I tend to stick to what’s in my First Aid collection!

A couple of weeks ago, our car needed fixing (yes, again), so we found ourselves waiting at the mechanics in Brikama. One of the apprentices found me a chair, and plasced it carefully in the shade so I could sit comfortably. But being a white person often draw attention, especially from the children, who tend to shout ‘Toubab’ (white person) very loudly whenever they see someone. Others also like to come and chat, and after a while, a lovely elderly man came over and greeted me – I’m very relieved that I’m now able to do basic greetings in Mandinka.

He then asked if I’d noticed the tree opposite where we were sitting.


The Sodom Apple Tree – check out the mechanics’ shop in the background!

It did look a bit unusual because it had blossom and mature fruit on it. He despatched a couple of children to collect some flowers and a fruit for me to look at. The flowers certainly were very beautiful, and the fruit reminded me a bit of a rather pithy unripe orange. The man explained that this tree was used medicinally.

He took me over to the tree and showed me the white sap – in rather broken English, and with a lot of miming, he told me that you could put to sap on a cut or graze and it would help it to heal quickly.

Lamin also told me afterwards that sometimes the leaves are strewed in the doorway after a woman has delivered a baby, more as a protection against evil spirits than for anything medicinal.

So what’s the tree? It took me a while to find that out, but it seems it’s known as the Sodom Apple (calotropis procera). It originates from Asia, it commonly grows in poor soil. Traditionally, the leaves were used to treat dysentery and leprosy. But the sap, (and I’ve also heard, the fruit), is poisonous, because it contains a powerful heart poison. And sometimes there’s a ‘manna’ that grows on the leaves, which is used to treat asthma.

I’m always fascinated to learn about traditional remedies, so it was great to find out more about this tree. Maybe I’ll have more examples to share with you another time.


5 Responses to “The Sodom Apple: A Medicinal Tree”

  1. P Ward April 25, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    How fascinating! Am just catching up with your last 3 blogs, they’re so interesting

    • OkeCrafter May 1, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

      Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying them!

  2. mukul chand July 29, 2016 at 7:03 am #

    Remarkable plant, grows wild in India too. Is a medicinal herb and properties utilized in Ayurveda school of medicine for over 3 Millenia.

    • OkeCrafter July 29, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

      Thanks Mukul. I knew the plant had been used medicinally for many years, but I didn’t know it also grows in India.

      • mukul chand July 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

        I had blogged about it as well some months ago, i think it was titled DESERT BLOOMS

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