Khat(Catha edulis)

Botanical Name : Catha edulis
Family: Celastraceae
Genus: Catha
Species: C. edulis
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Celastrales

Common Names :Bushman’s tea (Eng.; Boesmanstee (Afr.); umHlwazi (Zulu); iQgwaka (Xhosa); Khat (Arabic)

Derivation of name and historical aspects:
The generic name Catha is derived from the Arabic common name for this plant khat and the specific name edulis is a Greek word meaning ‘edible’. It is derived from the leaves of this tree being used in teas by the Bushmen, as it contains a habit-forming stimulant.

C. edulis belongs to the Celastraceae family, commonly known as the spike thorn family. The family has about 60 tree species in southern Africa, and thus counts as one of the ten largest tree families in the region. The largest genus of this family in the region is Gymnosporia. Most of the family members have spines, or are armed with spinescent shoots.

Habitat:Khat is found in woodlands and on rocky outcrops. It is scattered in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, mostly from the mistbelt, moving inland. It is also found in the Western Cape, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Mozambique and through to tropical Africa and the Arab countries.

Description:
Bushman’s tea is a shrub to small tree growing up to 10 m tall. The stem is usually straight and slender, with a narrow crown. The bark is light grey, becoming darker. It is rough and often cracked. The young stems are pinkish in colour. The leaves of this tree are opposite and are hanging. They have a leathery texture and are shiny bright green on the upper surface and paler beneath. The leaf margins are strongly serrated. Leaf stalks are short and pinkish in colour.

 

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Creamy-white to greenish minute flowers are borne in leaf axils in spring. They appear in clusters. In late October, the tree bears reddish brown, three-lobed capsules. They are 10 mm long and in late summer split to release the narrowly winged seeds.

Cultivation:
C edulis can be grown from seeds that are harvested just before the fruits split. The seeds may be sown in early spring, in trays filled with compost or seeding mix. The trays should be kept moist in a well-lit warm area. The seeds can also be sown straight into the prepared ground.

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Bushman’s tea also grows quickly from root cuttings. Cuttings of new roots may be taken in the growing season, and planted immediately in pots filled with compost. They may then be covered with wood chippings to preserve heat and moisture. Cuttings should not be watered until the shoots have appeared, to avoid rotting.

Medicinal Uses:
A restorative tea made from the flowers (called flowers of paradise in Yemen ) of the plant is still consumed in Arabia. Mainly used as a social drug, khat is also chewed fresh or taken in an infusion to treat ailments such as malaria. In Africa, it is taken in old age, stimulating and improving mental function.  Khat is used in Germany to counter obesity.  Khat is usually packaged in plastic bags or wrapped in banana leaves to retain its moistness and freshness. It is often sprinkled with water during transport to keep the leaves moist. Khat also may be sold as dried or crushed leaves or in powdered form.  Khat is becoming increasingly available in the US, especially in cities like New York City, LA , Boston, California, Dallas, Detroit and Buffalo. It is commonly sold in restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and smoke shops that cater to East Africans and Yemenis after its importation from Kenya, Egypt, and Arabia. Because Khat in leaf form starts to lose its potency after 48 hours, it is generally shipped to the US on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for weekend use.

How it works: In humans, it is a stimulant producing a feeling of exaltation, a feeling of being liberated from space and time.  It may produce extreme loquacity, inane laughing, and eventually semicoma. It may also be an euphorient and used chronically can lead to a form of delirium tremens. So, Khat chewing produces a mild cocaine- or amphetamine-like euphoria that is much less potent than either substance with no reports of a rush sensation or paranoia indicated.  Up to 80% of the adult population of Yemen use Khat. Upon first chewing Khat, the initial effects were unpleasant and included dizziness, lassitude, tachycardia, and sometimes epigastric pain. Gradually more pleasant feelings replaced these inaugural symptoms. The subjects had feelings of bliss, clarity of thought, and became euphoric and overly energetic. Sometimes Khat produced depression, sleepiness, and then deep sleep. The chronic user tended to be euphoric continually.  In rare cases the subjects became aggressive and overexcited .  In animals, Khat produces excitation and increased motor activity.  What Khat does: it stimulates brain and spinal cord through synapses resulting in: – Alleviation of fatigue and reduction of depression;  Euphoria , excitation , high activity and mood; Increasing levels of alertness and ability to concentrate; Increasing of confidence, friendliness, contentment and flow of ideas; Increases motor activity; Positive sexual effects ( regarding the desire and duration of sexual intercourse according to the type and source of Khat ); Dispel feeling of hunger;  It promotes communication; Casual users claim Khat lifts spirits, sharpens thinking; Advocates of Khat use claim that it eases symptoms of diabetes, asthma, and stomach/intestinal tract disorders;  Socially, it’s used to meet people, socialize with each others, communication issues and problems solving.

Fresh Khat leaves are typically chewed like tobacco. By filling the mouth to capacity with fresh leaves the user then chews intermittently to release the active components. Chewing Khat leaves produces a strong aroma and generates intense thirst.  Its intake occurs mostly in moderation esp. in a special Yemeni style rooms designed especially for that purpose with the fine famous Yemeni-furnishing style provided with water pipes and these special rooms called ” Diwan ” which are so large and wonderful rooms. It is also prepared as a tea, an infusion of water or milk is made, and then sweetened with honey.

Other Uses:
The wood of Bushman’s tea is also used for a number of purposes. It is hard and fine-grained, and therefore is good for firewood and furniture. The bark is also used as an insect repellent and the stem for fence poles.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/cathedulis.htm
http://www.herbnet.com/Herb%20Uses_IJK.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khat
http://www.lookfordiagnosis.com/mesh_info.php?term=catha&lang=1

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