Herbs & Plants

Bauhinia thonningii

Botanical Name: Bauhinia thonningii
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Cercidoideae
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Angiosperms
Class: Eudicots
Order: Fabales
Tribe: Bauhinieae
Genus: Piliostigma
Species: P. thonningii

Piliostigma thonningii (Schum.) Milne-Redh.

Common Names: Monkey bread, Monkey biscuit tree

Camel’s foot, Rhodesian bauhinia, wild bauhinia, monkey bread [English]; Kameelspoor [Afrikaans]; niama, niamia [Bambara]; klo [Ewe]; barke, barkehi [Fulani]; kalgo, kargo, chanchali [Hausa]; mokgoropo [North Sotho]; mutukutu [Shona]; mukolokote.

Habitat:Bauhinia thonningii is native to tropical Africa – widespread from Sierra Leone to Ethiopia and Kenya, south to Angola, Botswana, northern S. Africa, Swaziland. It grows in woodland, wooded grassland and bushland, at elevations from sea level to 1,830 metres.

Bauhinia thonningii is a ever green, legume tree 4 to 15 m high, with a round crown. The leaves are glossy, bi-lobed, reticulated, 15-17 cm long. They look like camel’s foot and account for the tree common names “camel’s foot” or “kameelspoor” (SANBI, 2010). The bark is rough and fissured, dark brown to black. It has deep roots. Flowers are unisexual, usually found on different trees, white to pink, pendulous and fragrant (FAO, 2009). The fruits are indehiscent pods, 26 cm x 7 cm, hairy when young and dropping their hairs as they mature.

Bauhinia thonningii is a multipurpose tree. The pods contain an edible pulp and pea-like seeds. Leaves are also edible and used to relieve thirst. The plant is used to make firewood, ropes, dyes and gums, and is used in ethnomedicine. An extract compound (piliostigmin) was found to have virucidal activity against the herpes virus (HSV-1) and African swine fever virus. Bauhinia thonningii trees are browsed by cattle, antelopes and elephants (which tend to destroy the trees) (Orwa et al., 2009)


Climate: tropical. Humidity: semi-arid to humid. A plant of the semi-arid to moist tropics, where it can be found at elevations up to 1,850 metres. It is found in areas where the mean annual temperature can be around 20°c, and the mean annual rainfall is in the range 600 – 1,500mm. Succeeds on a variety of soils. Likes a rich, alluvial soil. Heavy clayey soils or medium loamy soils are preferred. The tree usually yields heavy crops of seedpods. The plant has deep roots and can sucker freely. It also responds well to coppicing and pollarding. A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if fruit and seed are required. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria; these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby. Carbon Farming – Cultivation: regional crop. Management: standard.

Edible Uses:
Fruit – raw or cooked. The pulp surrounding the seed is eaten, it has a sweet flavour and is eaten mainly by children and travellers. The brown pod is cracked open, the seeds removed, and the pulp eaten as a snack or as emergency food. It is normally only eaten in small amounts. The fruits are collected in large quantities during famine periods. They are then pounded and the powder soaked in water, the liquid stirred and drunk. The flat, brown, woody pods are 15 – 20cm long. They persist on the tree but eventually decay on the ground to free the pea-sized seeds. Tender young leaves – raw or cooked. Chewed to relieve thirst. The leaves are very occasionally eaten as a cooked vegetable. The leaves are sometimes cooked in water, then the water is used for cooking millet. Carbon Farming – Staple Crop: balanced carb.

Medicinal Uses:
Tender leaves are chewed and the juice swallowed to treat stomach-ache, coughs and snakebite. The ash obtained from burnt leaves is rubbed into snakebite wounds after scarification in order to hasten healing. The leaves are combined with those of mpandanjobvu and the liquid used to relieve the inflammation from sore eyes. The roots are used to treat prolonged menstruation, haemorrhage and miscarriage in women and also for the treatment of coughs, colds, body pain and STDs. An infusion of the root, combined with the root of the wild cow pea (Vigna sp.), is said to be a contraceptive. It is drunk for seven consecutive days during which time no intercourse is allowed. An infusion of the bark is used to treat coughs, colds, chest pains and snakebite. An infusion of the bark is used for the cure of an infection of the gums called ciseye.

Other Uses:
Agroforestry Uses: A pioneer species within its native area, where it tends to colonize clearings and fallows. Since it is a legume, and fixes atmospheric nitrogen, it might be a useful species to use when restoring woodland or setting up a woodland garden. A deep rooting species that produces considerable amounts of leaf litter, it can be used in soil protection initiatives. The use of the leaf litter as a mulch enhances soil fertility because the leaves decompose slowly. The tree competes very little with maize if left in fields and pollarded to reduce shade. Other Uses A fibre from the inner bark is used to make string, ropes and cloth. A red-brown dye can be obtained from the macerated bark. A blue dye can be obtained from the seeds and pods. A black dye is obtained from the roasted seed. The bark contains up to 18% tannins. The roots are a source of tannins. The inner bark is said to contain a gum that sweels in water and so can be used for caulking boats etc. The unripe seedpods are used as a soap substitute. The ashes of the plant are used for making soap. The seeds contain oil. No more information is given. The heartwood is pinkish to dark brown; the sapwood is light brown. The wood is straight-grained. It is used for poles, grain mortars, tool handles, spoons and bedsteads. The wood is used for fuel. Carbon Farming – Agroforestry Services: nitrogen. Fodder: pod.

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


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