Botanical Name: Vitex doniana
Common Names: Black Plum
Habiitat: Vitex doniana is native to tropical Africa – Senegal to the Sudan, south to Angola, Zambia and Mozambique. It grows in the dense forest, wooded savannah, coastal savannah, galleried soudanian and riverine thickets. A deciduous forest tree of coastal woodland, riverine and lowland forests and deciduous woodland, extending as high as upland grassland.
Vitex doniana is a deciduous flowering tree growing up to 20 m in height in tropical Africa. It has a heavy rounded crown. The clear trunk can be up to 1m across and is covered with pale brown or gray white bark that has long cracks sticky ridges. The leathery and shiny leaves are opposite and arranged like the fingers on a hand with five leaflets. The creamy with one hairy violet lobe flowers are fragrant and occur in clusters of up to 20 on a long stalk. The flowers are pollinated by Bees, Sunbirds. The fruit is smooth and oblong, green marked with white dots, and turn black when ripe.
Vitex doniana is a plant of hot, tropical climates where it is found at elevations from near sea level to 1,850 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 14 – 28°c, but can tolerate 10 – 36°c. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 750 – 2,000mm, but tolerates 600 – 2,500mm. Grows best in a sunny position. Occurs on a variety of well-drained soils of varying origins, usually alluvial soils. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 – 7, tolerating 5 – 7.5. The growth rate is moderate. In plantations in northern Cote d’Ivoire, seedlings were on average 70 – 90cm tall after 3 years, the tallest ones reaching 170cm. On good soils in southern Burkina Faso early growth is a bit faster. Trees respond well to coppicing and also produce root suckers. The fruit falls from the trees when it is ripe. It is not damaged by this fall so people generally harvest from under the tree rather than picking it from the tree. The flowers are extremely attractive to bees. 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.
Seed – The seed has a hard coat, which slows down germination. Any pre-treatment would be to soften or abrade this seed coat and allow the ingress of water. This can either be done by soaking the seed in hot water that is allowed to cool – if the seed has not shown signs of swelling within 12 – 24 hours then remove from the water and abrade the seedcoat, being careful not to damage the seed below. It is thought forest fires help in inducing germination because they help break the hard seedcoat. The treated seed is said to germinate easily – it can be raised in a nursery and transplanted, or can be sown in situ. Root suckers. Cuttings.
Fruit – raw, cooked, candied etc. A sweet flavour with a mealy texture, it tastes a bit like prunes. It contains vitamins A and B and can be made into a jam. The jam is of good quality, somewhat like plum jam but better for spreading. A syrup made from the fruit pulp can be used instead of other syrups as a nutritive sweetener. The black fruit is about 2cm long. The fruit can be made into a wine. Wine obtained from controlled fermentation had 10.5% alcohol content, and wine obtained from spontaneous fermentation 5%. Young twigs and leaves are an esteemed vegetable. The leaves are often used as a herb for cooking. The pounded leaves can be added to warm filtered grain beer and then drunk. It is said to make them stronger. Seeds. The seeds are roasted and used to make a coffee-like drink. The leaves can be used as a tea substitute.
The plant is often used in traditional medicine. Modern research has shown that the plant has a range of actions upon the body. Consumption of large amounts of the fruits has been shown to cause a transient reduction in reproductive functioning in female olive baboons. The presence of progestogen-like compounds in the fruit has been suggested as the probable cause. An aqueous extract of the stem bark has been shown to produce a dose-dependant hypotensive effect and to also be hepato-protective. Stem bark extracts can inhibit the growth of clinical isolates of Salmonella typhi, Shigella dysenteriae and Escherichia coli, suggesting that they may be valuable in the treatment of dysentery and other gastroenteritic infections. The fruit is used to improve fertility and to treat anaemia, jaundice, leprosy and dysentery. Both the dried and the fresh fruits are eaten as a treatment against diarrhoea. The root is anodyne. A decoction is used to treat gonorrhoea, ankylostomiasis, rickets, gastro-intestinal disorders and jaundice. A decoction of the root is drunk by women to treat backaches. The leaves are anodyne, febrifuge, galactagogue and tonic. A decoction is taken internally as a tonic and to treat fevers and respiratory diseases. It is applied externally to increase milk flow and as a treatment for headache, stiffness, measles, rash, fever, chickenpox and hemiplegia. The young tender leaves are pounded and the juice squeezed into the eyes to treat conjunctivitis and other eye troubles. A paste made from the pounded leaves and bark is applied to wounds and burns. The powdered bark is added to water and then taken to treat colic. A bark extract is used to treat stomach complaints, kidney troubles, leprosy, liver diseases, and to control bleeding after childbirth.
Agroforestry Uses: The heavy rounded crown provides good shade. The tree has nitrogen-fixing roots and this, combined with the leaf fall, contributes to the improvement of soil fertility. The leaves can be used for mulch. The tree has some potential for use as a pioneer species – in Central Africa it is often the first species to establish when gallery forests evolve in low-lying areas in the savannah. Other Uses An ink is produced from the dried fruits, young leaves and bark. The blackish extract obtained by boiling the leaves, bark, roots and/or fruits is used as ink and as a dye for clothes. The twigs are used as chewing sticks for teeth cleaning. An aqueous extract of the chewing sticks has been shown to exhibit strong activity against a wide spectrum of bacteria including medically and dentally relevant bacteria, although the extracts of chewing sticks from Garcinia kola and Anogeissus leiocarpa had broader and generally stronger effects. This supports the traditional use of these chewing sticks with reported anticaries effect. The dried seeds yield about 30% oil. The oil has high iodine and low saponification values and can be used for skin cream, resin and paint production. The wood is said to be used as friction sticks to start a fire. The heartwood is creamy white to pale brown, yellowish brown or greyish brown; it is indistinctly demarcated from the 25 – 60mm wide sapwood. The grain is straight to wavy or interlocked; texture moderately fine to moderately coarse. The wood resembles teak; it is medium-weight and soft; usually not durable, although good durability has also been reported, especially resistance against termites. It is easy to saw and work with hand and machine tools; it often planes to a silky or furry surface due to the presence of interlocked grain; it nails well with little splitting, but it does not always hold nails well. Veneer of good quality can be produced, but the logs are often too irregular to be suitable for rotary peeling. The wood is often too soft for turnery. It is suitable for light building material, furniture, carvings and boats. The wood makes a good fuel and is also used to make charcoal.
Known Hazards: The sawdust from the wood has been known to cause dermatitis.
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.