Herbs & Plants: Xylopia aethiopica – A Spicy Herbal Medicinal Plant

It possesses great nutritional and medicinal values. The plant is used in the treatment of a number of diseases. And also as a body cream. 

Xylopia aethiopica which is commonly referred to as the grains of Selim, Ethiopian pepper or African grains of Selim, is an evergreen, aromatic tree that can grow up to about 20m in height with a smooth grey bark; it has a 25-70 cm diameter, a straight bole with a many-branched crown. The tree has a short prop or buttress roots, its leaves are simple, alternate, oblong, elliptic to ovate, leathery, the margin entire.

The flowers are creamy-green, bisexual and the fruits look rather like twisted bean-pods, dark brown, cylindrical. Each pod contains 5 to 8 kidney-shaped black seeds, and the hull is aromatic, but not the grain itself. It is a native to the lowland rainforest and moist fringe forests throughout tropical Africa. The genus name Xylopia is a greek word (xylon pikron) for ‘bitter wood’, while the species name aethiopica refers to its Ethiopian origin.

Xylopia aethiopica (Family Annonaceae) is a multipurpose tree that is very important in the local economy, supplying foods, a wide range of medicines, and wood. It remains an important traded plant species throughout parts of Africa, sold in local markets as a spice and medicine. The dried fruits of Xvlopia aethiopica; commonly referred to as ‘the grains of Seli’m are used as a herbal medicine. The tree is often cultivated near villages and often protected when growing in the forest.

Xylopia aethiopica possesses great nutritional and medicinal values and all the parts are very useful medicinally, although the fruits are most commonly used for therapeutic purposes. It can be taken as a decoction, concoction or even chewed and swallowed for the management of various aches and pains. Xylopia aethiopica is used in the treatment of a number of diseases including cough, malaria, constipation, uterine fibroid, and amenorrhea. It is also used locally as carminative, stimulant and adjunct to other remedies for the treatment of skin infection.

The bark decoction is administered for the treatment of bronchitis, asthma, stomach-aches and dysenteric conditions and the infusion of the plant’s bark is used in the treatment of biliousness and fever. The mixture of Xylopia aethiopica bark with palm wine is useful in the management of rheumatism, asthma, and stomach-ache. The bark is also used as a postpartum tonic and also taken to promote fertility and to ease   childbirth.

The dried root powder is of Xylopia aethiopica dissolved in alcohol and administered orally as an anthelminthic and as mouth-wash to relive toothache. The powdered root is used as a dressing for skin sores and also rubbed on gums for gum diseases and in local treatment of cancer. The aqueous root concoction is administered after child birth as an anti-infective drug. The decoction is also administered as an antihemorrhagic agent.

The leaves are used in traditional medicine to manage boils, sores, wounds and cuts and the decoction of the leaves and roots used as a tonic and also to treat fever and debility. Additionally, the decoction of the leaves is also used as an anti-emetic. The leaf-sap can be administered to treat epileptic seizure. Powdered leaves are inhaled for the treatment of headaches and its decoction used to treat rheumatism.

A decoction of the fruit is useful in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, stomach-aches and the dried fruit used to treat dysenteric conditions. The fruits are also used as a purgative, emmenagogue, and antitussive, anthelmintic and for relieving flatulence. The dried fruit decoction is administered for the treatment and management of asthma. The fruit of Xylopia aethiopica is also used as a reliever of pain caused by rheumatic conditions. It is also used as a tonic to improve fertility in women and is an essential ingredient in preparation of local soups to aid new mothers in breastfeeding. The dry fruits are smoked like tobacco and the smoke inhaled to relieve respiratory ailments. Traditional medical practitioners and birth attendants use a decoction of the seeds to induce placental discharge postpartum due to its abortifacient effect. The crushed seeds are applied topically on the forehead to treat headache and neuralgia. The decoction of the seeds is also used as a vermifuge for roundworms.

Apart from the medicinal uses, the powdered fruits of Xylopia aethiopica can be mixed with shear butter and used as body creams.  The powdered dry fruits and seeds can also be used as spice to flavour food. The bark of Xylopia aethiopica is resistant to attack by termites and as such used to make doors and partitions during construction of buildings. The wood is also traditionally used to make bows and crossbows for hunters.

Xylopia aethiopica contains a number of bioactive compounds including β-pinene, 1, 8-cineol, α-terpineol, terpinene-4-ol, paradol, bisabolene, linalool (E)-β-ocimene, α-farnesene, β-pinene, α-pinene, myrtenol and β-phellandrene. Therefore, its medicinal activities may be due to the presence of these bioactive compounds in it. (Richard Komakech)

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