Potential Medicinal Benefits of Kigelia Africana – or Sausage Tree

Kigelia africana (Lam) Benth is named after the Mozambican name for the tree, “kigeli-keia” which is native to Sub-Saharan Africa. It is known as the Sausage tree because of the shape of its fruit. These are more of a German or Italian sausage size than the kind you might have with your breakfast eggs, as the German name for this tree, Leberwurst (or liver sausage in English), suggests.

Tree Description and Habitat

Kigelia africana is the only one of its species in the Bignoniaceae family which includes the jacaranda. It is a deciduous tree and has glossy, leathery leaves, and red, trumpet- shaped flowers which are full of nectar, attracting birds and moths as well as fruit bats which help to pollinate it along with hawk moths.

The fruits grow to between 30 and 90 centimetres long and can be between 7.5 and 10 centimetres in diameter. The tree is a shade tree which can grow to18 metres high and whose crown can measure 20 metres wide. However, you would not want to risk sitting under the tree in case you were hit by a falling fruit which can weigh as much as 9 kilos, although the average weight is 3 kilos.

Sausage trees grow on the margins of woodland and tend to grow around the banks of streams and rivers. They grow from KwaZulu Natal through to Tanzania and bush pigs, porcupines and baboons seem to feast on the fruit, while deer and antelope species eat the fallen flowers. However the fruit is said to be toxic, to humans both in the ripe and unripe stages.

Traditional Uses in Medicine

In areas where the sausage tree grows it is used to cure many ailments including skin problems and cancer, gynaecological problems, wound healing, malaria, and others. The leaves and seeds as well as the pulp of the fruit are used in preparation. The leaves and seeds are dried and powdered and are said to have potent wound healing activity, as well as the ability to clear infections from wounds.

Modern Research into the Potential uses

Research has been carried out by a number of interested parties into the properties of the Sausage tree and its parts. However it is still too early for medical researchers to state categorically that the parts of K. africana can be used for treatments.

In one study, conducted on behalf of the Southern African Natural Products Trade Association, the researcher, Dr. John A. Wilkinson, Director of Herbal Sciences International Ltd. UK, stated that extracts from the tree had anti-inflammatory effects and could be useful in sun creams and to soothe irritated skin. This has been supported by other research carried out by a team from the University of Karachi. Their report states that the anti-inflammatory properties come from “caffeic acid derivatives and other compounds unique to Kigelia africana.”

In a 2009 review of research carried out on extracts of K. africana, Olubunmi Atolani and A. Gabriel Olatunji stated that “there is an enormous scope for the future research of K. africana considering the many medicinal purposes it answers” given that it has so many traditional uses. They go on to recommend “that more research work should focus on anti-cancer properties.” With a view to what has happened to other species which have become popular in Western medicine, they also say that sustainable methods of harvesting and managing the trees should be found. (July 2009, African Journal of Pure and Applied Chemistry)

Use in Cosmetics

Extracts from K. africana are currently used in cosmetics and are advertised as having antioxidant effects on the skin which halt the aging process, as well as helping with sun-burn. It should be noted that medical research has so far only shown that the extracts have anti-inflammatory effects, not that they can halt the aging process.