Kigelia Trees (Kigelia Africana)

Kigelia can cure skin cancer Malignant Melanoma

Sacred or powerful forces attributed to trees usually derive from observations of the species’ characteristics

It might be banal to say that many groups of people consider trees and forests sacred and mysterious. But it would also be wrong to make superficial generalizations, because sacred values and beliefs are so tightly woven into the values of any particular ethnic group. The sacred and mystical powers attributed to each species of tree always have their origin in careful observation of the species and personal experience with the given tree or plant group. The observed characteristics of the species, its relationship with other elements of nature – water, wind, animals – and the characteristics and appearance of its foliage, flowers and fruits are retained and transformed into the properties, forces and energies which are seen as power, inspiration or occult forces.

In the arid regions of West Africa, Kigelia africana, a particularly productive tree, is noted in numerous beliefs for its large woody fruits which look like enormous bags hanging from the end of long stalks: it is the perfect fertility image. Women nursing children hang strips of fabric on it to ask for protection and numerous offspring. The popular subconscious has translated the tree’s exuberant image of fertility and the appearance of its fruits, which resemble male organs, into supernatural faculties beneficial to procreation.

The choice of plant species for medicinal uses is based on both mystical associations and careful observation. Thus a plant becomes a medicine not only because of its perceived characteristics such as bitterness, astringency, taste or smell, but also because of forces that it seems to emit in connection with its location, orientation and associations with other plants. Beneficial forces are then attributed to the plant which seem to enhance the effectiveness of its biochemical traits – these latter being the only values that medical doctors would take into account.


The sausage tree (also sometimes called Kigelia pinnata) belongs to the family Bognoniaceae. This family contains trees, shrubs and climbers including the exotic jacaranda tree. Its unique sausage-shaped fruit, sometimes over a metre in length, and weighing as much as 10kg, has inspired a wide variety of vernacular names, including one, in South Africa, that means ‘the fat tail of a sheep’

The tree can grow to more than 20 metres tall. With its short, thick trunk and wide spreading crown, its form is distinctive enough even on its own. The addition of hundreds of long, drooping sausage fruit renders it unmistakeable. Unsurprisingly, given the size of its fruit, it also has extremely large flowers, reaching up to 90cm in length, and velvety maroon in appearance./p>


The sausage tree draws its name from its large, sausage-shaped fruit, suspended from lengthy stalks. The hard, grey fruit has a thin skin covering a firm, fibrous fruit pulp containing numerous small, unwinged seeds. When the fruit itself eventually dries, the remaining fibre is sometimes mistakenly thought to be a loofah.

Traditional uses

The sausage tree has a long history of use by rural African communities, particularly for its medicinal properties. These properties are found in every part of the tree, including the fruit, the bark, the roots and the leaves. Most commonly, traditional healers have used the sausage tree to treat a wide range of skin ailments, from relatively mild complaints, such as fungal infections, boils, psoriasis and eczema, through to the more serious diseases, like leprosy, syphilis and skin cancer. Several internal applications have also been employed, including treatment of dysentery, ringworm, tapeworm, post-partum haemorrhaging, malaria, diabetes, pneumonia and toothache. Perhaps not surprisingly (given the suggestive shape of its fruit), it is also used as an aphrodisiac.

A related use for the fruit is as a cosmetic cream. The Tonga women of the Zambezi valley, for example, regularly apply preparations of the Sausage fruit to their faces, to ensure a blemish-free complexion.

The fruit, although inedible itself, is a common ingredient in traditional beer, and is said to hasten the fermentation process. Kigelia leaves are an important livestock fodder, and the fruits are much prized by monkeys and elephants (El Hadji Sène,FAO,2003).

Kigela treeProf Mostafizur Rahman, a teacher of Crops Botany Department of Mymenshingh Agriculture University, has made success towards producing saplings of a rare medicinal tree. There are three Kigelia trees in South Asia, two of them on Rangpur Carmichael College campus. The two trees are 88 year-old. Fluid of its bark is useful in treatment of skin cancer.

All earlier efforts at Carmichael College botany laboratory for germination of its seeds failed, Associate Professor Hafiz Mollah told this correspondent. Prof Mostafizur Rahman came to Rangpur and took some seeds from the plant to BAU. After several experiments, his efforts for germination of the seeds became successful at BAU laboratory, Prof Molla said.

Prof Molla, a student of Prof Mostafizur Rahman, said he could not become successful in germination of the seeds at the college laboratory due to lack of adequate equipment and facilities. Prof Mustafizur Rahman will plant the saplings on Carmichael College compound soon, he said.

Kigelia bears clourful flowers and fruits weighing about two kilograms each. Lord Baron Tomas Carmichael planted several saplings of the trees on the roadside at the entrance of the college when he had laid foundation of Carmichael College in 1916.

Prof Kalim Uddin Mondol, a former teacher of Carmichael College and a renowned homeopathic Doctor in the district said experiment done in London by pharmacist Peter Hoten proved that the fluid from the bark and roots of Kigelia can cure skin cancer called Malignant Melanoma in human body.

Distribution in Bangladesh

The tree is said to have been distributed in the sub-continent by the seeds obtained from a single fruit that was washed ashore to Bombay. Thomas David Baron Carmichael [not Baron Toamas Carmichael] the then Governor of undivided Bengal planted some saplings of Kigelia probably on 10th Day of December 1916, the same day the foundation stone of Carmichael College was laid by him. Two trees within the compound of the college still bear the memory of Lord Carmichael (Mustaque Quadry , Daily Star, 28. 05. 04)

Uses and cultural aspects

In Malawi, roasted fruits are used to flavour beer and aid fermentation. The tough wood is used for shelving and fruit boxes, and dugout canoes are made from the tree in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Roots are said to yield a bright yellow dye. Traditional remedies prepared from crushed, dried or fresh fruits are used to deal with ulcers, sores and syphilis - the fruit has antibacterial activity. Today, beauty products and skin ointments are prepared from fruit extracts. Fresh fruit cannot be eaten - it is said to be a strong purgative, and causes blisters in the mouth and on the skin. Green fruits are said to be poisonous. In time of scarcity, seeds are roasted and eaten.

Medical Uses

The are a number of pharmaceutically active compounds found in the sausage tree, including coumarins, steroids, anthroquinones, iridoids and flavonoids.

  • The steroids are known to help a range of skin conditions (notably eczema), and the flavonoids have clear hygroscopic and fungicidal properties. Strong anecdotal evidence (not yet scientifically proven) suggests that it is effective in the treatment of solar keratosis, skin cancer and Kaposi sarcoma (an HIV-related skin ailment).
  • A number of companies are already producing skin creams, scalp applications and shampoos derived from the Kigelia fruit.

    The introduction of products containing extracts from the Kigelia africana tree to the UK is the result of personal experience with case studies. Sufferers with chronic skin problems, such as psoriasis, can spend most of their lives searching for the Holy Grail, any form of treatment that will give respite from the continual irritation, dryness, flaking skin and redness.

    The Kigelia africana tree is classified under the Bignoniaceae species and is common to South, Central and West Africa. Locally they are known by Europeans as the cucumber or sausage tree because of the huge fruits (average 0.6m in length and 4kg weight), which hang from long, fibrous stalks. The fruit pods are very fibrous with numerous hard seeds and tend to be inedible to humans as well as being poisonous when unripe. However, in Malawi, during famine the seeds are roasted to eat. Baked fruits are used to ferment beer and boiled ones yield a red dye. Usually only hippos, rhinos and insects eat the fruit. From August to November the fragrant, bell-shaped, deep maroon or claret, green or yellow-veined flowers form on hanging, 6-12in flowered stalks. They open one at a time and are said to be pollinated by bats, although they are also visited by some birds and insects.

    Africans in the regions where the trees grow use various parts of the tree for medicinal and also pseudo-medicinal purposes such as hanging the fruit around dwellings as a protection from violent storms and hurricanes or as symbols of fertility.

    However, the most common uses revealed a similar pharmacological profile.

  • The Tonga apply powdered fruit as a dressing to ulcers.
  • Unripe fruit is used in Central Africa as a dressing for wounds, haemorrhoids and rheumatism. Venereal diseases are commonly treated with the tree extracts usually in palm wine as oral medication.
  • The fruits and bark, ground and boiled in water, are also taken orally or used as an enema in treating children’s stomach ailments – usually worms.
  • The Shona people tend to use the bark or root as powder or infusion for application to ulcers, drunk or applied in the treatment of pneumonia, as a gargle for toothache, and the leaves in a compound applied for backache.
  • While infections are common, by comparison, skin cancer and psoriasis are far less prevalent among Africans.

    Laboratory and Chemical Studies

    Breakthrough in my search came when I found some recent published works on laboratory studies which had been conducted at the University of Nigeria in conjunction with Chelsea Pharmacy Department, London.1,2 The researchers conducted in-vitro tests for the efficacy of an aqueous extract of stem bark and two major iridoids against Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans.

  • Their conclusion was that ‘the extract tested had pronounced inhibitory effect against all microorganisms’. These tests gave validity to the traditional use as a natural antibacterial.
  • Chemical analyses of the roots, wood and leaves of the tree have shown the presence of napthoquinones, dihydroisocoumarins, flavonoids and aldehydic iridoid derivatives.
  • Later work on meroterpinoids and napthoquinones from Kigelia pinnata was an attempt to determine the identity of the antineoplastic constituents.
  • Since psoriasis is a condition where the rate of skin turnover is around seven times faster than normal, a product which might retard overactive cell growth suggested a possible reason for the efficacy Derek had observed (Akunyili DN et al., 1991)


    Akunyili DN et al. 1991 Antimicrobial Activities of the Stembark of Kigelia Pinnata. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 35: 173-177.

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