The tree of life (and its super fruit)

The medicinal properties of the baobab fruit are the stuff of African legend. Claire Soares says it also tastes great and, thanks to an EU ruling, we will all be able to try some soon.

It didn't matter what was wrong with me, be it a stomach upset or a rogue spot, the remedy prescribed by Senegalese friends was always the same. Baobab fruit – and lots of it.

Usually it was administered in the form of a Senegalese smoothie, the fruit pulp mixed with water to make what is known in the local Wolof language as bouye. The white drink delivered hints of velvety yoghurt with a flick of tart sherbet to the tongue. And it was not only mighty tasty, it left Western anti-diarrhoea fixes, such as Imodium, lagging and was soon an ever-present item in my fridge.

The baobab fruit has three times as much vitamin C as an orange, 50 per cent more calcium than spinach and is a plentiful source of anti-oxidants, those disease-fighting molecules credited with helping reduce the risk of everything from cancer to heart disease. Until recently, this super-fruit was off limits to British consumers, unless they fancied a shopping trip to Africa. But now the baobab fruit has won approval from EU food regulators, expect it to be winging its way to a supermarket shelf near you.

The baobab tree is an integral part of the African landscape. Nicknamed the "upside-down tree", it looks like it has been planted on its head, with its roots sticking up into the air to produce a somewhat eerie silhouette.

Bush legends about the baobab abound. One has it that the god Thora took a dislike to the baobab growing in his garden and promptly chucked it over the wall of paradise; it landed below on earth, upside down but still alive, and continued to grow. In another popular myth, the gods get so irritated by the vanity of the baobab, as it tosses it branches, flicks its flowers and brags to other creatures about its superlative beauty, that they uproot it and upend it to teach it a lesson in humility.

Today, many Africans refer to it as the "Tree of Life", and it's not hard to see why. With a trunk that can grow up to 15m in circumference, a single tree can hold up to 4,500 litres of water. Fibres from the bark can be turned into rope and cloth; fresh leaves are often eaten to boost the immune system; and some hollowed-out trunks have been used to provide shelter for as many as 40 people. And then, of course, there's the fruit.

Source - Independent