Chat (botanical name, C. edulis) is a lofty tree that grows up to a height of 50 feet (15 meters) and has red-hued branches, oval-shaped, rubbery leaves and produces petite yellowish or white flowers.
Chat or C. edulis is a member of the Celastraceae plant family, which is generally referred to as the spike thorn family. As many as 60 tree species belong to this plant family in southern Africa and, hence, it is considered as among the ten biggest tree families in the expanse. However, Gymnosporia is the largest genus belonging to this plant family in the area. Majority of the trees belonging to this family possess spikes or are equipped with shoots that end like a spine.
When you look down from the air, the highlands of Harar Province in Ethiopia appear like a vast, carpeted flight of steps to the sky. A closer examination exposes the raised carpet that swathes the immense steps to be formed by heaving lines of petite, leafy trees. When the trees are in bloom, their tiny white flowers appear as if they are dusting the landscape akin to a snowfall. However, this is not for this reason that the evergreen forests of Africa have occasionally been described as the ‘flower of paradise’. In effect, the African evergreen has earned this charming name owing to the consequences of the leaves of the evergreen trees on the people.
Usually, the trees of this species are known as chat, which is also spelled kat, khat or qat, and despite the fact that they might grow to a height of 20 feet to 50 feet in the wild, when cultivated, they are maintained in the state of shrubs restricting their growth to a maximum height of 10 feet. This is primarily because the leaves at the top of the tree may be reached easily and harvested without any difficulty.
For several centuries or possibly for even longer, while they worked, peasants in the region have collected bunches of chat leaves to chew. In fact, the farmers would chew these pieces of stimulant leaves for approximately 10 minutes, gulp down the juice as it accumulates in the mouth and subsequently swallow the munched leaves also. The outcome of chewing chat leaves is very similar to coca leaves, which are chewed by the native tribes of South America. Chewing chat leaves augments attentiveness, provides relief from fatigue and hunger as well as creates mild ecstasy. In effect, the consequence of chewing the leaves on the farmers is considered to be boon for them, as they have to toil hard under hard conditions from dawn to dusk. The chemical substance that causes this effect is actually a tonic to the central nervous system and is called D-norpseudoephedrine.
Scientists in the Western countries caution that although not much research has been undertaken to decide on the medical worth of this chemical substance (D-norpseudoephedrine), the use of chat leaves is on the rise in various regions of Africa.
Ethiopia is one of the major exporters of chat. Exporters in this country harvest the upper boughs of the tree and cover them with protective banana leaves prior to shipping or transporting them by air to adjacent nations. The time covered between harvesting and the use of the chat leaves is of utmost important because the active elements enclosed by the leaves lose most of their attributes within three days of harvesting. Some of the leaves are chewed raw, while the major part of the harvest is concocted with honey and water to prepare Arabia tea – an essential drink for the Arab populace.
Chat is basically used in the form of a social drug and many people also chew it fresh or take it in the form of infusion to cure medical conditions, for instance malaria. People in Africa take chat in old age, as it is said to be energizing and augment mental functioning. In Germany, people use chat mainly to combat obesity or overweight.
This plant species is extensively employed to treat respiratory ailments. In the tropical regions of Africa as well as in the Arab nations, this herb offers the habit-forming (encouraging addition) stimulant present in the leaves of the plant. Leaves of chat are brewed to prepare an herbal tea or chewed for this reason. The consequence of drinking this herbal tea or chewing the chat leaves comprise hyper excitability, sleeplessness and lack of appetite. People in South Africa consider chat to be a drug because the drug cathinone extracted from the tree is catalogued in the Drug Act.
In the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, people have cultivated C. edulis or chat for centuries for its use as a stimulant. In these regions, chewing the chat leaves goes beyond the date when the use of coffee became prevalent and is used in a comparable social circumstance.
The fresh leaves as well as the flowering tops of chat are chewed, or rarely, dried and drunk in the form of an herbal tea with a view to attain a condition of ecstasy as well as inspiration. In order to make it easier to chew, the leaves as well as the soft portions of the stem can be chewed along with peanuts or chewing gum.
Traditionally, the chat tree has been restricted to the expanses where it is cultivated since only the fresh leaves of this herb possess the preferred invigorating outcome. However, during the latest years, superior roads, air transportation as well as off-road motor vehicles have augmented the worldwide distribution of this unpreserved product. As mentioned earlier, conventionally chat has been used as social drug and the case is very much similar in Yemen, where mostly males chew the leaves of the herb. People in Yemen wear their traditional attires and chew the leaves of this invigorating plant in the afternoons.
In other countries too, chat is also basically consumed by individuals by themselves as well as at parties. The countries where people cultivate chat, it is basically a recreational drug. However, it is also used by laborers and peasants to lessen exhaustion and suppress hunger. On the other hand, students and drivers consume the stimulant leaves of the herb to enhance concentration. In the counter-culture sections of the elite populace in Kenya, chat is consumed to neutralize the consequences of a hangover or overindulgence with alcoholic beverages, much in the same manner in which people in South America use the coca leaf. A number of women in Yemen have their personal saloons for the occasion and take part in chewing chat together with their husbands during weekends. In several places where chat is cultivated, this herb has turned out to be conventional enough for several children to begin chewing the plant even before they become adolescents.
The timber of the chat trees is also useful. The wood of this tree is strong and finely grained and, hence, it is excellent for use as firewood. The chat wood is also used to make furniture. While the stem of the tree is used in the form of fencing pole, the bark of chat is employed to repel insects.
Habitat and cultivation
Chat (C. edulis) is indigenous to the Middle East as well as the Horn of Africa and this herb has a preference to lowlands as well as dry conditions. Currently, chat is cultivated in a number of countries in Africa, including Somalia, Ethiopia, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
It may be noted that C. edulis may be propagated from its seeds, which are harvested just prior to the rupturing of the fruits. The seeds of this herb may be sown in the early part of spring, in trays packed with seeding mix or compost. The trays ought to be maintained damp and placed in a warm area that is adequately lit. Alternately, the seeds may also be sown directly into the prepared ground outdoors.
Chat may also be propagated by root cuttings and when the plant is grown by this method, it grows rapidly. It is advisable to make cuttings of new roots during the growing season and plant them right away in pots packed with compost. Subsequently, they may be covered using wood chippings to conserve moisture and heat. You should not water the cuttings till the shoots have emerged, since watering the cuttings earlier may result in their rotting.
Researches have shown that the tree chat (C. edulis) has a stimulating effect and this was initially attributed to ‘katin’, cathine, a phenethylamine-kind substance that was isolated from the species. Nevertheless, several reports disputed this designation and demonstrated that extracts obtained from the fresh leaves of the plant enclosed a different substance that is psychologically more active compared to cathine. Scientists succeeded in isolating cathinone, the related alkaloid, in 1975 and the complete configuration of this alkaloid was established three years later in 1978. It may be noted that cathinone is not quite stable and it disintegrates to produce norephedrine and cathine. Both these chemicals belong to the phenylpropanolamine (PPA) family, a dividing up of the phenethylamines associated with amphetamines, norepinephrine and epinephrine. In effect, cathine as well as cathinone both have an extremely analogous molecular formation compared to amphetamine.
Chemical analysis of chat (C. edulis) has revealed that the tree encloses alkaloids akin to those contained by Ephedra species, for instance up to 1 per cent of norpseudoephefrine and ephedrine. In addition, this species also contains cathine, tannins, cathinone and volatile (unstable) oil. The alkaloids which have resemblance to those of ephedrine potently invigorate the central nervous system (CMS), suppress craving for food (appetite) and are anti-allergenic in nature.