Acacia

Acacia spp.

Herbs gallery - Acacia

Common names

  • Acacia
  • Thorntree
  • Wattle
  • Whistling Thorn

A genus of trees and shrubs, acacia belongs to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the plant family Fabaceae. Plants belonging to this genus were first described by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, in 1773 referring to the African species growing along the Nile and called Acacia nilotica. Several acacia species that are not native to Australia are likely to have thorns, while most of the plants that have their origin in Australia are not thorny. All acacia species produce pods with sap, while the leaves usually contain large quantities of tannins. Owing to the high concentration of tannins in acacia leaves, they were traditionally used as preservatives and also employed by the pharmaceutical industry.

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The generic name of acacia has its origin in the Greek word ἀκακία (pronounced akakia). In his book Materia Medica, Dioscorides, an early Greek botanist and physician (mid to late first century), gave this name to a therapeutic tree, Acacia nilotica. This name has been derived from the Greek term for the characteristic thorns - "akis" in Greek denotes thorn. On the other hand, Linnaeus gave the tree its species name "nilotica", as it is found growing along the Nile River.

The typical leaves of acacia make the trees very unique and easily distinguishable. There are over 800 acacia species across the globe and nearly all of them produce small and finely divided leaflets that make the stalk resemble a fern. On the other hand, leaves are completely absent in the species that are found growing in deserts and receive very scanty rain. The functions of the leaves are performed by the stalks of these trees. In fact, the stalks may have the appearance of large thorns and sharp spines.

The flowers of acacia are also a distinguishing aspect of these trees. The blossoms are small, aromatic and pea-shaped. They are arranged in dense cylindrical clusters. Usually, the acacia trees produce yellow flowers, but flowers of some species may even be white. Each flower is hairy and contains numerous stamens. The flowers appear at the terminals of well ventilated branches.

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The life span of nearly all acacia trees is quite brief. They usually survive for anything between 15 and 30 years. As a result, acacia trees have a propensity to grow rapidly and reach a height of more than 40 feet. Aside from producing white and yellow blooms, Acacia trees also produce arid seedpods, which are its fruit. Each pod measures roughly three inches in length and encloses about five to six seeds that have a brownish-black hue. In fact, together the feathery leaves, globular blossoms and dry seedpods of acacia make the trees appear spectacular during the peak of their growing years.

There are over 800 different types of acacia trees across the world, making it one of the largest species. These trees are found growing in places having sunny, tropical and desert-like conditions. These trees are found growing in both hemispheres.

Although there are more than 800 varieties of Acacia trees, some are more popular than the others. Some of the popular varieties are described briefly below.

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Flat-topped Acacia
This variety of acacia is usually found growing in South Africa, especially on the savannahs. The top of these acacia trees has a ledge-like appearance.
Swollen-thorn Acacia
These acacia trees flourish in Central America. The seed pods of these trees have a symbiotic relation with ants.
Koa Acacia
This acacia variety is indigenous to Hawaii and the trees are well known for their dark hardwood. In fact Koa acacia trees are valued for their grains that vary from plain to crisp to profoundly fiddle back.
Flowering Acacia
The flowering acacia trees are of two varieties - namely baileyana species and farnesiana species. While the former are known for bearing yellow blooms in clusters, the latter type is a spiny shrub-like plant, producing numerous aromatic flowers that draw plentiful insect pollinators.

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Parts used

Root, bark.

Uses

Acacia has several uses. Many acacia species have been used for therapeutic purposes as well as in the form of entheogens. They have also been employed for producing incense. Many acacia species, especially those native to Australia, contain natural compounds like dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and many other tryptamines. Hence, they are the right ingredients for preparing ayahuasca analogues. Nevertheless, it is important to note that not all acacia species enclose DMT.

People in Mexico use the root of the Acacia angustifolia in the form of a preservative in pulque, a fermented milky beverage prepared from the juice of particular agave species. Hence, the Aztecs refer to this small growing Acacia tree as ocpatl or the pulque drug. It is believed that drinking this beverage results in exciting psychoactive effects.

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Leaves of another acacia plant, called A. campylacantha, encloses N,N-DMT as well as other tryptamines. People in West Asia use the leaves of this tree in the form of a psychoactive preservative in psychoactive drink, locally known as dolo. This psychoactive beverage is made by fermenting sorghum and pennisetum. Honey is added to the drink to make it taste sweet. Dolo is a ceremonial as well as recreational drink in this part of the world. It is believed that drinking dolo makes one stronger and also helps to lift the mood.

The species called Acacia catechu is found growing in India, Malaysia and Indonesia. This acacia species often grows up to a height of 20 meters. The inner wood of this tree is boiled in water to obtain an odourless extract called catechu. This substance is employed for tanning as well as in the form of a preservative in betel quids. People in India also fry the gum produced by the acacia species, A. nilotica, in ghee and use it in the form of an aphrodisiac. At the same time, they consider A. nilotica trees to be sacred and, hence, they are not felled. An infusion prepared with the flower of Acacia farnesiana is also employed as an aphrodisiac. This infusion is also used to unwind stiff muscles.

According to legend, the burning bush seen by Moses and mentioned in the Old Testament was actually a tree belonging to the Acacia senegal species. Hence, people in the Middle East consider this tree to be sacred and they believe that any person breaking a twig of this tree will die within a year!

People in Australia use several native Acacia species for food as well as for therapeutic purposes. In addition, they burn the leaves of some acacia species and use them as a "smoking medicine". In other words, the smoke from the burnt trees is inhaled for treating various aliments.

Acacia catechu is also used in the form of a tonic in India to treat several digestive problems, skin complaints, mouth ulcers, toothaches as well as inflamed throats. This herb contains lots of tannins and, hence, it is ideal for curing inflammations. Similarly, people in India use Acacia farnesiana for treating conditions like epilepsy, convulsions, rabies and insanity. On the other hand, the Maya of Belize on the eastern coast of Central America employ the roots and bark of Acacia cornigera for curing snakebites. A tea prepared from this herb is consumed to cure impotency. In addition, this Acacia species is also employed for treating headaches and asthma.

In Africa, people use the root of the species called Acacia ataxacantha along with other herbs to heal wounds. The leaf of this tree is known to possess analgesic properties. In Sudan, Acacia nilotica has been traditionally used for treating various different inflammatory conditions. The Masai employ a decoction prepared from the stem and root of this herb to gain courage. This decoction is also used in the form of a stimulant.

Although the acacia species A. confusa is considered to be poisonous for humans, it is extensively used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treating blood related problems. This plant is also used in the form of a muscle relaxant.

Some people claim that supplements containing acacia parts can help to keep the blood sugar levels in check. Although there is hardly any clinical evidence to substantiate this claim, most of us are aware of the fact that dietary fibers have a vital role in controlling blood sugar levels in people enduring type 2 diabetes. Hence, foods containing acacia products will possibly help in increasing the daily fiber intake.

It is well known that acacia is an excellent source of dietary fiber since it contains approximately 90% soluble fiber. In fact, this variety of fiber, which is soluble in water, forms a vital part of our diet. Soluble fiber ensures that our digestive system functions efficiently, in addition to lessening the chances of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Since acacia possesses demulcent properties, a medicinal substance that soothes the mucus membranes, it helps to alleviate irritation in the mouth by producing a protective film over the mucus membranes. This is the main reason why acacia has been traditionally used to heal mouth sores, wounds and even symptoms related to cold. In present times, acacia forms an active ingredient in several medications meant to cure colds, such as cough medicines and throat lozenges.

Dietary fiber can also be useful in providing relief from constipation and the uneasiness associated with many digestive problems, for instance irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning here that dietary fiber may not be solely responsible for acacia's attributes that support the digestive system. Aside from its fiber content, the sap in acacia may possibly be a prebiotic as well. In other words, this means that acacia has the potential to provide the conditions necessary for the survival of beneficial bacteria in our intestines. Findings of one study discovered that using yogurt blended with fiber was more useful in lessening the symptoms related to IBS compared to consuming only yogurt on a regular basis.

Habitat and cultivation

Acacia trees or shrubs can be propagated in two ways - from their seeds as well as cuttings.

It is very easy to grow acacias from their seeds. In effect, this is also the quickest way of producing more plants at the same time. However, if you are propagating acacia from seeds, you should be careful regarding the source of the seeds. Seeds obtained from any garden, a botanical garden or a home, where different species of acacia obtained from dissimilar climatic zones grow together in an unusual combination provide the opportunity for developing hybrid seeds that result in plants, which may not always be true to their parents.

Acacia seeds obtained from naturally occurring bush areas will not face this problem of resulting in plants that are not true to their types. In addition to the above mentioned sources, you may also obtain acacia seeds from dependable indigenous plant seed service that guarantees the source as well as the superiority of the seeds supplied by them.

Acacia seeds mature inside the pods on the trees and are ejected when the pods split open. This means that you should always employ a reliable means of collecting the seeds. In case you cannot be present near the acacia bushes at the time when the seeds ripen, you can use a cloth bag (never use plastic) or pantyhose made from nylon. Place the cloth bag on top of the maturing seed pods and tie them. After you collect the pods, discard them, keeping only the seeds that are insect-free. The seeds need to be dried out and stored in sealed containers. Label the containers writing the name of the species, place and date of collection.

As in the case of other plants, when you are cultivating acacia, you need to ensure that all equipment as well as the soil you are using (provided you have not bought them from a commercial outlet) is sterilized with a view to put off any possible contagion from pathogens present in the soil as well as growth of weeds.

Alternatively, you can successfully propagate acacias from cuttings, particularly with those having smaller leaf-like structures called phyllodes. Generally, it is advised that cuttings are taken from semi-hardened wood and each cutting should be approximately 5 cm to 15 cm in length. You can also use cuttings taken from lateral growth as well as stem material hardening once the flowering season is over.

Ensure that the cutting is made from under a node. Use sharp secateurs for the cuttings. Next, remove two-thirds of the leaves from the cutting, taking care that you do not tear the bark. If there are any large leaves, cut them down to about half their original size or even less with a view to decrease the loss of water via transpiration as well as stress. Also get rid of flowers and buds, if any.

Dip the cutting's base in a rooting hormone. You can use either powder or liquid and then put the cutting in plastic containers packed with somewhat flattened cutting mix. Then make a hole using a pencil or stick to place the cuttings in the mix. Firm the cutting mix slightly and water the pots prior to keeping them in a propagator, "poly" house or glass under a plastic covering. It is quite difficult to strike Acacias having bi-pinnate or fern-like foliage, because the small leaflets have a propensity to retain water and fall off very soon, thereby messing up the cutting. In fact, it is advisable that you undertake further experiments as well as trials if you want this form of cutting to be successful every time.

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