Caesalpinia bonduc and Caesalpinia major, two species of tropical leguminous shrubs, produce smooth, glossy seeds called nickar nuts or nickernuts. Both these shrubs share a common name - warri tree.
While the Caesalpinia bonduc produces grey hued nickernuts, the nuts produced by the other shrub Caesalpinia major are yellowish. Depending on the color of the nuts produced by them, in the Caribbean these shrubs are known as yellow knickers and grey knickers.
It is assumed that the term "nicker" has its origin in the Dutch terminology "knikker", which literally denotes clay marble.
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People in the various Caribbean islands use nickernuts to play mancala games like oware. Precisely speaking, the nickernut is very similar to a clay marble and is used for a number of uses, for instance making jewellery. Occasionally, the dry nuts are also pulverized into a powdered form to prepare a therapeutic tea.
Often the seeds of Caesalpinia bonduc are found lying on the beach and commonly known among the locals as eagle stones or sea pearls.
The stem of Caesalpinia bonduc is a liana that grows up to a length of 15 meters and generally has robust spines or barbs. The leaves of this plant appear alternately on the stem, they are bi-pinnately compound each having anything between 6 and 11 pairs of pinnae, which are basically pinnate stipules having three to five lobes each.
These measure up to 20 mm in length and their rachis measure anything between 15 cm and 80 cm in length. The leaflets of this herb appear opposite to one another and in anything between 6 and 9 pairs in each pinna.
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They are oblong-shaped measuring anything between 2 cm and 4 cm in length and at their base they are about 1 cm to 2 cm wide. The midrib as well as the margins have small hairs.
The inflorescence of Caesalpinia bonduc can be varied - a terminal raceme, a super-axillaries or a panicle measuring about 30 cm to 60 cm in length and compactly flowered. The flowers of the Caesalpinia bonduc are bisexual in nature or sometimes may even functionally be unisexual or zygomorphic.
The flowers have five merous, free sepals in an unequal number each measuring 5 mm x 2.5 mm. The lowest sepal is hood-shaped, the petals are free and unequal measuring anything between 6 mm and 7 mm x 2 mm and 3 mm. The petals are yellowish in color and clawed, with the upper having a different shape as well as size.
Each flower has as many as 10 free stamens which are each 5 mm in length. Towards their base, the filaments are hairy and the style is short, while the ovary of the flowers is quite dominant. The flowers give way to a small oblong-shaped inflated fruit pod measuring about 5 cm to 8 cm in length and roughly 3 cm to 4.5 cm wide.
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The seed pod is dehiscent and swathed with firm, elongated hairy prickles. Each pod encloses anything between one and two seeds. The seeds of Caesalpinia bonduc measure about 1.5 cm to 2 cm in diameter and are ovoid shaped. The seeds are hard, light grey in color and smooth externally.
Caesalpinia bonduc plants are often propagated from their seeds and the seedlings have epigeal germination. They are rounded cotyledons that are quite thick.
Occasionally, the seeds of Caesalpinia bonduc drift for long distances. Way back in 1693, they have been mentioned in the writings of James Wallace who reportedly found them in Orkney. Later, in 1751, a Danish bishop, author and historian Erich Pontoppidan wrote about another Caesalpinia bonduc tree he found growing on the Norwegian coast.
According to Pontoppidan's description, in terms of size the tree was equal to a chestnut, but it was flat and orbicular - it appeared that the tree had been compressed from both sides.
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The bark of the tree found by Pontoppidan has a dark brown hue, while the color varies at the middle and also a the shell junctions where the color seemed to be a ring of shinning-black and very near to it, there was a different one having a lively red hue that gave a beautiful overall effect.
In the Scandinavian countries, Caesalpinia bonduc nuts were commonly referred to as "sea beans", while people in the Hebrides called them "Molucca beans". Interestingly, a fossilized tree was found in a Swedish bog. In its 1797 edition, the Encyclopedia Britannica wrote that the wood of these trees were used solely for making snuff boxes.
Nevertheless, since long people in several cultures have been using the wood of the Caesalpinia bonduc for making amulets to bring good luck to the wearer as well as drive away bad luck or make childbirth easier.
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Caesalpinia bonduc offers a number of therapeutic, culinary and various other uses. For instance, where ever this tree is found growing in the coastal tropical regions, especially in Africa, people use the plant's leaves, roots and bark for treating a number of health conditions including headaches, fever and chest pain.
In fact, these parts of the bonduc nut tree are also used in the form of an anthelminthic. People in the western regions of Africa have been employing this tree in the form of a rubefacient as well as a tonic for treating conditions like diarrhea, jaundice and even to heal skin eruptions.
People inhabiting the coastline of Kenya have been employing the leaves of Caesalpinia bonduc to prepare a decoction, while the seeds and roots are used internally for treating asthma as well as problems related to menstruation.
Several inhabitants of Tanzania dry out the seeds' kernel and pulverize it into a powdered form, which is taken internally along with water for curing diabetes mellitus. On the other hand, people in Somalia use the oil extracted from the seeds for treating rheumatism.
In addition, the seeds also yield that is considered to be quinine for the "poor man". This extract is used in various places of India to treat malaria. However, as of now, the use of this bitter seed extract for treating malaria in Africa has not yet been documented.
In the tropical regions of Asia as well as the tropical islands of Pacific Ocean, Caesalpinia bonduc is a vital medicinal plant for the people. They use the herb for therapeutic purposes much in the same way as the inhabitants of Africa do it.
In other West African nations like Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, people plant the Caesalpinia bonduc shrub in the form of a growing fence. On the other hand in Guinea, which lies in the equatorial region, they extract the oil from the seeds of the plant and use it for culinary purposes. In addition, the seeds of this tree are also used in the form of beads as well as weights and in the form of counters in various local board games.
Often the seeds of Caesalpinia bonduc are seen washed up in several beaches across the world. These seeds are collected by people in various places for making necklaces. In India, children often use the seeds of this tree as marbles.
On the other hand, bonduc nut seeds are also used to extract oil and this substance is often used in the form of a cosmetic, especially to get rid of freckles from the face. Moreover, this oil is also employed to prevent or stop ear discharges.
In the traditional African medicine, bonduc nut or the seeds of the Caesalpinia bonduc are believed to be a crucial herb. This tree is also popular for its therapeutic properties in many regions in Asia and the tropical islands of the Pacific Ocean, where the different parts of the tree are used for similar purposes as in different African nations.
Chemical analysis of the Caesalpinia bonduc seeds have revealed that they possess anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, febrifuge, anti-viral, tonic, stomachic, gently purgative, hypoglycaemic and hypocholesterolemic properties. In fact, it has been found that these seeds also possess anti-cancer properties.
The seeds of the Caesalpinia bonduc also possess soothing properties and are, hence, employed for calming stomach problems.
In addition, the larvae of the Speckled Line Butterfly also feed on the Caesalpinia bonduc plants.
Bonduc nuts are collected from Caesalpinia bonduc shrubs, which have their homes in the lowland tropical regions. These plants thrive well in reasonably fertile soil having a proper drainage system. This plant has a preference for full sunlight and flourishes when grown in such conditions.
Usually, bonduc nuts trees are in bloom throughout the year and, as a result, they also bear fruits throughout the year. Since the seeds of bonduc nuts float on water for prolonged periods, they remain viable for a longer period. This is, perhaps, one reason why these nuts are widely used by people in the coastal areas of tropical regions across the globe.
Plants belonging to this particular genus are remarkably resilient to honey fungus. It has been found that the Caesalpinia bonduc plants have a symbiotic relationship with specific types of bacteria that are present in the soil.
In fact, these beneficial bacteria develop nodules on the plants' roots and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. While a fraction of this nitrogen is utilized by the plants themselves for their overall growth, the additional amounts are used up by other plants growing in the vicinity of Caesalpinia bonduc.
Chemical analysis of Caesalpinia bonduc plant has revealed that this plant contains an isoflavonoid called bonducellin in addition to a number of cassane diterpenes, counting bonducellpins, bondenolide, caesalpins, caesaldekarin A and caesalpinin B. On the other hand the chemical compounds isolated from the roots of the herb include caesalpin F and caesaldekarin C.
The seeds of Caesalpinia bonduc enclose a number of chemical compounds; most important among them are β-caesalpin and bonducellin, both of which have been proven to possess anti-plasmodial activities.
In addition, it has been found that bondenolide as well as many other extracts from these seeds possess anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activities. Moreover, bonduc seeds also enclose approximately 20 percent of oil, which is particularly high in linoleic acid, comprising nearly 68 percent of the oil. This particular oil possesses vesicant qualities.
Despite its several health benefits, Caesalpinia bonduc should be used with caution for using this herb in large doses may prove to be toxic.
Harvesting of Caesalpinia bonduc mature pods is done manually. These pods can be collected directly from the plants when the over mature pods drop on the ground. Alternatively, you can also harvest the pods when you need them for use.
Seeds of this herb can be taken out from the pods and just dried out in the sun and stored for use when you need them. Aside from the seeds, you can use other parts of the plant, but they need to be collected and used fresh.