Tallow Wood

Ximenia americana

Herbs gallery - Tallow Wood

Common names

  • Sea Lemon
  • Tallow Wood
  • Yellow Plum
  • Ximenia

The tallow wood (scientific name Ximenia americana) is a small tree that can be found in tropical woodlands. It rarely grows to a height of more than 6 meters and is semi-deciduous, with green to slightly blue leaves. The small tree has a distinctive rough trunk that rarely grows upright. The branches are covered in purple or red bark, with a waxy appearance. Its leaves have a leather-like texture and can be green or grey. The flowers bloom from July to October but in some cases can appear at the start of the year, between January and March. They are white, pink or yellow and have a pleasant smell. Scientists have identified two types of the Ximenia species: Ximenia caffra and Ximenia americana. The name of the plant comes from Francisco Ximeniz, a Spanish monk, and the Latin variant for American.

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The tallow wood trunk rarely grows to a diameter larger than 10 cm. It can be smooth or covered in scales, with a brown or light grey bark. Branches spread in all directions to create a conical or spherical crown. The small branches of tallow wood tree are purple or red with a waxy surface and can be protected by spines. The tallow wood tree can sometimes be a semi parasite on the roots of other plants, a so-called haustorium. The leaves have a length between 3 and 8 cm, with a width from 1 to 4 cm. They are found in 3 to 7 alternate pairs and have slight veins, a lanceolate or elliptic shape, can be thin or succulent as well as obtuse or emarginated. They have a leathery appearance with a grey or green color and the young ones release a bitter almond smell when crushed.

The tallow wood flowers are found in inflorescences supported by short pedunculate axillary racemes and have a nice fragrance. The peduncles and the 3-7 mm long pedicles are hairless. Fruits are drupes with an ellipsoidal or spherical shape, with a length of about 3 cm. They are green in their youth but turn yellow or even orange as they ripe. Every fruit consists of pulp and a single seed. The seed has a maximum length of 1.5 cm and is woody, with a pale yellow color and a fatty kernel.

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Parts used

Leaves, twigs, bark, roots.

Uses

All over its range, the tallow wood is considered an important plant for its medical properties and it has been used by local healers for a long time. Traditional practitioners use it to cure numerous diseases and believe it to have strong benefits. Modern researchers have studied the plant in order to check these old claims. Scientists of the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria have tested the properties of tallow wood. Their tests on animals have confirmed its effectiveness against the parasite that transmits anemia and sleeping sickness to African animals.

An extract from the Ximenia americana leaves can kill several dangerous bacteria, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans and the widespread Escherischia coli. Chemical analysis of the extract has identified saponins, glycosides, anthraquinones, tannins, flavonoids and alkaloids. One of the uses of the extract by the natives of Florida was in the treatment of gum problems and sore muscles.

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Both the leaves and the small branches of the tallow wood tree can be used to treat a number of issues. They are effective as a laxative, as mouthwash against tooth pain, as a lotion for the eyes and also against angina and headache. Headaches and angina can be cured using the leaves, which are also good as an antidote for poison. Besides headaches, roots can relieve leprosy, haemorrhoids, guinea worm, sleeping sickness, edema, skin problems and sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the roots can neutralize poisons. Tallow wood fruits are effective against constipation and can also kill intestinal worms if consumed in large quantities. The bark has many uses, it can be added in the water of bathing kids, it relieves head fever if applied externally, it treats heart and kidney diseases and can treat and heal skin wounds, in powder form, dried or prepared as a decoction. The roots or the fruits can also be made into a decoction for veterinary use that cures calves of dysentery.

The fruits are a good choice for a healthy diet because of the large amount of vitamin C. They can be consumed raw, included in porridge or prepared as a jam, syrup or jelly.

The tree bark also has medical benefits and can treat tooth pain, infections inside the mouth and stomach disorders. Both types of ximenia trees are known to have potent roots and bark. Some people believe that an infusion from the leaves of Ximenia caffra variety can prevent nightmares.

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The oil of tallow wood has important cosmetic benefits. It can be used to make the skin softer but also as a hair oil and conditioner. The oil can be applied directly on skin wounds in order to relieve the pain and it moisturizes the skin, being an effective massage for dry skin types. These properties make the oil a popular ingredient in products against dry and aging skin, as well as against acne, in soaps, in lip creams and in cosmetics for hair repair.

The oil is a great hair conditioner and is added for this purpose in commercial products. It is also used by Bushmen as a lubricant for their bow strings and also to soften their skin, as a general maintenance product. It can also soften animal leather and is used by Pedi women in the crafting of aprons. Another tribal usage is as a fuel for torches.

The wood of both types of tallow wood has a pleasant smell and can be compared with sandalwood or boxwood. It is very durable and heavy, being very good for crafting various small sized household items such as cooking sticks.

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Since the tree is small, the wood can't be turned into timber and it is mainly transformed into charcoal or burned for heating. The bark has a very high content of tannins, of around 17%, which makes leather red when used in tanning, although the tree roots can also be used. The bark is also an ingredient in indigo dyes and makes them stronger. Seeds have a content of 67.4% oil, which is a useful cosmetic for hair and body. However, the oil includes a compound similar to rubber that makes it unsuitable for industrial purposes and it's inedible as well. It can be used only in the production of lubricants and soaps.

Culinary uses

The fruits of tallow wood tree can be consumed raw but also turned into jelly, juice or jam. Seeds can be toxic and the pulp also has a content of hydrocyanic acid, which makes it possible to prepare an intoxicating drink from the fruit. The kernel oil can replace ghee or butter if extracted. Fresh leaves can be eaten but only if properly cooked.

The taste of the tallow wood fruits has been compared to plums. The young leaves are edible but only after a long cooking period, since they contain cyanide. They are eaten as a vegetable in Asia but it is not advised to consume large amounts of them.

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