Wild mango is a tree native to the Central and Western regions of Africa. It is named like that because the fruit is similar to a mango, even if the two plants are not related at all.
The wild mango tree is part of the genus Irvingia and it's praised for its fruit. The fruit is delicious and the flesh is widely eaten in its native range. However, it is actually the seed or the nut that is the most valuable either fresh or dried. The wild mango tree nuts are a great source of fats and protein and said to have many health benefits.
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Wild mango is a pretty big tree, which can grow straight up to 40 m in height, with a trunk diameter of 1 m. The first 3 m of the tree have buttresses. The bark can be yellow or grey in color and it is either smooth or covered with scales. It is an evergreen tree with a round bushy crown. The leaves have an elliptical shape but are asymmetric and the margins are not equally round. They have a glossy top and are dark green in color. Flowers are located on small panicles, yellow or white in color and bisexual. The fruit is green when not ripe and the pulp is orange, just like a proper mango. Inside the hard woody nut there is a single seed.
Fruits, seeds, bark.
This previously obscure fruit has suddenly become known and demanded all around the world because it helps with weight loss and can be included in many diets. Modern scientists believe it can act in several separate ways. The most important one is the increase in leptin, a very important hormone that reduces a person's appetite. More leptin thus means a decreased appetite and a loss of weight in time.
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In parallel, eating wild mango slows down stomach activity, providing a sensation of fullness. This is very important for people who suffer from diabetes, since it stops spikes in blood sugar levels. However, it is also very useful in diets because food cravings are prevented. Wild mango also appears to speed up the assimilation of fats.
The wild mango fruit is also effective against cholesterol, one of the main health dangers of our times. It is estimated that millions of people suffer from very high cholesterol levels in the USA alone. There are two types of cholesterol. The bad one, or low-density lipoprotein, builds deposits in the arteries and can eventually block them. High-density lipoprotein is the good cholesterol and has the opposite effect. Wild mango has a double action: it increases the level of high-density lipoprotein while decreasing the one of low-density lipoprotein. The precise mechanism is not known but the most likely cause is the high content of fibers.
The rich amount of soluble fibers is very useful in digestion as well. Fibers bulk up the stool, which relieves constipation and regulates intestinal transit and bowel movements. The food moves slower through the system, which allows our body to extract more nutrients from it. Constipation also causes weight gain, besides being uncomfortable and sometimes painful.
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The African Mende tribe uses the bark of the tree as an analgesic. This is quite uncommon since the seeds are normally the part of wild mango that is considered to have the strongest medical properties. Tests have confirmed tribal usage and have found that water wild mango extracts from the bark can reduce pain. It's unknown which compound causes this but it seems to work just like morphine. The effect is probably liked to the same receptors as opioids, since naloxone interferes with it. A separate ethanolic extract was also tested and was found to be more effective against pressure pain and not linked to the same receptors.
Wild mango has a strong antioxidant action, neutralizing the free radicals produced by our metabolism and preventing them from hurting tissues and cells. Most of the plant's medical properties are linked to this effect. The extracts were found to be much stronger antioxidants when compared to normal mango and other fruits. One particular study concluded that wild mango should be part of a normal diet due to its health benefits, after comparing the chemical composition of the fruit with a number of other common fruits.
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Another study focused on the efficiency of the bark extracts in weight loss diets but made some surprising discoveries. Some of the bioactive compounds found in the bark are able to kill both bacteria and various species of fungus. This might explain why Africans have been eating the fruit for a long time to relive pain and infection. The strong pain-killer effect is probably caused by the unknown compound discussed above, which can even be compared to morphine. Further research will be needed to identify the compound and fully understand its properties.
The wild mango tree has a number of industrial uses. The wood is very strong and suitable for heavy use, it can serve in railway construction, ship construction or form the structure of buildings. Smaller branches or dead trees are burned for heating. In agriculture, wild mango can be planted to provide shade for African cultures that require it, like coffee or cocoa. It has a strong root system and can stop soil erosion. They are also popular as street trees to provide shade and as decorative trees. The pulp of the fruit is an ingredient in black dye and is used to color clothes. In Africa, the seeds are a valuable commodity and are traded between the local states.
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The nut is hard and has to be cracked by force to access the seed inside. The seeds are also known as the dika nuts and can be eaten roasted or in their raw form but are usually turned into a paste. There is also an oil that can be extracted by pressing the seeds and can be used as cooking oil even if it normally has a solid state. The oil has cosmetic properties and can serve as an ingredient in soap or other products. The remaining pomace can be added in soups or used as cow fodder. The seeds can also be ingredients in soups after they are crushed, providing flavour and thickness. A way to preserve them is to make the so-called dika bread, which is actually a cake. The wild mango fruit can be eaten raw or turned into jams, juices or alcoholic drinks.
People who have diabetes must eat wild mango or take supplements with care because it can decrease blood sugar levels. When combined with other medication, this can cause hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar level. Like most exotic plants, pregnant and lactating women should avoid it until its effects will be fully researched. In general, it's a good idea to ask for an advice from a doctor before including wild mango in your diet or taking it as a supplement.