The Sausage Tree – A Very Strange Fruit
I first heard of the Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana) from an Australian herbalist I met on a manufacturing course. For many years she had used a cream based on an extract from the fruit of the tree to successfully treat a number of common skin complaints, including some difficult cases of eczema and psoriasis.
Like most people who first hear of this fantastically named botanical wonder, I thought it was some kind of joke…. until I saw a photograph of the magnificent tree. The great bulbous fruits dangling from long, pendulous stalks like some gigantic grandfather clock, was truly a sight to behold. I was intrigued to learn more – and so, began my friendship with this beautiful, yet very strange tree.
The Mysterious Sausage Tree
The first time I ‘met’ the Sausage Tree was on a trip to Israel. A family member introduced me to an impressive specimen standing tall and proud at the end of the street. Her (now grown up) children would pass it every day on their way to school. Although its vast canopy provided tempting shade from the sun, they were always careful to walk around (but never under) it. As the strange fruits can grow up to a metre long, and weigh up to 12kg, they were inevitably keen to avoid the possibility of one of the heavy sausages falling on their heads.
Traditional Medicinal Uses of the Sausage Tree
Although relatively unknown in the West, extracts from the fruit, leaves and bark of Kigelia africana have long been used by traditional healers in the treatment of a wide variety of health complaints.
- In some cultures, the dried fruit is ground into a powder and used as a poultice to help heal wounds, abscesses and ulcers.
- In Zimbabwe, a decoction (concentrated tea) is made from the bark and used as a mouthwash to help relieve toothache.
- In West Africa, a preparation made from the leaves is used to treat snakebites.
Although the pulp of the unripe fruit is highly poisonous if ingested, a specially prepared fruit extract has historically been used as an effective treatment for skin conditions, fungal infections, psoriasis, eczema and boils. These traditional uses have been backed up by studies conducted at King’s College Hospital and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
Active Chemical Components of the Fruit, and Actions on the Skin
As studies show a continued rise in the number of people visiting the GP’s office seeking help for the debilitating symptoms of eczema, a case can be made for exploring alternative solutions to commonly prescribed steroid creams that with overuse, are known to have unpleasant side effects such as thinning of the skin, or more serious complications such as red skin syndrome. Although further studies are required to fully characterize its phytochemistry, several biologically active compounds have been identified from the sausage tree. Of all the plant parts, the fruit extracts (which have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties) show the most potential for the treatment of fungal and bacterial skin infections.
As a small batch herbalist, I don’t have enormous resources at my disposal to conduct clinical trials to substantiate these claims, however, having spent many years researching and refining my own topical preparations, and following up feedback from many happy customers, I’ve seen clinical evidence that it really can help bring relief from the misery of eczema and psoriasis.
As increasing pressure is placed on our National Health Service, people are becoming more interested in self-help alternatives to GP prescribed skin care medications. I’m hopeful that going forward, science will validate the traditional uses of this beautiful tree. With this goal in mind, I’m currently working with pharmacognosists, researchers and growers to continue to improve my herbal formulations and collect clinical data to support these studies.
If you have a story or experience to share about sausage tree cream, I’d love to hear it! Please feel free to drop me a line with your questions or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org