Feasting on the Sausage Tree

Feasting on the Sausage Tree

Feasting on the Sausage Tree

By / Ecotourism / Saturday, 18 July 2020 23:26

The Kigelia Africana tree, also known as sausage tree, has an average height that doesn’t usually exceed 25 meters. If it was a human male, it would be about 5.7/5.8 feet. Average height. The tree’s Swahili name is Mwengea. In Giriama, one of the coastal languages in Kenya, its known as Mobwoka, while amongst the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest community, it’s called muratina, named after its famous sausage-like fruit.

When I first heard of this tree’s name – Kigelia Africana – I thought that it was first ‘discovered’ in Kigali. But nope, the name ‘kigelia’ is extracted from one of the local names of the tree in Mozambique – kigeli-keia.

This mercurial tree will attract and repel you in equal measure. Although its flowers have a strong, unpleasant smell, its fruits are surreal to behold. They are sausage-shaped and dangle in clusters on long stems. They can grow up to two feet and weigh as much as seven kilos!

Adding to the eye-feast are its flowers. Despite their bad smell, they are quite colorful and dynamic. They only come alive at night. Long after the sun has set, when darkness is reigning supreme, they open up and attract creatures that wouldn’t otherwise pay them a visit. These nocturnal flowers are pollinated not by birds but by bats and hawk moths. Just like the flowers, these two creatures are also nocturnal.

When you see the flowers, you will almost feel like ringing them because they are bell-shaped. As far as their color is concerned, they have an identity crisis. Sometimes they are orange and sometimes maroon. On other occasions, they dress in a mixture of green and purple. All these colors, together with the flowers’ muscular stems, enhance the eye-candy status of this tree.

The sausage-like fruits constitute a five-star delicacy for a bunch of mammals. Monkeys, baboons, elephants and giraffes all troop to the sausage tree to savor the fruit buffet. They repay the tree for its generosity by dispersing its seeds through their dung.

Unlike these wildlife, humans can’t consume the fresh fruit because its poisonous. They can only consume it after roasting, drying or fermentation. This is exactly what members of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest community, have been doing for decades. They ferment the sausage tree’s fruit to make muratina, the traditional kikuyu brew. The Akamba community from eastern Kenya also use the sausage fruits to make a similar brew that they call kaluvu.

Even as the tree’s sausage-like fruits are used to produce alcohol, its bark is used to cure skin ailments like Eczema and Psoriasis. Extracts from this bark contain iridoids, chemicals that stand in the way of harmful bacteria and stop them from growing.  Such bacteria include Staphylococcus aureus, which causes skin infections and boils. As such, the sausage tree is a dermatology powerhouse.

In addition to providing a healing touch to skin, the sausage tree fruits also cure other ailments like rheumatism, snakebites and syphilis.

Bwak the Bantu Poet described this tree as ‘a five-star delicacy that is great for the big mammals, pleasant to behold and good for the skin.’

Take a bow to this tree, a biodiversity bliss like no other.


DJ Bwakali

DJ Bwakali

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