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close this bookTraditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)
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View the documentTamarindus indica L.
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Tamarindus indica L.

Caesalpiniaceae (Fabaceae)

Bajun: ukwaju Boni: mukai Borana: roka, roqa Digo: mkwaju Embu: muthithi English: tamarind Kamba: kithumula, kikwasu (south-eastern Makueni), nthumula (fruit), nzumula (fruit), ngwasu (fruit) Luhya (Bukusu): kumukhuwa, kumukhubwe Luo: ochwa, chwaa (Ugenya), ochwaa (Alego) Maa: oloisijoi Malakote: morhoqa Marakwet: aron, oron Mbeere: muthithi Meru: muthithi Orma: roqa Pokot: oron, aron Samburu: rogei Sanya: roka Somali: hamar, rahkai (Tana River), roge Swahili: mkwaju, msisi, ukwaju (fruit) Teso: epeduru Tharaka: muthithi Turkana: epeduru

Description: An evergreen tree with a low spreading crown often attaining a huge size. BARK: Dark brown, coarsely fissured longitudinally. LEAVES: Buds and young leaves red. FLOWERS: Orange-yellow. FRUIT: A sausage-shaped pod to 10 cm or more. Young fruits greenish brown turning rusty brown at maturity. Dry fruit coat brittle. Pulp reddish brown. Seeds dark red.

Ecology: Widespread in the tropics in South East Asia, India and Africa. Found in most low parts of Kenya, 0-1,600 m; usually 0-1,300 m. Very common in the drier parts of Coast Province and along rivers and streams in the dry northern and southern parts of the country. In the more humid semi-arid areas, the plant is not restricted to riverine environments. Commonly seen in light clay (especially red), loam, sandy and alluvial soils as well as rocky areas. Rainfall: 250-1,200 mm. Zones IV-VII.

Uses: FOOD: The fruit pulp, which is eaten raw, has a strong acid taste. The pulp is dissolved in water and the resulting solution used for preparing porridge. The solution may also be added to stews (mboga), as a flavouring for various foods such as tea (Digo) and rice (Coast) or with dried termites (Turkana); young leaves are chewed like Catha edulis (khat, miraa, Maasai, Luo-Migori) or cooked as a vegetable (Boni). Seeds are fried and eaten. Fruit pulp is used in beer preparation (Turkana). The tree bears large quantities of fruit which, after the coats are removed, are tied in bundles and stored in sacks for up to 2 years. In some countries the pulp is used in the preparation of jams, juice and sweets.

MEDICINAL: Leaves are pounded in a mortar or boiled, then sieved and the solution drunk or applied to the body for measles or chickenpox (Kamba). Leaves and fruits are widely used as a laxative. Infusion made from dried pounded leaves is taken for stomach-ache (Siaya); boiled bark (and roots from other plants) is used for the treatment of gonorrhoea (Tharaka). Leaf extract is applied to inflamed eyes (Giriama).

OTHER: Fuelwood, charcoal (+++). In Kenya's arid north the plant is fodder for camels and goats (++). The tree is ideal for shade in hot areas. The wood is hard, used in building, in construction of dhows and making furniture, yokes and tool handles. It is made into stools or headrests, ekichelong (Turkana), pestles, mortars (Somali-Mandera), and boats at the coast. Branches and smaller roots are flexible and are made into walking sticks (Mbeere, coastal people), or branches woven into seats (Kitui). The bark of young stems is a source of fibre. The leaves make good mulch. Soil under the tree is said to be very fertile and is often used as "forest soil" in tree nurseries. Among coastal communities the acid pulp was used to clean copper. Branches said to be excellent for water purification (Tana River).


Figure


Figure

CULTURAL/BELIEFS: The tree is never planted as it is believed the person may die as soon as it starts bearing fruit (Luo, Siaya). It is believed that a person will die without eating its fruit (Kamba, Mbiuni) if he attempts to grow it (probably because it is such a slow-growing tree). Sprouting of young leaves is an indication of the approach of the rainy season (Kitui).

COMMERCIAL: One of the most commonly sold indigenous fruits. Fruits sold in Siaya, Lodwar, West Pokot, Baringo, Kitui and coastal towns. Tamarind pulp is sold in large shops in Nairobi and in coastal towns.

Season: Fruits in July-August in Kitui.

Management: Germinates easily from seeds without any pre-treatment. This species is light-demanding and should be planted in an open area. Seeds germinate after 2-3 weeks. Growth rate is quite high at first. If not well stored (especially with the pulp intact), seeds may be damaged by weevils which bore through the fruit wall and the pulp. Coppices well.

Status: May be locally common.

Remarks: Besides being a good shade tree, this species may also be grown as an ornamental.


Figure