|Traditional Food Plants of Kenya (National Museum of Kenya, 1999, 288 p.)|
Arabic: qat, khat Borana: chati, cati Chonyi: miraa Embu: miraa English: khat, Abyssinia tea, Arabian tea Giriama: miraa Kamba: mailyungi, miungi (plural) Kambe: miraa Kikuyu: muirungi, miirungi (plural) Kipsigis: tomoiyot Kisii: mairungi Maa: olmeraa Marakwet: tumayot Meru: muraa, miraa (plural) Okiek: tumayot Samburu: mamiraa Somali: qat, kat (pronounced chat) Swahili: miraa Teso: emairugi
Description: An evergreen shrub or large tree to 25 m with a dense crown. Trunk to 1 m in diameter. BARK: Grey-green or pale greyish brown. Young shoots green to red. LEAVES: Up to 12 cm long, narrowly elliptic with serrate margins, opposite, alternate on coppice shoots. Young leaves crimson brown, glossy, becoming yellow-green and leathery with age. FLOWERS: Small, white to creamy yellow in axillary cymes. FRUIT: A red-to-dark-brown, oblong, pendulous 3-valved capsule, up to 1 cm long. Seeds reddish brown with a small brown papery wing at the base.
Ecology: Found in south-western Arabia and Yemen and in many parts of Africa from Ethiopia to South Africa. Introduced in India and many other tropical countries. In Kenya, found, e.g. in the Nyambene mountains, Kyulu hills, south-western Mau forest, Cherangani forest, Mt Kenya, Turbo, Kakamega Forest, Mt Elgon. Cultivated in Nyambene and Meru. In the wild it is found in moist montane forests, evergreen forests and their margins, dry Olea and Juniperus forests, riverine forests and in thickets in Combretum wooded grassland. Along drainage lines and rocky hillsides, 1,200-2,400 m. Commonest around 2,000 m. Colluvial, stony or red soil. Rainfall: 800-1,800 mm. Commonest around 1,000 mm. Zones I-III.
Uses: Stimulant: Bark from fresh young shoots is peeled off and chewed as a stimulant, mainly by Somali and Meru and in towns (popular with long-distance heavy truck drivers as it is said to keep them awake). As one chews, a lump of khat (Somali: taksin) is gathered on one side of the mouth. Khat is usually chewed along with soft drinks, black spiced tea or chewing gum. The leaves are reportedly used to make a beverage like tea-called Abyssinia or Somali tea. Dried leaves may be smoked like tobacco. An important plant during wedding ceremonies (Boran, Somali).
MEDICINAL: Roots and bark boiled in tea or soup as a remedy for gonorrhoea (Kipsigis, Maasai).
CULTURAL/BELIEFS: Khat, tobacco and coffee taken as a gift to the girl's home during the first visit of the boy's parents as a sign of friendship between the two families (Boran). Said to form part of the bride price in marriage among people of Nyambene. Plant used in wedding ceremonies among the Boran and Somali.
OTHER: Building poles, fuelwood (++).
COMMERCIAL: Young shoots are sold in urban centres, especially to the Somali community. The khat trade is a flourishing multi-million shilling business in Kenya. Loads of it are harvested from the Nyambene highlands and air-freighted (mainly by chartered aircraft) from Nairobi to Somalia. It is also exported to the Middle East and often finds its way to Somali nationals in many parts of the world. Shoots are bound into small bundles which in turn are wrapped in banana leaves to protect the twigs from withering. In this condition khat can last for up to a week. In Kenya the banana leaves are hung outsides kiosks to indicate the presence of khat vendors. Despite its wide occurrence in other parts of Kenya, khat obtained from Nyambene District is of a superior quality. The Kangeta type with reddish purple bark is best and is often exported. Muringene and Maua types are poorer quality and are often mixed with the Kangeta type to increase their value. Up to six types have been reported in Ethiopia.
Management: Planting may be done vegetatively through cuttings. Twigs harvested for chewing are mainly obtained from coppiced plants.
Status: Generally uncommon in the wild. Large populations have, however, been reported in the Kyulu and Gwasi hills.
Remarks: Catha edulis, the only member of its genus, is an important drug plant in eastern Africa. Khat chewing is an important social activity among the Somali. Khat is usually provided to important visitors by the bride during wedding ceremonies. It is said to produce wakefulness and mental alertness by its stimulating effect on the nervous system. Thus it is used in situations requiring concentration.
The health, social and economic costs of khat chewing, however, outweigh the advantages. It induces thirst and therefore the user has to buy a lot of soft drinks. Khat is corrosive to the mouth wall. Chewing gum has recently gained popularity as it soothes the mouth besides absorbing stray khat particles. It is often a cause of constipation among chewers. It suppresses appetite and, when used for long periods, the alertness induced may lead to extreme fatigue and even stupor. Excess use of khat may induce symptoms of hallucination, intoxication or poisoning and, in extreme cases, insanity. Despite its short energy-boosting effect, prolonged use has been reported to cause emaciation and impotence. Khat chewing is addictive and often may impose a financial strain on the individual or family. The practice of chewing khat is condemned by non-users and is generally seen as unhealthy. There have been several attempts to ban the use of the drug by the authorities in Kenya and in some Islamic countries. The majority of khat users are found in the Islamic community.