Xylopia aethiopica

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Local names:
Arabic (hab al-zelim,fulful as-Sudan), English (negro pepper,grains of Selim,kani pepper,moor pepper,West African pepper tree,senegal pepper), French (noir de Guinée,poivre de Sénégal,graines de Selim), German (mohrenpfeffer,kanipfeffer,selimskörner,sene

Xylopia aethiopica is a slim, tall, evergreen, aromatic tree to 15–30 m high and about 60–70 cm in diameter with straight stem, many-branched crown and sometimes buttressed. Bark grey-brown, smooth or finely vertically fissured and peeling easily.

Leaves simple, alternate, oblong, elliptic to ovate, 8-16.5 by 2.8-6.5 cm, leathery, bluish-green and without hairs above, but with fine brownish hairs below, margin entire, and glabrous; petiole 0.3-0.6 cm, thickset and dark-coloured.

Flowers bisexual, solitary or in 3-5 flowered fasicles or in strange, sinuous, branched spikes, or cymes, up to 5.5 by 0.4 cm and creamy-green.

Fruits small, carpels 7-24, forming dense cluster, twisted bean-like pods, dark brown, cylindrical, 1.5-6 cm long and 4-7 mm thick; the contours of the seeds are visible from outside.

Seeds black, 5-8 per pod, kidney-shaped seeds of approximately 10 mm length with a yellow papery aril. The hull is aromatic, but not the seed itself.

Xylopia is Greek (‘xylon pikron’) for ‘bitter wood’, while aethiopica refers its Ethiopian origin.

Ecology

Xylopia is native to the lowland rainforest and moist fringe forest in the savanna zones of Africa, but largely found in West, Central and Southern Africa. These trees are widely distributed in the humid forest zones especially along rivers in the drier area of the region.

Native range
Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda

Tree management

The plant grows rapidly during the first three years. Trees are planted eight meters apart. In Ghana, it has been successfully intercropped with other staple food items in the first four years.

In West Africa, harvesting time runs from February to May and again from August to October. The fruits are harvested with the inflorescence. After picking, the fruits are sun-dried for 4-7 days. After drying, the fruits are removed from the inflorescence stalks. Fruits should not be dried on the ground, but on a protective cloth, net, screen or shelving system to minimize any microbial contamination. Typical fruit yields are about two to three metric tons per annum per hectare. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox.

Xylopia is native to the lowland rainforest and moist fringe forest in the savanna zones of Africa, but largely found in West, Central and Southern Africa. These trees are widely distributed in the humid forest zones especially along rivers in the drier area of the region.

Propagation is usually by seeds. Seedlings are transplanted to the field within 3-5 months after sowing.

 Crushed powdered fruits and seeds are dried and used as pepper substitute. The seeds have an aromatic, pungent taste and were formerly sold under the name: Ethiopian pepper, Guinea pepper and Negro pepper. The dried fruits are important as flavorings to prepare local soups in West Africa.

A good source of firewood

Timber: The wood is used as a general purpose timber in tool handles, beds, oxen yokes, knife sheaths and spear handles. 

Shade or shelter: The tree provides a good shade.

Medicine: Medicinally, the fruit is used against cough, stomachache, dizziness, amenorrhoea, bronchitis (when smoked and inhaled), dysentery, enema, bulimia (eating disorder), lumbago and neuralgia. It is also used a calmative, purgative, repulsive to pain, and in the treatment of boils and skin eruptions. The odiforous roots of the plant are employed in tinctures, administered orally to expel worms and other parasitic animals from the intestines, or in teeth rinsing and mouth wash extracts against toothaches. The fruits mixed with its roots are used in the treatment of rheumatism. 

Ornamental: Sometimes used as ornamental species.

Intercropping: The plant is successfully intercropped with other staple food items in the first four years.

Essential oil: The essential oil yield varies from 2-4.5%. The bark oil consists mainly of pinene, trans-pinocarveol, verbenone and myrtenol whereas the leaf oil is mainly spathulenol, cryptone, beta-caryophyllene and limonene.