Luscious fruits, deep shade, aromatic oils and medicinal properties, all from one species of tree, Mangifera indica, the mango, which can be found throughout Livingstone.
The genus name comes from mangga, the Malay word for the fruit, and indica indicates India, where the species originated, but it has been domesticated for at least 4,000 years, and nowadays hundreds of cultivars can be found worldwide. Africa probably experienced its first mango trees when they were brought to East Africa by Persians in the 10th Century and to West Africa by Portuguese in the 16th Century.
In Livingstone, just down the hill from the Museum, there are fine examples of mango trees lining Mosi-oa-Tunya Road; these were planted to provide nutritious food as well as being ornamental. They provide a bonanza of delicious fruits at the start of the rains but, when the trees are in full bloom in July, some people experience itching or swelling around the eyes. This is probably not from a pollen allergy, but may be caused by essential oils vaporising from the flowers.
Mango belongs to the Anacardiaceae, the same family as marula, cashew, pistachio and sumac. Typical of this family, an irritating fluid exudes from mango fruit stalks and sometimes from their skins, causing blistering and swelling in hyper-sensitive people.
Medicinal properties are often found in plants that have strong fragrances and exudates, and mango trees are no exception. Extracts of bark and leaves have been proven to control diabetes, boost the immune system, fight viral, fungal and bacterial infections, and they have strong anti-oxidant properties.
Simple home decoctions for treating diarrhoea are made using fresh, young leaves. (N.B. Old mango leaves are toxic.) This treatment works because of tannins, which have astringent properties. Other medicinal compounds include flavonoids, such as mangiferin, which are effective in controlling blood-sugar levels, breaking down fat, and even counteracting tumour growth.
The bark of the mango tree is processed by soaking, boiling and powdering to make medicines; but note that, whenever bark is removed to make a remedy, only the bark of branches should be harvested, never from the main trunk, so that the tree can survive to provide fruits and medicines for hundreds of years. Mango trees as old as 300 years can still bear fruit, so let’s treasure our leafy friends!
Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 11, Dec 2012)
Read more about the region in our destination guide:
More articles in this series:
Rainforest Riches (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
Berry banquet (ZT, Issue 12, March 2013)
Marvellous Mangoes (ZT, Issue 11, December 2012)
Underground Forests (ZT, Issue 10, September 2012)
The healing powers of Aloes (ZT, Issue 09, June 2012)
Dogbane Drugs (ZT, Issue 08, March 2012)
Devil’s Claw (ZT, Issue 07, December 2011)
Elephant Toothpicks (ZT, Issue 06, Sept 2011)