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Magical, Mystical Sausage Tree

Kigelia africana web sausage treeIts opulent burgundy blooms with velvet inners and long pollen-bearing stamens are dazzling. Its gray-brown gourd-like fruit is toxic to humans and having one drop on your head can give you a concussion. If you try to eat it, you’ll get blisters on your skin and in your mouth and end up violently ill.

Found throughout Africa, on riverbanks, along streams, on floodplains, and in open wood-lands, the unforgettable sausage tree conveys a sense of magic and intrigue. Dr. David Livingstone wrote about the giant sausage tree they were camped under, shortly before he saw Victoria Falls for the first time. It was at the auspicious point where today Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and northern Namibia’s Caprivi Strip converge.

The tree grows up to 20 metres in height and has bright green leathery leaves. The fruits, looking more like salamis than sausages, can grow up to one metre in length, 18 centimetres in width, and weigh up to 10 kilograms. This is why you don’t camp under them.

Nocturnal blossoms bloom on long, rope-like stalks that hang from the limbs, ideally positioned for bats, insects, and sunbirds to pollinate them. Even young monkeys dip their face into them to drink the sweet nectar.

Just because humans can’t eat them doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. Elephants and kudus browse on the leaves. Game animals and livestock feast on fallen flowers. Baboons, monkeys, bushpigs, porcupines, and black rhinos have been known to eat the fruit.

The light but tough wood is ideal for making dugout canoes.

The fruits are widely prized for their medicinal properties used in traditional remedies.

They’re said to contain:

  • Steroids for fighting fungal infections, treating eczema, psoriasis, boils, and even leprosy.
  • Natural pain relievers to treat burns.
  • Antibacterial properties to treat ulcers, syphilis, sores, and other skin conditions.
  • Natural antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Properties to cure postpartum hemorrhaging, diabetes, pneumonia, and rheumatism.

Ground and boiled bark can be used as a treatment for children’s stomach ailments.

There are also widely sought-after for non-medicinal uses.

  • Fruit hung in the home charms against whirlwinds.
  • Roasted fruit flavours beer and assists in the fermentation process.
  • Seeds baked and eaten in times of scarcity assuage hunger.
  • Gels aid women when styling tight braids, extensions, twists and knot styles.
  • Fruit extract enhances cosmetics.

The magical sausage tree provides, “nourishment for animals, an array of remedies, abundance of beauty and blissful shade from the searing sun.”

Just beware when taking respite in its luxurious shade.


Stamps and Stories, Vol. 2, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012.