Les Coteaux resident Leandro Grant shows off these dry baobab pods.

T&T and the world has been gifted with a number of plants from the African continent.

Despite their usefulness, many are are still to be used for their full economic potential.

One of these plants is the baobab tree, which looks like an upside-down plant with its roots in the air. The baobab made the trip from Africa to the West Indies during the height of the slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries and most specimens today can only be found in Botanical Gardens in Port-of-Spain.

However, there are rare exceptions when a specimen is found in the wild.

In the case of Tobago, a baobab grows majestically on a lot of land opposite the Esplanade in Scarborough, where it is now in the fruiting stage. The beauty of this tree is masked by the shacks and buildings that surround it. Yet it remains symbolic of the journey the African people made to the new world.

Tobagonians and fellow small islands refer to the baobab as Guinea Tamarind, which is a completely different fruit. The dried baobab has a citrus taste and may be confused with tamarind. The species requires very little water and stores most of the water collected during the rainy season in its massive trunks.

Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj shared some insights into the baobab.

He said, “Trinidad and Tobago, for many reasons, possesses the natural environment which provides a home and habitat to a vast array of flora and fauna. Many of these have a rich and storied history of where they may have originated, how and why it was brought here, but perhaps modern life has ill-afforded us the opportunity to explore their potential and conservation.”

COVID-19 has brought an opportunity to return to the land in many forms. An important part of the national conversation at the moment is ‘survival gardening’.

In addition to farming sector capacity, households are reshaping the conversation on vegetable and herb gardening, ornamental flowers and other fruit and food trees. Research tells us that the Baobab grows in Africa, Australia and the Middle East. Described as the “Tree of Life”, every part of it has traditionally been used as food, medicine, or as the basis of clothing or household items. “While the clothing and textile consideration may not be high on T&T’s agenda at this time, it’s dietary importance must be noted,” Maharaj said.

He said Baobab fruit is edible but more popularly, the dried seed powder is used in foods because of its nutrients, possible health benefits and as a natural preservative. It is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, carbohydrates and phosphorus. It is also believed to have antimicrobial, antiviral anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The fruit is found inside hard pods that hang upside down from the tree and carries a “citrus” flavour.

Baobab is also “wild-harvested” – taken from its natural environment and dried naturally. “Baobab powder and other products can be incorporated into smoothies and salads. Importantly, because of its novelty in our environment and diet, there should be more research and empirical evidence to confirm its health benefits and botanical importance,” Maharaj added.

Apart from its edible qualities, Baobab is also medicinal in nature. It has traditionally been used in African populations to relieve diarrhoea, constipation and dysentery. The leaves and fruit pulp have also been used to reduce fever and stimulate the immune system. The health benefits include: improving digestive health, supporting the immune system, general hydration and skin health.