Xylopia aethiopica is in the family Annonaceae. It is a tree found in the wet tropical forest to the savannah vegetation zone in most of Africa. The tree can reach a height of 30 metres or more and it is characterised by lanceolate leaves glossy at the upper surfaces and dull-greyish at the lower surfaces which are arranged alternately on the secondary branches.
These branches arise from the scaffold branches which are arranged spirally on the main bole. The fruit is arranged as ‘fingers’ on solitary flowers. These flowers are borne on fruit spurs on the older wood of the secondary branches. The wall of the fruit is the source of the essential oil that confers the spicy attributes on the fruit of this plant. Xylopia aethiopica also called Negro and Ethiopian pepper is known as Chimba in Hausa, Eeru alamo in Yoruba (because the fruit opens to discharge the seeds when ripe), and Uda in Igbo.
In the Middle Ages, the fruit was exported to Europe as a ‘pepper. It is used in African cuisines and traditional medicine. It can be added whole or crushed before being used to prepare assorted food dishes such as soups, yam porridge, pepper soup, stews, sauce, meat and fish etc. It can be used alone or mixed with garlic or ginger for making herbal tea. It can also be used as a preservative.
Xylopia aethiopica possesses great nutritional and medicinal values and all the parts are useful medicinally. It contains copper, zinc, protein, camphene, manganese, alkaloids, Diter penic, Limonene, Folic acid, Flavanoid, Vitamins: A, B1, B2, C and E.
The plant is said to contain anonaceine which is an alkaloid resembling morphine in action. The fruit contains a volatile aromatic oil, a fixed oil and rutin. It can be taken as a decoction, concoction or even chewed and swallowed for the management of various aches and pains. Xylopia aethiopica is used in the treatment of a number of diseases including cough, malaria, constipation, uterine fibroid and amenorrhea. The powdered fruits can be mixed with shea butter and used as body creams.
According to an article in the Journal of King Saud University – Science Volume 30, Issue 4, October 2018 titled, ‘Essential oil of Xylopia aethiopica from Cameroon: Chemical composition, antiradical and in vitro antifungal activity against some mycotoxigenic fungi’ by Alphonse SokamteTeganga et al, the essential oil of X. aethiopica has a good antifungal activity which could be used effectively to control fungal growth.
An infusion of the plant’s bark or fruit has been useful in the treatment of bronchitis and dysenteric conditions or as a mouthwash to treat toothaches. The bark, when steeped in palm wine, is used to treat asthma, stomach-aches and rheumatism. In the eastern part of Nigeria, the plant’s fruit is an essential ingredient in preparation of local soups to aid new mothers in breastfeeding. It remains an important item of local trade throughout Africa as a spice and flavouring for food and for medicine. The fruit is sometimes put into jars of water for purification purposes.
The powdered root is used externally as a dressing for sores; to rub on gums in the treatment of pyorrhoea and in the local treatment of cancer. A decoction of the leaves and roots is used as a general tonic for treating fevers and debility. A decoction of the leaves is used against rheumatism and as an emetic (medicine that can control or stimulate vomiting.) The leaf sap, mixed with kola nut (Cola spp.) is given at the time of epileptic fits. The fruit is also used to season the patient’s food.
The fruits are often incorporated in preparations for enemas and for external uses where its revulsive properties can be put to good use for treating any painful area. They are also used in the treatment of boils and skin eruptions.
The seeds, as separate from the fruits, are emetic (causes vomiting) galactagogue (promotes lactation) rubefacient (a rubefacient is a substance for topical application that produces redness of the skin, e.g. by causing dilation of the capillaries and an increase in blood circulation), stimulant and vermifuge (used to destroy or expel worms)
- Good for fighting malaria due to its anti-malaria property.
- It has antimicrobial properties to combat microbial invasion.
- Consumption of Negro pepper by new mothers is necessary to clear blood clots in the womb after delivery.
- Negro pepper is good for combating respiratory discomforts like pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma.
- The antioxidant properties in Negro pepper prevent and destroys the growth of cancer cells.
- Good for combating pathogens or organisms that cause syphilis.
- Negro pepper has analgesic effect so its consumption is good to reduce general pain.
- Negro pepper has anti-inflammatory properties and so can be used in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism and other inflammatory conditions.
- Regular consumption of Negro pepper is healthy for treating gastric ulcer.
- Good for the treatment of ailments such as cough, flu and cold.
- The antibacterial properties in Negro pepper help kill bacteria which cause dysentery in the stomach and intestine.
- It is used as a natural contraceptive.
- Promotes weight loss.
- The crushed seeds are effective in the treatment of boil, itches and skin eruption when applied directly on the skin.
- The extract from Negro pepper plants is used as insecticides.
- Negro pepper is a preservative.
- Dried Negro peppers are usually used in folk medicine for increasing menstrual blood flow. It can also be used for treating amenorrhea.
As good as this spice is, there is experimental evidence that it inhibits fertility! A lot of women use it as a natural means of contraception. So, a woman trying to achieve pregnancy should avoid it. It is also an abortifacient, so, it is not safe for pregnant women.
In an article on the effect of Xylopia aethiopica, the International Journal of Scientific Research 2(6) of January 2011 Uyovwiesevwa et al. reported that rats were fed with 25 mg plant extract on semen quality of the Sprague Dawley rats in Xylopia aethiopica for between 7 and 42 days after which the animals were sacrificed and semen analysis was performed. When the results were compared with the control rats, Xylopia aethiopica, taken regularly, progressively reduced sperm count and sperm motility. At the 42nd day of administration of Xylopia aethiopica, sperm count had reduced from 56 x 106 /ml to about 6 x 106 /ml, while motility reduced from 82 per cent to about 35 per cent. The conclusion of the study is that prolonged intake of Xylopia aethiopica can lead to reduction in sperm count and in motility which may lead to secondary infertility.
Olufunke @ Punch Newspaper