Greenthorn tree and its uses

The Greenthorn tree (Balanites maughamii) is easily recognizable in Southern Africa due to its triangular, fluted, or buttressed trunk. Its spines are green like its twigs and often forked. It is very spiny and hard to climb. It mainly grows in dry Bushveld and sandy forests, but can also be found along drainage lines.

Greenthorn kernels for food

For living on and off the land, the most important parts of the Greenthorn tree are its fruits and their kernels. The whole fruit is a kernel just thinly covered by a fleshy layer. This layer is brownish-yellow in color when ripe from May – July. The taste of this fleshy layer is quite bitter but can be eaten by monkeys and humans.

Greenthorn kernels to poison fish and snails

In unripe conditions – when the fruit is still green – rural inhabitants use the mashed-up whole fruit for poisoning fish. There were no side effects for humans when eating this fish. It is also a very effective poison to kill snails in stagnant water. This reduces the risk of contracting parasitic diseases, like Bilharzia. This is oral information received by a BaPedi tribe member without further elaboration or proof.

Greenthorn kernels to extract oil for lubrication and torches

From ripe kernels, good quantities of colorless oil can be extracted. This oil was used in former times by farmers and Voortrekkers in earlier centuries in Southern Africa to lubricate wheel bearings, firearms, and such. It was also used for candle replacements (torches). Basis of these torches were dry stalks of Black Stick Lily (Xerophyta viscoe). This lily is commonly called Monkey’s Tail, Bobbejaanï’s Stert, or Baboon Tail. The dry stalks were immersed into this ‘Torchwood’-kernel oil and kept burning for a long time.

And there is another interesting use of parts of Greenthorn trees. It is the bark, which was in former times shredded by Zulus and soaked in bathing water, which lubricated their skin.

Lessons learned from Greenthorn trees:

  • Ripe kernels contain a significant amount of colorless oil
  • This oil can be used for lubrication of technical devices or for burning
  • Dry Black-stick Lily stalks trenched in Greenthorn oil make a very suitable fire torch
  • Unripe Greenthorn kernels are used for poisoning fish

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