Kigelia africana and Kigelia pinnata are widespread across Africa and found in wet savannah and riverine areas. The tree grows to 20 metres or more and is semi-deciduous with smooth grey-brown bark and velvety maroon flowers. The unusual grey, sausage-shaped fruit that give the tree its common name (the sausage tree) hang from rope-like stalks. They can reach over a metre in length and weigh as much as 10kg. The fruit pulp within the thin skin is firm and fibrous fruit pulp and contains many small seeds. Kigelia belongs to the botanical family Bignoniaceae. Traditional Uses and Known Properties
Traditional African healers use kigelia to treat a wide range of skin ailments from fungal infections, boils, acne and psoriasis, through to more serious diseases, such as leprosy, syphilis and skin cancer. It is also used effectively to dress wounds and sores.
The Tonga women of the Zambezi valley apply cosmetic preparations of kigelia to their faces to ensure a blemish-free complexion. Young men and women also use it to enhance the growth of their genitalia and breasts respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly given its suggestive shape, the fruit has also found traditional use as an aphrodisiac.
As well as being used as a topical skin preparation, kigelia is also taken internally to treat conditions such as dysentery, ringworm, malaria, diabetes and pneumonia.
The traditional use of kigelia as a healing agent for skin conditions is validated by a significant body of scientific literature and patents (see below for examples). Several papers support the use of kigelia extract for treating skin cancer while the extract has found a market in Europe and the Far East as the active ingredient in skin tightening and breast firming formulations.
Strong anecdotal evidence suggests that kigelia is effective in the treatment of solar keratosis and Kaposi’s sarcoma, an HIV-related skin ailment. Research by PhytoTrade Africa supports its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Compounds contained in kigelia include norviburtinal, coumarins, iridoids, flavonoids, fatty acids, sterols, glycosides and napthaquinones. Scientific literature has shown antibacterial activity and kigelia extract has also been shown to contract the area of small wounds.Norviburtinal has shown tumour reducing cytotoxic activity, while steroids are known to help a range of skin conditions, notably eczema. Flavonoids have clear hygroscopic (attracts water from its environment) and fungicidal properties.