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The spiny acacia-like tree Faidherbia albida, found naturally in northern Africa and the Middle East, has been traditionally been used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions, in addition to promoting soil fertility. Also known as winter thorn, apple-ring acacia, and ana tree, Faidherbia albida has been employed to treat conditions as varied as malaria, fever, toothaches, vomiting, diarrhea and other digestive disorders. Faidherbia albida has also been used to treat cough, pneumonia, kidney disorders, opthalmia, rheumatism, heart wekaness, hemorrhage and postpartum complications when conventional medicine is not available. Despite this, the safety or efficacy of Faidherbia albida for the treatment of any condition have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration or any other major regulatory body.
The extremely high concentration of tannins found in the bark of the tree makes this plant a natural choice for the treatment of diarrhea, bleeding and hemorrhage due to the tissue-drying and astringent properties of these molecules. Detectable by the unpleasant puckering they produce when tasted, plants rich in tannins have been used medicinally for the same purposes wherever they are found on the globe. Similarly, the bitter flavor of the leaves on Faidherbia albida indicates the presence of alkaloids — unpleasant tasting plant chemicals that are frequently either toxic or medicinal depending on the dose used. Some of the alkaloids present in Faidherbia albida may be responsible for the purported anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing and anti-malarial properties of the plant. Due to the risk of toxicity, research is needed before these chemicals could be used to treat any condition; however, as of 2011 animal studies have indicated that whole extracts of the plant show remarkably low levels of toxicity.
The ubiquity of the medicinal use of Faidherbia albida in communities where it is found naturally is likely due to the tree's longstanding association with agriculture and human settlement. Many archeologists believe that the use of these trees helped to extend the reach of agriculture by improving soil fertility in parts of North Africa and the Middle East not affected by soil-enriching seasonal floods. These same trees, with their high tolerance to drought and nutrient rich if unpalatable seeds, may also have helped communities survive periodic famines. The close proximity of this useful plant to early agricultural communities would have likely inspired these peoples to be able to test its efficacy for a broad spectrum of ailments.
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