East African Greenheart
Muthiga (Kikuyu), Abaki (Luhya), Osokonoi (Maasai), Musunui (Meru)
A story from Karichota
Before looking at the marvelous Muthiga in detail, I would just like to mention that, although it is convenient to examine the species individually, the wonder and power of the forest is that everything grows collaboratively and in harmony and we must remind ourselves that trees are a collective organism not isolated individuals.
As I am becoming a little more disciplined with my botanical references, thanks to Zarek Cockar and his wonderful courses, I must remember to refer to their family which is Canellales,
one of the four orders of the Magnoliids which also contains the amazing Indian tree, the Champak, occasionally found in gardens and temples in Nairobi. I am also keen to emphasize our local names; Muthiga is not hard to remember – particularly as estates in Nanyuki, Kinoo and Nairobi are named after the tree so that is how I will (have referred) refer to the tree throughout this story.
When we first arrived at Karichota, there was only one noticeable Muthiga tree in the area, and we were so delighted to find it that we cleared it a little extra space and it has responded by growing a good 25ft in that time. It doesn’t seed readily, but we collected them patiently and found that they sprout quite readily; it turns out that it is the easiest tree to grow in the rocky soil of our area.
In December of last year the Kung’u family found a small orchard of 1-2ft high seedlings under a giant Mugumu tree by the river; some of these are now sprouting merrily in our new tree house! We imagine the seed eating hornbills and turacos had been busy, and deposited the seeds from their fig-tree perches.
Muthiga must be one of the most diverse of medicinal trees. Its bark and roots are used for stomach problems; the inner bark is dried and made into a decongestant snuff; the smaller twigs make wonderful “miswaki” tooth brushes because of their anti-biotic qualities; their tiny new leaf tips are tasty additions to your curry recipes!
It is almost impossible to find a Muthiga tree which hasn’t had it’s bark hacked at by a passing medicine collector. Now they are becoming scarce we must find a more sustainable way of harvesting the bark.