Hymenaea courbaril

Hymenaea courbaril

The Courbaril or West Indian locust (Hymenaea courbaril L.) is an arboreal species belonging to the Fabaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Fabales Order,
Fabaceae family,
Subfamily Caesalpinioideae,
Detarieae tribe,
Genus Hymenaea,
H. courbaril species.
The following terms are synonymous:
– Hymenaea altissima Ducke;
– Hymenaea animifera Stokes;
– Hymenaea candolleana Kunth;
– Hymenaea multiflora Kleinhoonte;
– Hymenaea resinifera Salisb .;
– Hymenaea retusa Hayne;
– Hymenaea splendid Vogel;
– Hymenaea stilbocarpa Hayne;
– Inga megacarpa M. E. Jones.

Etymology –
The term Hymenaea comes from the Greek Ὑμέναιος Hyménaios Imene or Hymenaeus, god who presided over weddings in Greco-Roman mythology: reference to the leaves composed of two paired leaves.
The specific courbaril epithet derives from a vernacular name that was used for the timber of this plant.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Hymenaea courbaril is a common plant in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Its distribution is in South America: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Central America from Panama to southern Mexico.
Its habitat is quite varied, being able to find this plant in the tropical dry forest, in transition areas towards the premontane humid forest, tropical humid forest and subtropical humid forest up to an altitude of about 900 meters.

Description –
Hymenaea courbaril is an evergreen tree that can lose its leaves in case of drought and has sturdy branches and a consistent umbrella-shaped crown.
It is a slow growing plant that can reach a height of 30 meters, with some specimens reaching up to 45 meters.
The trunk of the plant, cylindrical in shape, can be unbranched for 12 – 24 meters and has a diameter, usually 60 – 120 cm in diameter, although specimens up to 150 cm have been recorded.
The ovoid lanceolate leaves are carried two by two from the same petiole.
The very light yellow-white flowers have stamens carried by long anthers.
The fruit is an indehiscent oblong pod, 5 – 15 cm long and 3 – 5 cm wide, containing 3-4 large seeds surrounded by a dry, whitish-yellow, edible pulp.

Cultivation –
Hymenaea courbaril is a very important multipurpose tree, it is harvested in the wild as a local source of food, medicines and various goods. It is commercially exploited for its timber and rubber; it is sometimes cultivated or helped to grow semi-wild as a food crop and is also planted as an ornamental species in parks throughout the tropical world.
Hymenaea courbaril grows well in tropical and subtropical lowland areas up to an altitude of about 900 meters and prefers an average annual temperature between 20 and 30 ° C, with an average annual rainfall of 1,500 – 3,000 mm, which can be uniformly distributed throughout the year or with a monsoon pattern. It can tolerate 4 months or more of drought.
Young plants can tolerate some shade, but require more sun as they grow; mature plants require a position in full sun.
From the pedological point of view it tolerates and grows on all types of soil, from sandy to clayey ones but develops better on deep, fertile, humid and well-drained sandy soils.
Furthermore, the plant tolerates soils poor in fertility and water stagnation while adult plants tolerate drought and grow in soils with a pH between 4.8 and 6.8.
The trees generally have a moderate growth rate and begin to bear fruit at the age of 8-12, provided they receive full light from above.
A few to more than 100 pods are produced each year, although only part of a tree bears fruit in a year.
For ornamental use it is a plant that has an attractive foliage and which is not recommended to be planted near buildings due to the spread of roots, the production of rubber and smelly fruits.
It resists coppice well so it keeps in frequently cut areas; however large tree stumps are not coppice.
According to the findings, this plant establishes a symbiotic relationship with some soil bacteria, although it is not clear whether this tree fixes atmospheric nitrogen.
As for propagation the plant can be reproduced by seed which does not require pre-treatment, but if the seed coat has dried and hardened, treatment will be needed to help it absorb moisture more quickly. This can be done by soaking the seed for 12 hours in warm water; if it swells it is ready to be sown, otherwise it is necessary to carefully damage the seed coat, making sure not to damage the embryo, then it is immersed for a few more hours before sowing.
Sowing should be done in an area with light shade in single containers or in a nursery seedbed. The treated seed usually begins to germinate after 8 – 12 days at an optimum temperature of 30 ° C.
The germination rate varies from 40 to 90%.
After germination, the young seedlings must be placed in a sunny position and are ready to be planted in their final position within 60 days of germination.
The seed can be stored for a year or more at 2-4 ° C in sealed containers.
It is also possible to propagate the plant agamically through cuttings in beds with a substrate sprayed with steam and electrically heated.

Customs and Traditions –
Hymenaea courbaril is a plant with multiple uses:
– for ornamental use, even if limited as a shade tree in parks and streets because the pods, quite heavy, emit an unpleasant odor when they mature and when they fall they can cause damage or injury;
– for medicinal or food use;
– for its rubber;
– for the use of its wood.
The fruits can be eaten both raw and cooked. The dry, whitish-yellow pulp around the seed has a sweet taste and is commonly eaten raw; it is also used in the preparation of creams and ice creams; and it is fermented to make an alcoholic beverage; it is also eaten as a dessert by the children of Jamaica.
The pulp has a high protein content for a fruit. The pulp contains 3.2% sugar, 1.1% fat and 35.8% crude fiber. It has a distinctive smell and a sweet taste, slightly reminiscent of bananas, and is generally considered pleasant but not very attractive. The consistency is that of dry flour that turns into a paste in the mouth, and some people find it unpleasant. It is still a good source of calories.
As for its medicines, it should be remembered that the bark is analgesic, astringent, balsamic, purifying, febrifuge, haemostatic, pectoral, gastric, tonic and vermifuge.
It is commonly used in local folk medicine as a cure-all, being particularly useful for coughs. In addition to being used for energy and stamina, a bark-based tea has been used for centuries as a tonic for the respiratory and urinary systems by indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. The tea is also used internally to treat stomach problems and back pain, as well as for external use; in fact, its ability to fight fungal and yeast infections such as Candida albicans is known.
Macerated bark is used as a treatment for diarrhea.
The bark, sap or resin and leaves are used medicinally for cystitis, hepatitis, prostatitis and cough.
The lymph is used to treat coughs and bronchitis.
The resin and sap that oozes from the holes in the bark are considered fortifying. They are used for the treatment of chronic cystitis, urinary retention, anemia, prostatitis, blenorrhagia and chronic bronchitis.
The resin and sap are used externally to treat fresh wounds.
The solid resin found at the base of the tree is balsamic, beak, gastric, tonic and vermifuge.
The fruits have a mild laxative effect and are also used to treat mouth ulcers.
The leaves and wood are used in the treatment of diabetes.
Among others, it is recalled that the roots and the trunk produce a resin-like gum, pale yellow or red, known commercially as “South American copal”.
The rubber, which is obtained by tapping the trunk, is soft and considered of inferior quality; this is mainly used for medicinal purposes.
The best quality rubber is quite old – it is found in hard lumps that have been buried in the ground at the base of a tree or at the site of a dead tree. In some large plants, large clusters of rubber have been found around the roots. This gum is mainly used for the production of paints but also for incense and local medicines.
Copal is also used to paint leather, as an adhesive for dishes and for tin stains.
In Brazil about 35 tons / year are collected for local use.
The bark, which is thick, is also a good source of tannin.
The sap is burned for use in lighting.
The bark was traditionally used to make lightweight canoes.
The bark of old trees is thick and can be removed in long sheets. The stripped bark is then worked together at the ends and the seams waterproofed with a rubber. Some wooden crossbars are added to keep the shape. In this way, large canoes can be made, capable of carrying 25-30 people.
The wood of the Hymenaea courbaril is hard, durable, resistant and is one of the best in the region. The heartwood ranges from salmon pink to orange brown when fresh, turning reddish towards reddish brown when aged, often marked by dark streaks; it is clearly delimited by a 3 – 12 cm wide band of white, gray or pink sapwood. The texture is medium to rather coarse; the grain mostly intertwined; the luster is golden; it has no characteristic smell or taste. The wood is heavy to very heavy; difficult to very difficult; elastic; durable, even in contact with the ground, resistant to fungi, drilling of dry wood and termites. It matures normally, with only a slight risk of twitching and distortion; once dry it is moderately stable to stable. Wood can be processed to obtain a smooth surface; it can be nailed and screwed but requires pre-drilling; gluing is correct for internal use only, but must be done with care due to the density of the wood. Wood has a wide range of applications including high class furniture, cabinet making, construction, heavy duty flooring, shipbuilding, carving, turning, tool handles etc..
Wood is also used as fuel and to produce coal.
From an ecological point of view this species is considered common. The plant is classified as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2011).

Preparation Method –
Hymenaea courbaril is a plant of which practically everything is used.
Its fruit, also known as locust, was an important food for indigenous peoples. Those who eat it do not consider the odor unpleasant. The pulp, despite its somewhat unpleasant odor, has a sweet taste; it is eaten raw; it can be dried and made into a powder to be incorporated into biscuits, crackers and soups; it can be mixed with water to make a drink called “atole”. The pulp inside the hard shells appears as miniature soluble fibers that dissolve easily in water or milk.
Some add sugar to consume it.
When eaten raw, the fruit tends to stick in the mouth like a dry powder. It is one of the richest plant foods known for its high concentrations of starches and proteins.
It is also an excellent concentrated feed for animals.
A tea is made from the bark which is a very popular drink for woodcutters working in the forests of Brazil, because it is a natural energy tonic.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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