As tall as a fifteen-story building, the njangsa tree accentuates the hustle, bustle and color found in West African rainforests. A number of edible caterpillars flock to its chewier portions before themselves becoming a source of protein foods for local human populations.
What does it do?
The yellow kernels harvested from the green, kidney-shaped fruit provide food and medicine. Crushed, this seed has a spicy, peppery taste that enhances soups and many other local dishes. Roasted and rendered into a paste, the seeds are also used to make a delectable sauce reminiscent of peanut sauce. Medicinally, the njangsa tree boasts a wide spectrum of applications for numerous ailments found across tropical West Africa. Extracts made from the bark are used to relieve coughs and as an antidote to poison. These medicinal substances also work to overcome the symptoms of malaria, rheumatism, yellow fever and stomach pains. A tea made from the stems is sipped in cases of insomnia, while another brew using the roots works its magic where diarrhea and dysentery pose a problem. Like the wood from the balsa tree, njangsa timber is light, buoyant and easy to carve. From this wood come the resonant parts of musical instruments and fetish masks fashioned by artisans from the Congo.
About the herb
A veritable skyscraper, this straight-as-an-arrow, quick-climbing tree stretches a full 150 feet—the length of 1 ½ football fields—toward the West African heavens. Its broad crown provides much-needed shade to people, plants and animals below. This protective umbrella limiting excessive, potentially damaging sunlight is a positive feature that has not escaped the notice of the region’s tillers of the soil, as njangsa trees are planted to hover over plantation crops like coffee and cocoa. Yellowish white flowers make their annual appearance during April and May.
Multicultural stores providing exotic fares from across the globe might be your source of spicy njangsa seed powder, which you can add to almost any dish. A side benefit of using this taste-enhancing powder is the boost in appetite that it provides, giving reluctant eaters as well as invalids another reason to “dig in” to the fixings on the dinner table!