Kigelia pinnata DC. (Sausage Tree) " A Medicinal Plant with great future perspectives
Authors: Dinesh Chand, Nilamani Dikshit, Smita Shingane and Sunil Gomashe
National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Regional Station, Dr. PDKV Campus, Akola-444104, Maharashtra

Kigelia pinnata DC (Synonym- Crescentia pinnata Jacq.) belongs to family Bignoniaceae is a medium to large sized, evergreen tree with spreading crown. It is commonly known as African sausage tree, Cucumber tree, Fetish tree, Zumbar. There are many medicinal claims for the sausage tree and research has identified several interesting compounds. Many of which are known to have medicinal properties like anti- microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial , anti-inflammatory, plant dietary supplements and many more traditional uses.


Plants and plant based products have been used traditionally by native inhabitants in India from ancient times. A variety of uses pertaining to plants, appears in the ancient Indian Sanskrit literature like“Rigveda” (4000-1500 B.C.), “Atharvaveda” (1500 B.C.), “Upnishada ” (1000-600 B.C.), “Mahabharata and Puranas ” (700-400B.C.) etc. These include uses of plants for worship, medicines, food, fuel and tools used in Agriculture. Two major important literature on medicinal plants “Charaka Samhita” and “Sushruta Samhita” were published during (1000 B.C. to 600B.C.). India is amongst the few pioneers in the development and practice of well documented indigenous systems of medicine, the more important being “Ayurveda” and “Unani”. From the ancient times , the Indian population have largely depended upon plant based crude drugs for the treatment of a variety of ailments. Ayurveda has incorporated a number of plant species in the control of a variety of domestic ailments of human beings. Homoeopathy, which is largely plant based, uses a number of Indian plants. The allopathic system still has a number of plant based drugs. Modern phytochemical and pharmacological studies have confirmed the therapeutic potential of many plant species used in medicinal biochemistry, formulation of modern medicines, modern researches and many more. The genus Kigelia consists of economic, medicinal and ornamental plants and also has great cultural importance. So keeping in view of the importance of Kigelia pinnata as medicinal crop of the future, the information mainly based on available literature are compiled and presented.

Botanical Description:

It is a medium to large sized, evergreen tree with spreading crown belonging to family Bignoniacae. It is commonly known as African susage tree, Cucumber tree, Fetish tree, Zumbar. The bark is rough, creamy white. The leaves are large with about 7-12cm in length and 4-6cm in width, imparipinnate, leaflets 6-10, oblong- ovate, coriaceous, obtuse, crowded near the ends of the branches in opposite manner. The flowers are large, showy, some what cup shaped, scarlet or deep maroon coloured with a foetid smell, arising on 0.8 to 1.5 cm long racemes at the ends of rope-like long flowering stems about1.0 mt.- 2.3mt. long from the base of the branch. The flowers borne in clusters usually cluster of three, out of which only one or two flowers open at a time. They bloom at night and fall down before the following noon. The flower with bell - shaped calyx which is 3 to 5 lobe, Calyx 4 fused sepals (length 3.6 cm and width 1.8 cm), corolla so consists of 5 fused petals (length 8.7 cm and width 10.9 cm) which are yellow at the base red on the top with a cylindrical tube, bilabiate limb with 3 lobed lower lip and 2 lobed upper lips and androecium (stamens) 4 in numbers. Outer two are big (5.6 cm) in size and inner two are small (5.0 cm) in size. Light purple in colour, exerted; Anthers are dorsifixed and the (length 1.2cm in size while the width is 0.4 cm) in size. Gynoecium (length 10.5 cm) is purple at the base and creamish white in the middle. The ovary bicarpellary syncarpus, one celled. The fruits are large, sausage shaped or gourd like brown, whitish-grey, 20-32 × 7.26-9.0cm, indehiscent pod, hanging on cord-like stalks. Seeds are embedded in a fibre pulp. Flowering occurs from February to September. Fruit can be seen hanging for long time. It is commonly grown in the plains in avenues and in garden.

Traditional Medicinal Uses:

Sausage tree has various uses as described on the basis of personal experiences by the users (Jackson, 1995; Jackson et al. 1996 and Saini et al. 2009). Few uses include application of plaster prepared from mature fruits and green fruits to treat wounds and rheumatism. Paste of leaves is also used to treat backache. A blended mixture consisting of powdered roots, bark and fruits for treatment of abdominal illness and pneumonia in children (Watt and Breyer- Brandwijk, 1962). This is also useful to treat epilepsy (Gelfand et al.1985). Roots of this tree are used for gynecological disorders, abdominal discomfort and tape worm treatments. The fruit is said to be purgative in nature and unripe fruit is reported as highly poisonous if taken orally (Watt and Breyer- Brandwijk, 1962). Fruit may cause blisters on tongue and skin showing allergic reaction (Roberts, 1990; Vercourt and Trump 1969).

Non-Medicinal uses: While baboons are known to eat the fruits, the pulp of unripe fruits are said to be poisonous to humans. However, slices of mature baked fruits are used to ferment and flavour traditional African beer (Laswai, 1997).The seeds of ripe fruits can also be roasted in warm ash and consumed and are reported to be energy-rich, with significant amounts of phosphorus, protein and lipids. In turn, the seed oil is rich in oleic acid and essential fatty acids, and has potential to be an important nutritional resource (Chivandi et al. 2011). Additionally, the leaves of Kigelia pinnata have been positioned as an important nutritional resource, comparable to other green leafy vegetables such as spinach (Glew et al.2010). They are consumed by lactating woman in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa as they are thought to enhance the volume and quantity of breast milk. The dried leaves contain levels of essential amino acids that may provide beneficial health benefits as well as other mineral and nutrients including calcium, magnesium and iron.



Table 1. Phytochemicals compositions of Kigelia pinnata DC

Plants parts Chemical components References
Plant The occurrence of many secondary metabolites including iridoids, naphthoquinone; saponins, tannins, flavonoids and several others and said to be an important source of bioactive compounds. Houghton PJ, 2002 ; Choudhary et al. 2011.
Roots Naphthoquinone lapachol, Dihydroisocoumarin kigelin, lapachol and sterols and the presence of iridoid glycosides. Govindachari et al., 1971; Alamelu I,and Bhuwan CJ. 1974; Lino Von Poer G. 2000
Barks Naphthoquinone lapachol, Dihydroisocoumarin kigelin , Iridoids Govindachari et al., 1971; Hougton PJ and Akunyili DN (1993)
Naphthaquinoids kigelinone, pinnatal and isopinnatal and sterols stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol Govindachari et al., 1971
Leaves Flavonoids- 6-hydroxyluteolin-7-alpha-glucoside and luteolin Ei Sayyad SM, 1982
Fruits Flavonoids- 6-hydroxyluteolin-7-alpha-glucoside and luteolin, Ei Sayyad SM, 1982
Phenylpropanoid and Phenylethanoid derivatives, Iridoids Gouda et al. 2006, 2003

Table 2. Nutritional uses of Kigelia pinnata

Uses Description References
Vitamin E Kigella africana seed is the source of vitamin E Chivandi E. Davidson B, et al. (2011).
Seeds of Kigelia pinnata The seeds of Kigelia pinnata are partly roasted and placed in bear Vercourt B and Trump EC. 1969
Seeds of Kigelia pinnata Kigelia is used in beer to enlarge the sexual organs and reports exist of use for criminal poisoning Vercourt B and Trump EC. 1969
Unripe fruit (purgative properties) Unripe fruit is reputed to be highly poisonous if taken orally Watt JM and Breyer- Brandwijk MG. 1962
Slices of mature baked fruits Slices of mature baked fruits used to ferment and flavor traditional African beer Laswai et al. 1997
Seeds of ripe fruits The seeds of ripe fruits roasted in warm ash and consumed energy rich, with significant amounts of phosphorus, protein and lipids. -
Seed oil The seed oil is rich in oleic acid and essential fatty acids. Chivandi et al. 2011
Leaves of Kigelia pinnata The Leaves of Kigelia pinnata as an important nutritional resource, comparabile to other green leafy vegetables viz. Spinach. In various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the lactating woman as they thought to enhance the volume and quality of breast milk. Glew et al. 2010
Dried leaves The dried leaves contain levels of essential amino acids that may provide beneficial health benefits as well as other minerals and nutrients including calcium, magnesium and iron. -

Table 3. Traditional uses

Diseases Doses/ How to use References
Pneumonia Infusion from the roots and bark is taken to treat pneumonia. Watt JM and Breyer- Brandwijk MG. 1962
Wounds healing, Abscesses and Ulcers Kigelia pinnata bark extract used in wound healing activity. The powdered mature fruits are applied as a dressing. Sharma et al. 2010, Jackson, 1995; Jackson et al. 1996; Saini et al. 2009,
Backache A poultice made from leaves is used as a treatment for backache Jackson, 1995; Jackson et al. 1996; Saini et al. 2009
Stomach problem in children An infusion made from ground bark and fruit Watt JM and Breyer- Brandwijk MG. 1962
Epilepsy The whole head is also washed with an infusion made from the bark Gelfand M et al. 1985
Snake bite antidote, to fatten babies, purge for stock animals, Sores, to restore taste, constipation, gynecological disorders, dysentery Fruit is used for all these. -
Gynecological complains, constipation, and tape worm Roots are used for all these. -
Solar keratosis (a pre-cursor to skin cancer) and malignant melanoma Crude creams of the Kigelia fruit extract in south Africa. Jackson et al. 1996; Houghton et al. 1994.
Table 4. Other Uses

Plants Parts Description References
Leaves The leaves are consumed by Elephants and Kudu. -
Flowers The flowers are eaten by domestic stock and game, Kudu, Nyala, Impala and Grey Dulker -
Timber The tree produces good quality of timber and the wood is reported to be easy to work with. People make their dugout canoes from the tree. Venter F and Venter JA, 2007.
Timber In Botswana the timber is used for makoros, yokes and oars Roodt, 1992
Fruits The boiled fruits are also used to produce red dye Saini et al. 2009.
Fruits It is eaten by several species of mammals, including Baboons, Bush pigs, Savannah Elephants, Giraffes, Hippopotamuses, Monkeys and Porcupines. The seeds are dispersed in their dung. The seeds are also eaten by Brown Parrots and Brown-headed Parrots, and their foliage by Elephants and Greater Kudu. Joffe, 2003; Del Hoyo et al. 1997.
Roots The roots produce yellow dye. Saini et al. 2009.

Table 5. Commercial Applications of Kigelia pinnata (Fruit Extracts )

Commercial Applications Description References
An-inflammatory agent Due to the irridoids having anti inflammatory effect. Carey et al. 2008, Carey et al. 2010.
Anti-Eczema Reports on use against eczema -
Anti- Psoriasis Anecdotal reports on use against Psoriasis. -
Anti-microbial moisturizing Possibly due to irridoids, minecoside 1, and specioside 2 and presence of fatty acids. Grace et al. 2002, Carey et al. 2010, Akunyili DN et al. 1991.
Anti-bacterial Due to fatty acids. Grace et al. 2002, Owolabi et al. 2007
Brest firming creams As a traditionally used and skin tightening properties. -
Cosmetics Skin tightening, Skin tone and blemish free skin. -
Sun creams Potential anti-cancer Glew et al. 2010
Antineoplastic compound The isolation of Novel compound can get Jackson et al. 1996.
Antiamoebeic activity Isolation and invitro antimoebic activity of iridodis isolated . Bharti et al. 2006.
Growth inhibitory activity From the fruits of K. pinnata, growth inhibitory activity of extracted material and isolated compounds were observed. Higgins et al. 2010.
Wound healing activity Kigelia pinnata bark extract used for wound healing activity. Sharma et al. 2010
Conclusion: The Kigelia pinnata (sausage tree) is remarkably fast-growing and can mature in 4-5 years. With its fast- growing nature, spreading canopy, interesting flowers and fruit, now is grown for shade and becoming popular as a street tree and garden tree. There are many medicinal claims for the sausage tree and research has identified several interesting compounds. Many of which are known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial etc. Kigelia fruit pulp and extracts can be exploited in the nutraceutical, dietary/ herbal supplement, pharmaceutical, cosmetic industry. Traditionally Sausage tree is known for its medical uses but in modern medicine also it plays a significant role. Modern research need to focus to determine the new findings as Kigelia pinnata are interesting plant because of its novel agents for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, dietary supplements and many more. Studies on Kigelia collection, characterization, evaluation, classification and documentation can help to promote this poorly known future medicinal tree and pharmaceutical industries should come forward.

Disclaimer: The information given in the above article regarding various uses of Sausage tree is merely a compilation of information from various research articles, web pages and books available online. Authors are not responsible for the medicinal or any other use reported here.


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About Author / Additional Info:
Working as a Senior Scientist (Economic Botany & Plant Genetic Resources) at ICAR-NBPGR, Regional Station, Akola, Maharashtra