Life in the desert

There is a popular saying that “death will not visit a man, even at the time of a famine, if he has a Ghaf, a goat and a camel, since the three together will sustain a man even under the most trying conditions.” – unknown

The Ghaf tree is a keystone species having multiple beneficial uses from combating desertification and improving soil fertility in arid environments to being an essential food source, as well as a source of fuel, shelter and medicine for both humans and animal species.

It was sought by the Bedouins for its seeds and its leaves were once used instead of rice, its extended pods provide food for animals which in turn supply milk, butter, cheese and meat. The Ghaf woodlands also support large populations of insects, which in turn provide food for reptiles, birds and small mammals. This sturdy, evergreen tree can withstand prolonged drought and high salinity, tapping water deep in the sands.

The seedpods of the Ghaf, locally called sangar or sangri, contain a sweet pulp. The dried pods, locally known as Kho-Kha, are eaten by humans and nearly all livestock.  Pods are also fed to animals when young (green) and their taste is improved by boiling and drying them. They are also used as famine food and known even to prehistoric man. Pod yield is nearly 14,000 kg/km² with a variation of 10.7% in dry locations and salads can be made from the leaves – this is actually considered a delicacy here in the UAE!

Even the bark, having an astringent, bitter taste, was reportedly eaten during the severe famines of 1899 and 1939.

The Prosopis Cineraria leaves are used as a salad in the United Arab Emirates. After mincing the leaves extensively, it’s considered a delicacy by some to mix the leaves with their fish and rice meal. Watch the video of an Emirati woman preparing the salad here or find the original recipe here

Other important uses include providing wood for construction and medicinal properties, as it is recommended for the treatment of chest congestion, toothaches and even snakebites!

Medicinal Properties

Prosopis Cineraria  produces gum, which is obtained during May and June. The bark of the tree is dry, acrid, bitter with a sharp taste; cooling anthelmintic; tonic, cures leprosy, dysentery, bronchitis, asthma, leukoderma, hemorrhoids and muscle tremors.

The bark is also used as a remedy for rheumatism, cough, the common cold, asthma, and scorpion stings.

The plant is recommended for the treatment of snakebite. Water-soluble extract of the residue from methanol extract of the stem bark exhibits anti-inflammatory properties.

The smoke of the leaves is good for eye troubles.

Prosopis Cineraria flower is pounded, mixed with sugar and used during pregnancy as safeguard against miscarriage.

Some recipes:

– extracts of leaves used as eye drops;

– extracts of crushed pods used as ear drops;

– leaves chewed for toothache;

– ashes of burnt bark mixed with water to relieve pain in fractured bones;

– bark used for rheumatism and also applied to scorpion stings.

The pod is considered astringent in Punjab.

The fruit is dry and hot, with a flavor, indigestible, causes biliousness, and destroys the nails and the hair.

Botanical Description