Man is a sexual animal and if you want to sell anything in this world, just put 'sex' into it.
Those were the words of my favourite professor while I was in school and you will all agree with me that he's absolutely right. The porn industry is not worth multi-billion dollars by mere accident.
It is with this orientation I got to know about Azanza garckeana, a plant usually known as hibiscus, snot apple or simply azanza in English. The local name of the plant varies from regions to regions and it is famously known as Goron tula or African chewing gum here in Nigeria.
I was browsing through my timeline on twitter on this fateful day when I saw a tweet marketing Goron tula fruit as a potent aphrodisiac for male and female. The sexual enhancement property was marketed along with other therapeutic properties of the fruit which include antidiabetic, antimalarial, antibacterial among other properties. Below is the tweet that started it all;
Have you heard of Goron Tula, azenza?— Muhammad Kasim (@itz_evuti) September 27, 2019
it increase libido/marital satisfaction
It cures gonorrhea
It treat STDs/menstruation pains
It is remedy for infertility and liver problems
It induces labor
It cures diabetes
It also remedy for asthma
It enhance libido and so on
Do inbox... pic.twitter.com/mJTfmZpYVy
As a Botanist and a firm believer in proven complementary medicine, I swung into action and decided to do a little literature search on the plant. If the fruit of the plant actually does all that, why is it not popular?
First, I discovered that the plant is limited in distribution in Nigeria. Even though it can be found sparsely distributed in a few other tropical African countries, it has been found to be limited to Tula and Michika communities in Gombe and Adamawa States, Northeastern part of Nigeria respectively.
The plant grows as a small perennial tree or shrub ranging between 3 to 10cm in height. It belongs to the same plant family as the popular hibiscus flower plant, Malvaceae. It is an evergreen (decidous depending on the climate) plant that fruits between February and September. It produces yellow petal hermaphroditic flower and five-lobed, hard, hairy fruits of about 10 to 15mm in diameter.
Interestingly, there is a considerable number of published scientific research and several anecdotal evidence supporting the various claims by the marketers of the fruit. Ethnobotanically, the fruit is locally consumed as food and food additives. Suliman and his co-researchers in 2012 investigated the nutritive value of the fruit of the plant and discovered that it has a significant amount of crude protein, fat, crude fiber, ash, carbohydrate and energy. The fruit was also reported to be rich in important nutritive elements such as potassium, iron, calcium, sodium and ascorbic acid.
The fruits of A garckeana are consumed while they are still slightly green or when they become fully ripe. Mature fruits are often dried and reconstituted into a small amount of water to make jellyref. It is in the dried state that the bulk of the fruit is marketed. Other parts of the plant such as stem, leaves and roots have also been found to be of ethnobotanical use to man and his livestock.
The medicinal use of the plant is where it gets most interesting. The fruit and other parts of the plant have been implicated in a wide variety of sexual and reproductive health therapy as well as an antibacterial/antifungal in several pathogenic diseases. The different parts of the plant have been reported to contain bioactive compounds such as alkaloids, amino acids, ascorbic acid, carotenoids, cyanogenic glucosides, flavonoids, lipids, phenols, saponins, tannin etc which either individually or in different combinations have been reported to have various medicinal benefitsref.
While the bulk of the information available on the aphrodisiac properties of the plant remains anecdotal, research carried out in University of Makurdi in 2016 revealed the antibacterial as well as antifungal potentials of the fruit pulp extract of the plantref. Also, weak antiparasitic activities of extracts of the plant was reported by some researchers in Malawiref.
The earth's plant diversity represents our heritage and a major source of food, drugs, industrial materials as well a major sink for carbon dioxide whose increasing concentration in the atmosphere is being held responsible for climate change worldwide.
A. garckeana has the potentials to be of huge nutritive and medicinal value to the teeming world populace if the numerous anecdotal and ethnobotanical as well as the few scientific evidence available is anything to go by. However, there seems to be a huge chasm between the various claims and standard scientific research. There is a need to verify some of the claims reported and being used to market the plant on social media.
In the coming months, I am going to try to lay my hands on some of the fruits/leaves of the plant and evaluate them for the antimicrobial claims. Who knows, we might have a potential revolutionary drug in our hands.
Thank you for reading.