Xylopia Fruit

Xylopia aethiopica

Herbs gallery - Xylopia Fruit

Common names

  • Grains of Selim
  • Negro Pepper
  • Xylopia Fruit

The xylopia (botanical name Xylopia aethiopica) is an African evergreen tree, part of the Annonaceae family. It has a pleasant aroma and can grow up to 20 meters tall. Xylopia can be found in the lowland rainforest and the rare forest located in African savanna areas.

The xylopia fruits have been used for a long time for their medicinal qualities but especially as a spice. Back when pepper was very rare and extremely expensive in Europe, the dried xylopia fruits were imported in high quantities and used as a cheap replacement.

However, once black pepper started to arrive in large amounts from India and its price decreased, the demand for xylopia as a spice collapsed completely.

The dried fruits were again used to substitute pepper later in times of need, especially in the unstable period after the end of the Second World War. Once the world economy returned to normal, it disappeared again and today it is not commonly found outside of its native area.

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Parts used

Fruits, bark, seeds.


In Africa, xylopia has many uses. The fruit is widely eaten and used in traditional medicine, while the tree's wood is considered a quality construction material.

Beverages prepared from an infusion of xylopia can treat bronchitis and dysentery, both the fruit and the bark are good for this purpose. The infusion also acts like a mouthwash and has an anesthetic effect, decreasing dental pain.

It can reduce other causes of pain as well, such as the one caused by fever or a malfunctioning bile. Asthma and stomach pain can be cured with a mix of xylopia bark and palm wine.

During the middle Ages, the xylopia fruit was exported to Europe in large quantities where it was considered a cheaper substitute for pepper. It is rarely exported today but it remains a key ingredient in Africa.

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In Eastern Nigeria it is added to soups not only to improve their taste, but also because the local women believe it can boost lactation. Xylopia is still traded locally in Africa as a spice, food ingredient and medical item.

The natives occasionally add the fruits to the water in order to purify it. The fruit is famous in Senegal because it adds aroma to the national beverage café Touba, also considered a tradition by the Mouride brotherhood.

In today's global world, the xylopia has been reconsidered as both a healthy food option and a potential treatment for several diseases. Studies have focused on the plant's essential oil, which can be extracted from the seeds or the bark.

The oil has antiseptic properties and can kill some strains of bacteria. Because of the particular flavour of the fruits, xylopia is again considered a possible global spice, like in the medieval times.

The main medical use of the plant is in lumbago and joint pain. Joint pain is an umbrella term for a group of diseases with various causes, including gout. The usual effect of these diseases is hyperuricaemia, when salt crystals start to build up in the joint areas.

These cause severe pain and can lead to chronic diseases that are even more threatening. Sometimes these crystals are pathogenic, like in the case of monosodium urates. Pathogenic or not, the crystals eventually cause the complete destruction of the joints.

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The most common cause for joint pain is arthritis. This disease usually happens to older people but it is increasingly affecting youngsters as well. Most elder people suffer from joint pain, both males and females.

It seems that one of the main causes for the pain is an autoimmune disease. In these types of dysfunction, the body's immune system attacks its own tissues.

Some researchers believe that this response is triggered by old infections, especially enteric ones whose outer cell membrane includes oligosaccharide. The antigens start a mistaken response of the immune system cells, who attack the joints.

The early signs of such a disease are pain of the lower back and inflexible joints. Different human races are more or less affected by joint pain but elder males rarely escape it.

The levels of serum uric acid increase in time and produce more pain, one of the best ways to relive it is to eliminate a part of the uric acid in the blood stream.

Some areas of Africa don't have access to modern medicine and still rely on old methods of treatment. Since infections and joint pain are normal in such areas, xylopia is used as a cure for arthritis. This is common especially in South Eastern Nigeria.

Most parts of the plant are useful in some way. The root can be prepared as a strong decoct which is used as mouthwash because of its powerful aroma.

This is very common in Senegal's Casamance province. Nigerians also employ the root in a variety of ways. The powder cures pyorrhea when applied on gums and it can relieve sores.

A combination of root powder and salt can counter constipation. Decocts prepared from the roots with added leaves can reduce fever and prevent debility and are used in Nigeria as an energizer. Powder bark can also be applied directly on ulcers.

Leaves smell badly but have medical qualities as well. As a decoct, they are used to treat rheumatism in Gabon. The locals also macerate the leaves in palm wine in order to increase the effect of the drink.

The Congolese inhale powdered leaves to cure headache and apply it on the skin of the chest of pneumonia patients. They also employ it to reduce epileptic seizures in two ways. The fruits can be added directly into the food of epileptics, while sap from the leaves combined with kola nuts can be ingested.

The fruit had a much bigger commercial value in the middle Ages, when it was exported to Europe in large amounts as a cheap pepper substitute. While this is no longer the case, xylopia fruits continue to be traded locally as spices or medicine. The fruit can be added to both snuff and alcohol in order to give it a stronger kick.

Fruits are used to cure cough but also have purgative, carminative and sedative properties. They are also an important part of the traditional agbo medical system of the Yoruba people.

The fruits are also inhaled in various cultures, being smoked just like tobacco leaves in Sierra Leone. In Liberia, the dry fruits are mixed with tobacco in order to prepare a type of medicinal smoke, believed to cure breathing problems. Women in Ivory Coast consume the fruit after birth for its tonic properties and ability to boost lactation.

The seeds have different medicinal qualities from the pulp and can be used on their own. They increase lactation so they can be consumed by young mothers in powder form.

The seeds have a number of other effects, they are rubefacient, vermifuge, stimulant, galactagogue and emetic. Rubbing the crushed seeds on the forehead is believed to relive head pain and they can also kill and eliminate roundworms, which are a problem in some parts of Africa.

Seeds have a number of uses when applied externally. They have a revulsive effect and can fight pain of the chest, ribs, forehead, sides, lumbago, neuralgia or any kind of internal pain.

They can be included in enemas or used topically on any type of boils or skin diseases. Bronchitis, bile problems or dysentery can be treated with decocts made from either the fruits or the bark.

The wood is considered to be of a high quality and it is popular in construction. It is not attacked by African termites, so it is a good choice for the structural components of the African huts: posts, joints, roof-ridges or scantlings.

The wood is also useful in the production of doors. Because of its strength, it was an option for the old bows used in countries like Gabon or Togo. It was also used to make boats, especially the important elements like oars or masts.

Seeds have a number of cosmetic uses, besides serving as a spice. They can be applied on clothes in raw form, in order to give them perfume. A mixture of spices that includes xylopia seeds can be rubbed on the body as a cosmetic.


The fruit is rich in a volatile aromatic oil that gives it its special flavour, as well as a fixed oil and rutin. The most important medical effects might be caused by an alkaloid named anonaceine. Some scientists compare it to morphine, while others classify it as a glycoside.


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