A botanical treasure called Mapfura

Ripe marula fruits. Picture credit: http://marulaoilbenefits.com/

I vividly remember growing up in the dry lands of Chivi in Masvingo Province; the southen part of Zimbabwe. As the sun pounded mercilessly on the grief stricken animals and lifeless plants during the hot, dry summer, we found refuge in the comfort of the Mupfura (also known as Umganu in Ndebele, marula and jelly plum in English) crown. The huge tree was just a footstep away from our yard, a forever feature of the landscape. Scattered under the tree we sat, gathering the dried fruit on our dirty skirts.

With much dexterity our little left hand fingers held on to the seed while the other hand crushed with a huge stone at the velocity of lightning. My grandmother watched with enthusiasm while she taught us the procedure, she was an expert. “Be careful lest you will not enjoy the nuts from your hard work,” she would warn us in her high pitched voice. We then collected the viscera in a container which we would enjoy later just raw, roasted or perhaps in a relish as a spice.

During the rainy season it was a different story as we worked in the fields and only escaped to rest while hurriedly enjoying the delicacy of fresh mapfura. My grandmother would task every little hand around to pick fallen fruit which she later created wine from (referred to as mukumbi in Shona).She would reserve some underground and enjoy later when the fruits were long dried. She would get really stoned and we would enjoy the show as she displayed her fancy footwork with her friend VaMaphosa.

Mupfura tree (botanical name scherocarya birrea) is a child of Miombo woodlands and is often found in low altitude and open woodlands in Zimbabwe. It is gender based. It grows normally up to 9 meters but can grow as much up to 18 meters, and has a large crown. When unripe, the fruits are green but eventually turn into an appetizing soft yellow with its white flesh bearing a tropical, fulfilling taste.

The tree is a symbol of life in Zimbabwean culture. Since time immemorial, the tree and its products have always occupied a crucial place in the life of Zimbabwean people. Its fruits, fresh or dried are a known delicacy, passed from generation to generation. Its uniqueness lies in the abundance of health properties it carries.

Fresh marula fruits contain more than triple the amount of Vitamin C found in oranges. This is believed to cure and prevent the manifestation of scurvy especially in children. The nuts that we nearly crashed our delicate hands trying to extract from the marula seed contain a lot of protein and iodine.

In earlier years, extracted marula seeds were crushed and squeezed into marula oil. This was used to enrich vegetables and other relishes. Nowadays, the oil is largely used in cosmetics as a remedy for skin ailments due to its wealth of anti-oxidants and omega acids which produce excellent hydrating and anti-ageing qualities.

An elephant goes for his mapfura fix. Photo credit: marulalodge/panoramio

The fruit is also food to wild animals like giraffes, monkeys, rhinos and a favourite especially for elephants which have been reported to exude funny behaviour after being intoxicated by fermenting mapfura. The fruit pulp is also used to make teas, soft drinks and brandies these days. Besides mukumbi, which my grandmother enjoys up to this day, the marula fruit has been used to make other liquors such as the popular Amarula cream cherished by many.

Fresh or dried mapfura fruits are a delicacy with many health benefits. As time passes, the hope is for the tree to continue being conserved for the benefit of future generations. Even the food recipes from the fruits, need not be lost so that generations to come can also enjoy the delicious plunge of health from these w fruits.

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