The history of the marula tree goes back thousands of years. Archaeological evidence shows the marula tree was a source of nutrition as long as ago as 10,000 years BC. The Marula, Scelerocarya birrea, subspecies caffera, is one of Africa’s botanical treasures. Not only the fruit, but also the nut, are rich in minerals and vitamins.
Legends abound on the multiple uses of the tree, the bark, the leaves, fruit, nut and kernels. Most well-known as the fruit that ‘drives elephants mad’ when dropped to the ground and lightly fermented, marula is a much-loved tree in the veld in Africa. It was a dietary mainstay in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia throughout ancient times.
We have 5 of these trees around our cottages and they are all currently dropping fruit in their thousands. It smells rather nice, however, they sink in the swimming pool and we have to fish them out and sweep hundreds off our paved area around the pool daily.
The marula fruit is very juicy and aromatic and is the size of a small plum. It may be eaten fresh and the flesh has an extremely high vitamin C content. It may also be cooked to produce jam, juices and alcoholic beverages.
The skin of the fruit can be boiled to make a drink or burnt to be used as a substitute for coffee. The wood is soft and used for carving; the inner bark can be used to make rope. The bark can also be used to make a light brown dye.
Inside the flesh is one or two very small tasty nuts which are rich in protein. Oil is used as a skin cosmetic. Their green leaves are eaten to relieve heartburn.
The bark contains antihistamines and is also used for cleansing by steeping in boiling water and inhaling the steam. A piece of bark is crushed into a pulp, mixed with cold water and swallowed in the treatment of dysentery and diarrhoea. The bark also is used as a malaria prophylactic.
Marula trees are dioecious, which means they have a specific sex. This fact contributes to the belief among the Venda people that bark infusions can be used to determine the sex of an unborn child. If a woman wants a son the male tree is used, and for a daughter, the female tree. If the child of the opposite sex is born, the child is said to be very special as it was able to defy the spirits.
In more recent times, the marula has become famous across the word due to this alcoholic beverage:
A decidedly yummy liqueur made from the marula fruit. The Amarula factory is based about 100 km’s from our house near Phalaborwa.
In 1974 the marula fruit made its debut in the movie Beautiful People by Jamie Uys. Here is an excerpt.
I was sent a similar clip from friends of ours in Brussels recently, asking if we have this fruit near us and if so – when could they come and visit us.
Research has shown that these scenes were improbable and, in all probability, staged. Elephants would need a huge amount of fermented marulas to have any effect on them, and other animals prefer the ripe fruit. The amount of water drunk by elephants each day would also dilute the effect of the fruit to such an extent that they would not be affected by it. Apparently the animals were fed fruit that had been soaked in alcohol – highly unethical I know, but in 1974 there were not as many animal rights campaigners as there are today. If this myth was true – we would have to ingest 25% of our body weight in fruit to get drunk. One truth though, is that elephants really ADORE eating marula fruit.
For us – the plan is to attempt to make marula beer (similar to ginger beer). You do get more potent types as well as a marula mampoer (homebrewed type of schnaps) – but we will stick to the milder stuff for now. I also want to try to make marula jelly and jam. I will keep you posted on our attempts.
Does anyone know of any other recipies we can try using this amazing fruit?