African Mango Not Quite A Mango

Irvingia gabonensis, also known as African mango, bush mango, ogbono, or dika, is a species of fruit-bearing tree native to West Africa. While its fleshy, edible fruits are very similar to mangoes, hence its nicknames, the African mango is actually not a species of mango at all, but rather falls in a completely separate family.

Growth & Uses

The trees grow 10-40 meters high, with dark-green leaves, grey, scaly bark, and spherical green-to-orange fruits, and can be found in West and Central African countries ranging from Sudan to Nigeria. African people have used the African mango for centuries for many different purposes. The wood of the African mango is very hard and useful for building, and its branches are used as firewood.

The African mango has also been used in traditional medicine, particularly the bark. Uses of the bark differ depending on tribe and location, but include topical application for pain relief and consumption to treat colic, diarrhea, and dysentery (Okolo et al., 1995).

Today the trees, which occur naturally in small clumps in the forest but are easy to plant and maintain, are farmed in Cameroon and other parts of Central and West Africa, both for shading coffee and cocoa trees and as a cash crop themselves. Perhaps the most prized part of the African mango is its seed, which has many uses and is heavily traded in West Africa.

Oil & Seed

Oil pressed from the seed is made into soap or used in cooking. The seed can also be ground into a powder and used for flavoring or to thicken soups and sauces. The seeds are also used in traditional medicines to treat various ailments. The Ifa Nkari people of northwest Nigeria mix the powdered seeds with honey to treat low sperm count and impotence, while further south in Nigeria soup thickened with the seeds is drunk by nursing mothers and those with low blood pressure (Erhabor et al., 2013).

Weight Management

The seeds of African mangoes are of particular interest to western markets because of their reputation as a treatment for weight loss. Various studies have implicated African mango seed extract as a useful supplement to enhance weight loss when combined with a restricted diet. In one study, subjects who were placed on a calorie-restricted diet and given daily capsules containing African mango seed extract lost on average 5% of their body weight in a month, compared to an average loss of 2% among subjects who were also on the restricted diet but were not given the extract (Ngondi et al., 2005).

However, a recent review of such studies found significant flaws in all the published literature on African mango seed and weight loss, and concluded that it is impossible to tell whether or not African mango seed extract has any effect on weight loss (Onakpoya et al., 2015). While herbal supplement sites may tout African mango seed extract as a miracle drug for enhancing weight loss, unfortunately further rigorous studies must be done before that can be proven.

References

Erhabor JO, Idu M, and FO Udo. 2013. “Ethnomedical survey of medicinal plants used in the treatment of male infertility among the IFA Nkari people of Ini local government area of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria”. Research Journal of Recent Scientists 2: 5-11.

Ngondi JL, Oben JE, and SR Minka. 2005. “The effect of Irvingia gabonensis seeds on body weight and blood lipids of obese subjects in Cameroon.” Lipids in Health and Disease 4(12).

Okolo CO, Johnson PB, Abdurahman EM, Abdu-Aguye I, and IM Hussaini. 1995. “Analgesic effect of Irvingia gabonensis stem bark extract.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 45(2): 125-129.

Onakpoya I, Davies L, Posadzki P, and E Ernst. 2013. “The efficacy of Irvingia gabonensis supplementation in the management of overweight and obesity: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials”. Journal of Dietary Supplements 10(1): 29-38. 

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