Locust Bark


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Hymenaea courbaril L. var. courbaril


Vernacular names:
Locust, Stinking toe (Cr), Kawanari (Ar), Simiri (C), Kahawanaru arau (Wr).

Botanical description: Tree, to 45 m tall; trunk to 1 m in diam., cylindrical, base straight or
buttressed, with superficial roots to 5 m long,. Outer bark light to red-brown, smooth or warty
lenticellate, cracked, inner bark pink to red-brown, turning dark orange when exposed to air, sapwood
light brown, heartwood dark red-brown. Exudate colourless, coagulating into a white, brittle resin.
Leaves alternate, bipinnate, asymmetric; stipules linear, to 3 cm long, enclosing the leaf bud,
caducous; petiole ca. 1.5 cm long; leaflets sessile, leathery, obovate to elliptic, sickle-shaped, to 10 x
5 cm, glabrous, glandular-punctate, shiny above, apex shortly acuminate, base oblique, rounded.
Inflorescence a terminal panicle ca. 10 cm long. Flowers zygomorphic, ca. 3 cm long; calyx cupshaped, 1 cm long, 4-lobed, lobes leathery, ca. 15 mm long; petals 5, whitish, (ob)ovate, ca. 2 cm
long; stamens 10, free, ca. 3 cm long, exserted. Pod woody, dark to light brown, oblong-ellipsoid, to
14 x 6 x 2 cm, glabrous, shiny, dotted with numerous resinous pockets, indehiscent; seeds 2-4,
flattened, red-brown, broadly obovoid to ellipsoid, ca. 2 cm in diam., embedded in a mealy,
yellowish, unpleasantly scented pulp.
Distribution and ecology: Central America, northern South America and the West Indies, occasional
along rivers in mixed and Mora forest, also in marsh forest, particularly common in eastern Guyana
(Polak, 1992). In northwest Guyana, common as juvenile in secondary forest and as large adult in
mixed forest in Moruca. In the Barama area the species is rare. Flowering mainly in May and June;
fruiting almost throughout the year (Polak, 1992). In Moruca, fruits were ripe in December-February.
Flowers are pollinated by bats; seeds are dispersed by monkeys and rodents, who eat the fruit pulp
(van Roosmalen, 1985).
Use: The woody pods are broken open with a hammer or cutlass to consume the powdery, soursweet
seed pulp. In spite of their smell of stinking feet, the fruits are much prized. When gathering the pods,
they must be shaken: if they rattle, weevils have infested the seeds; if they produce no sound, they are
still good. Locust trees are spared when farmers clear forest for agriculture.
A popular beverage is made from the bark. A piece of ca. 25 x 5 cm is cut off and the rough outer
layer is scraped off. The bark is dried in the sun; fresh bark is not used. When dry, the bark is
chipped, boiled, and drunk with milk and sugar, just like chocolate milk. Locust trees along
frequently used forest trails in Moruca were stripped from nearly all their bark at man’s height. The
bark tea is also drunk against colds, back pain, diabetes, and general body pain. Aphrodisiacs are
made with locust bark and some of the following ingredients: cockshun root (
), kapadula wood (Tetracera spp., Pinzona sp., Doliocarpus sp.), kufa root (Clusia
spp.), sarsparilla root (Dioscorea trichanthera), monkey ladder wood (Bauhinia spp.), granny
backbone wood (
Curarea candicans), and devildoer wood (Strychnos spp.). The ingredients are
soaked in alcohol or boiled in water, and added to milkshakes, porridge, or other dishes. These
‘builders’ are said to protect against diseases, stimulate sexual activities, and help against a ‘weak
back’ (impotence). Stories were told of coastlanders who accidentally took the bark of soapwood
Abarema jupunba) or aromatta (Alexa imperatricis) for locust and died of poisoning after drinking
the tea.
In coastal Guyana, locust bark is boiled with the barks of guava (
Psidium guajava), jamoon
Syzygium cumini), starapple (Chrysophyllum cainito), the skins of pomegranate (Punica granatum),
and orange (
Citrus sinensis). A small glass is taken three times a day for the relief of ‘bilious
diarrhoea’ (Lachman-White et al., 1992). Fanshawe (1948) reported an excellent cure for dysentery
from a decoction of the barks of locust, tauroniro (
Humiria balsamifera), and bulletwood (Manilkara
). He also reported about an infusion of the bark to bathe ulcers, and that continuous
drinking of locust tea caused constipation. Various terpenes and acids have been isolated from the
bark (Grenand et al., 1987; Lachman-White et al., 1992). The heavy, hard, and durable wood is
commercially marketed for house construction and furniture. In the interior, locust wood is preferred
for canoes.

Non-Timber Forest Products of the North-West District of Guyana Part II
When the bark of the tree is damaged, resin trickles down the stem and hardens into lumps at the
base. When the tree rots inside, a large amount of resin is formed internally, which becomes buried
when the tree falls and decays. As much as a barrel full can be collected by digging around a fallen
trunk. This resin, known locally as American or West Indian copal or Demerara gum, was exported
from Guyana in colonial times for the manufacture of artificial amber and varnish (Fanshawe, 1948).
However, since the quality appeared to be inferior to copaiba balsam from
Copaifera spp. and to
Asian and African copal (from other species of Caesalpiniaceae), the resin is not exported anymore
from Guyana. Copal from the other species is still used for expensive lacquering and fumigating
materials, since the resin contains chemicals toxic to fungi and termites (Rehm and Espig, 1991).
Amerindians formerly used the gum as incense or as torch, by inserting a piece of gum between a split000000000000000000000000000000000
twig and lighting it. Nowadays, the coagulated resin is used by elder Arawak musicians in Moruca to
smoothen their violin strings. The traditional Banshikili music is still played there on home-made
violins. In Suriname, the gum was rubbed on pottery as a varnish (Ostendorf, 1962). Roth (1924)
mentioned that Amerindians were chewing the gum for stomach pains and windiness and inhaled the
smoke from the burning gum to cure headache and rheumatism.
Economy: Locust pods harvested from Essequibo forests are occasionally sold around February at
the Georgetown market. Locust bark is sold throughout the year at medicinal herb stalls. Ready-made
aphrodisiacs cost US$ 3.50 per litre bottle. In the interior, locust canoes are sold according to their
size, for ca. US$ 55. Locust is a highly prized timber on the domestic and international market (Polak,

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