incredible benefits of the irokoWith the tremendous increase in human population and the need for activities such as construction, cultivation, rearing of animals, and environmental development, there has been a tremendous rise on the loss of natural habitats, ecosystems, wild animals, vegetation etc. One important tree that has suffered this sort of habitat loss is the iroko tree. Despite its reduction in number, researchers have revealed that there are several incredible benefits of iroko tree that makes it stand out from other trees in the ecosystem.

Botanically known as Milicia excelsa and of the family of Moraceae, the Iroko tree is a vital timber tree across the world. The iroko tree (Milicia excelsa) is also known as Odum tree, Mvule or African teak, rock elm, teca Africana, African oak, Iroko, teck d’Afrique, moreira or teck kambala.

The iroko tree (Milicia excelsa) is originally from Guinea Bissau before spreading to Benin, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, United States, Angola, Tanzania, Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda, India, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. Although the iroko tree is referred to as the African teak, yet it is not related to the teak family.  

Iroko tree (African teak) is a gigantic deciduous tree with a height of approximately 52 metres (162 ft) high and many short buttress roots formed at the base. The bark of the iroko tree is characteristically dark grey or pale in colour with thick texture and milky or yellowish latex if given a cut. The thick branches of the iroko tree shoot out horizontally thus giving an umbrella shape. The iroko leaves are ovate in appearance, greenish in colour with toothed edge and measure approximately 5 to 10 centimetres. When the iroko leaves become older, they tend to turn yellowish in colour while the young leaves still remain greenish. The iroko leaves are also characterised by rectangular mesh of veins that are easily conspicuous.

The iroko wood is usually yellowish in colour initially but tends to transform to dark brown colour as the tree matures. Interestingly, this dioecious iroko tree appears to be one of the highly priceless trees in the world due to its numerous beneficial potentials. The iroko seeds are usually dispersed by rain water, wind or animals such as bats. Both the male and female iroko trees have unique distinguishing features e.g; the female iroko trees are characterised by greenish prominent flower spikes that are approximately 5 to 6 centimetres long by 2 cm wide, while the male trees are characterised by white catkins that measure approximately 15 to 20 centimetres extending from the twigs at the leaves axils.

The main habitat of the iroko tree (African teak) is the rainforest, wet savannah, and evergreen forests. The iroko wood has similar features with that of Tectona grandis L.f. and it is sort of greasy in appearance without odour while the fruit are oblong, fleshy and creased with the seeds encapsulated within the pulp. The iroko wood is sort of abrasive as a result of the presence of hard deposits known as iroko stones made up of calcium carbonate within the wood. The iroko wood is characterised by perfect gluing, nailing, mortise and screwing properties. The iroko wood comprises of the stilbene derivative chlorophorin that prevents oil-based paints from drying as well as has the tendency to corrode metal when in contact with the substance.

Due to the durability of the iroko wood, it is mainly used for construction work, domestic flooring, cabinet-work, outdoor furniture, boats, panelling, boat-building, instrument, frames and floors. Due to the overexploitation of the iroko, it has been suggested that it is replaced for certain uses with other similar species such as Lophira alata, difou, doussié, Morus mesozygia Stapf, Piptadeniastrum Africanum (Hook.f.) Brenan (dabéma), azobé, Nauclea diderrichii, bilinga or Afzelia spp. The iroko tree can withstand an annual rainfall of less than 70 centimetres or six months of the dry season but inasmuch as there is a nearby body of water. Iroko is the dominant timber in international trade and Tanzania and Uganda had been the major suppliers of iroko in the past.


Medicinal Purposes
Researchers reveal the presence of flavonoids, carbohydrate, proteins, tannins, saponins and alkaloids in the aqueous extracts from different parts of the African teak, which make it capable of being used to treat diabetes, bronchitis, leprosy, tiredness, heart problems, tumour reduction. Studies also reveal that the iroko is characterised by anti-pyretic, antifungal, antibacterial, analgesic, anti-diuretic, hypoglycemic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties thus can be used for treating several ailments.
The iroko leaves, bark, milky/yellowish latex and ashes are used for preparing herbal medicines for treating certain ailments and diseases. The herbal medicine can also be used to unblock the throat from any blockages such as cough and cold. The iroko root can be decocted and used for treating female sexual infertility, asthma, piles, lumbago, spleen pain, galactagogue, oedema, scabies, wounds, ascites, sprains, dysmenorrhoea, gonorrhoea, venereal diseases, sprains, loss of hair, rheumatism and aphrodisiac.
Treatment of Stomach Problems
The milky latex and leaves from the iroko tree can be used to produce herbal medicines that can heal stomach problems such as dysentery.
Soil Enhancement Purposes
The iroko leaves, bark and ashes can serve as manure and mulch, which is used for farming produce. Mulch is a set of material used to cover the surface of a vegetation of the soil in order to improve the fertility, conserve moisture and boost the well-being of the soil.

Treatment of Gallstones
Iroko leaves can be decocted and taken for treating gallstones.
Ornamental Purposes
The iroko serves as a shade and a decorative tree.
Construction Purposes
The iroko is a high-quality timber with international recognition. It can be used for constructing roads, garden furniture, framework, boat, doors, draining boards, houses, furniture, flooring, building, marine carpentry, gates, trucks, stairs, charcoal, firewood, utensils, frames, cabinet work, musical instruments, toys, panelling and for any long-lasting building purposes that require wood. This is due to its resistance to external damages and insect attacks such as termites.
Erosion Control
Due to the thickness and durability of the iroko tree, it can be used for controlling erosion.
Dyeing Purposes
The iroko bark is used for producing dyes that can be used for dyeing clothes and leather.
Landmark Purposes
Some people plant the iroko tree as a landmark and to show boundaries between lands, towns, farms and villages.
Dermatological Purposes
The milky latex can be used for treating skin burns, eczema, wounds, sores and other skin problems.
Treatment of Mental Disorders
Some people believe that eating iroko leaves is capable of treating mental disorders.
This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnostic and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
1] Arung, E.T, Yoshikawa, K., Shimizu, K. and Kondo, R., (2005), The effect of chlorophorin and its derivative on melanin biosynthesis. Holzforschung 59 (5), pp. 514–516.
2] Babalola, F. D., Borokini, T. I. and Onefeli, A. O. (2013), Socio-Economic Benefits of Iroko Trees (Milicia excelsa Welw C.C. Berg) in Ibadan Metropolis, Oyo State, Nigeria, International Journal of African and Asian Studies - An Open Access International Journal Vol.1, pp. 11-13.
3] Bizoux, J.P., Daïnou, K., Bourland, N., Hardy, O.J., Heuertz, M., Mahy, G., Doucet, J.L., (2009), Spatial genetic structure in Milicia excelsa (Moraceae) indicates extensive gene dispersal in a low-density wind-pollinated tropical tree. Molecular Ecology 18(21), pp.4398-4400.
4] Cobbinah, J. R. and Appiah-Kwarteng, J. (1996), The impact of Phytolyma lata injury on growth and biomass accumulation of Iroko (Milicia excelsa), Proceedings XX International Congress of Entomology, Firenze, Italy.
5] Nichols, J. D., Wagner, M. R., Agyeman, V. K, Bonsu, P. and Cobbinah, J. R. (1998), Influence of artificial gaps in tropical forest on survival, growth, and Phytolyma lata attack on Milicia excelsa. Forest Ecology and Management 110: 353-358.
6] Nichols, J. D., Wagner, M. R., Agyeman, V. K. and Cobbinah, J. R. (2000), Patterns of occurrence of Milicia species in natural forest and its relationship to Phytolyma lata. Research advances in restoration of iroko as a commercial species in West Africa,” in Proceedings of the Research Advances in Restoration of Iroko as a Commercial Species in West Africa.
7] Ouete, J. L. N., Sandjo, L. P., Kapche, D. W. F. G. and Yeboah, S. O., Mapitse, R., Abegaz, B. M., Opatz, T. and Ngadjui, B. T. (2014), Excelsoside: A New Benzylic Diglycoside from the Leaves of Milicia excelsa, Zeitschrift Fur Naturforschung Section C-A Journal of Biosciences, vol. 69, no. 7-8, pp. 271–273.
8] Ouinsavi, C. and Sokpon, N. (2010), Morphological Variation and Ecological Structure of Iroko (Milicia excelsa Welw. C.C. Berg) Populations across Different Biogeographical Zones in Benin, International Journal of Forestry Research, vol. 2010, pp. 1-5.
9] Ouinsavi, C., Sokpon, N. and Bada, O., (2005), Utilization and traditional strategies of in situ conservation of iroko (Milicia excelsa (Welw.) C.C. Berg) in Benin. Forest Ecology and Management 207(3): 341–346.

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