We often talk about the environmental benefits of trees, but trees are also highly beneficial to humans, other than in the fact that we need them for our planet, environment, biodiversity and that they absorb CO2 to help us breathe.
For starters, a majority of the food that we consume comes from trees; fruits for instance (Mango Trees, Papaya, Lemon..) tea, coffee, chocolate, but also spices and nuts (Macadamia). Trees are also helpful when a drought hits us like the water-rich wood of the Baobab which has been used as an emergency water source for decades. Some trees, like the Moringa tree, are beneficial in so many ways that there is nothing to throw away: for instance, the powder made from its dried out seeds and leaves is rich in calcium and protein; it's three times richer in potassium than bananas and the amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C are respectively four times that of carrots and seven times that of oranges.
Most pharmaceuticals have vegetal origins. A hot infusion made with the roasted bark of a Cassia tree is used to bathe sore and rheumatic joints as they contain tannin and are astringent. Astringents are also often used in the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. When applied externally, they are used to treat wounds and skin problems and even haemorrhoids.
The Masai people have been passing on their knowledge about their environment from generation to generation. For instance, they use the Croton tree as an insect repellent. Sometimes they also use the juice of its leaves to fight stomach parasites. An ancient Indian proverb says "The land where the Neem tree abound, can death, disease there in be found?". All the parts of this miraculous tree have been used for more than 5,000 years: the leaves, flowers, fruits and the bark for its healing properties. It is used for medical purposes throughout the world, both for humans and animals. Mahatma Gandhi himself included the tree’s leaves in his daily diet.
Trees benefit farmers economically when they grow trees like Beechwood to protect or feed their cattle or when they grow fruit trees and sell them in the local markets like Papaya, Banana or Avocado Trees for instance. For those who plant Neem trees, selling Neem oil is a big economic advantage as it has been used for a long time as a natural pesticide and is very popular.
Tools and Shelter
Trees also provide us with the materials for tools and shelter. The first prehistoric men started making tools with stones but then as we diversified, specialised and complexified our tools we moved to bones and wood. The fibrous bark of the Baobab has been perfect to make ropes.
In Kenya, Tephrosia trees are widely used as pesticide; mashed, boiled then filtered, its leaves make for a cheap and effective way to protect cattle from ticks!
Tephrosia trees are often planted around houses as they protect from the wind and are also known as fire breakers, since they burn slowly and prevent the flames from moving too fast, giving one the chance to run for safety.
In terms of tools and shelter, in Malawi the Barbados Nut tree, also known as Jatropha, is planted around village houses for protection; but most importantly, because from the seeds inside its berries, they extract combustible oil for oil lamps. In the evening they have no electricity, no television, no cell phone, but thanks to the light given by the Barbados Nut oil, adults and children read books together and tell traditional stories creating a shared, educational, family moment.
Beauty and Safety
Trees are beautiful, beautiful and extremely useful. The Markhamia tree for instance is planted also along the borders of villages and gardens for a dual purpose : to mark borders and for its beauty as it is called "Tulip of the Nile".
Humans feel a calming effect from being near trees. The serenity we feel can significantly reduce stress, fatigue, and even decrease recovery time from surgery and illness. Studies have shown that green spaces can also help lower the level of crime within urban environments.
Human first art was made using colors such as a yellow dye obtained from the flowers of the Cassia tree and a green dye obtained from its seed pods.
Pride and Joy
When farmer’s children no longer need to go out and walk 30-35km each day to feed their sheeps because their parents have planted Avocado, Lemon and Cassia trees which their animals can feed from, then they can go to school and have an education and a real childhood.
In Haiti, people take great pride in drinking the coffee that they produce locally as it has become renowned throughout the world for being a delicious, full-bodied, velvety and well-balanced coffee.
In many countries, trees serve as meeting points for communities. The shade of the majestic Baobab is welcomed by the elderly, classes for children are often taught at their foot, children play amongst their branches and roots, communities celebrate around tree trunks and give each other directions according to size, type or number of trees. For instance, in Haïti some celebrations involving a cacao based drink are held around Cacao trees.
The Baobab has been sanctified by many African tribes as the home of the deities and refuge of ancestral spirits; a place where one goes to pray and to gather for a party. Ancient Baobabs, respected by villagers, can only be climbed by the sages and the initiates. If you go to Africa and put your hands on its trunk and try to talk to it, ask for advice, maybe one of the ancestors will answer you ... but be careful as it is said that whoever plucks its sacred flowers will be devoured by lions!
Beliefs and traditions
In certain beliefs, spirits are everywhere and large older trees often represent deities and important spirits protecting the surrounding communities. Many African tribes have myths and legends about the Baobab, that’s how famous and important it is for them. One of the most popular ones comes from Senegal, where it is said that when it was first created, the Baobab started throwing tantrums right away, so God decided to plant it upside-down. That's why it has those weird-looking branches: they actually are its roots.
Every continent has legends about trees, for instance in South America, there is one about Seriokai, a man who loved avocados so much that to punish him for his greed, a God transformed as a tapir, seduced his wife and ran away with her, leaving him to run forever after them, following a trail of avocado trees.
Chinese folklore has many famous legends related to trees, one of which is that of Wu Gang, who wanted to be immortal. After he resorted to the powers of a dark genie, a god condemned him to cut the trunk of a Cassia tree which grew back after each stroke. An eternal punishment for Wu Gang, who is also called "the Chinese Sisyphus".
The legend about the discovery of coffee is truly unique. Kaldi, a young shepherd who lived in Southern Ethiopia saw one of his goats jumping, running and almost dancing. So the following day he followed her to a tree full of green and red berries. The shepherd picked some and took them to a nearby monastery. The monks made an infusion with them and found that this drink helped them stay awake during their prayer vigils. This drink, our beloved coffee, was called "qahwah", which means that which stimulates.
In Hindu mythology, the Neem has divine origins and there are many versions of this fascinating legend. Garuda (Hindu mythological creature, half man and half bird) was bringing Ambrosia, the elixir of immortality, to Paradise. During his journey some drops fell on the Neem, making it the useful and prodigal tree that it is.
Are you now convinced that trees are as useful for the planet as they are for us? Plant some trees today! For the planet, and for its inhabitant