The Doum Palm Fruit

The doum palm fruit (scientific name: Hyphaene thebaica; colloquially: gingerbread fruit) has been known to Egyptians for over 5000 years. A team of Egyptian archeologists led by Zahi Hawass found 8 baskets of these nuts in the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 2007. Considered sacred by the Egyptian pharaohs, these nuts (called akat in Tigrigna, zembaba in Amharic and mkoma in Swahili) are native to Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania and Togo.

Gingerbread Fruit

Doum Nut

The palm tree (arkobkobay ghereb) is extremely drought-tolerant and happen to also have a wood texture that is very resistant to bush fires. The fruit is sold in herbalist shops in Egypt for its therapeutic use. People use it as a herbal tea drink to treat hypertension. While the roots are used in the treatment of bilharzia, the ground nuts themselves have also been used for dressing wounds. A paste of the root is also massaged on the chest in Mali to relieve chest-pain.

Photographer: Endlisnis

License: Attribution License

A drink made from it is used for the treatment of jaundice (weyba). When softened and dissolved in liquid, the root bark of the tree is used for the treatment of intestinal colic (qirxet) and inguinal hernia. A solution from the leaf fibre (after being boiled and soaked in water) is used as an eyewash to treat conjunctivitis (himam ayni) in Sudan. The fruit itself when eaten raw is also good for the treatment of stomach pain and bladder infection. The fleshy middle part of the fruit is believed to increase the flow of urine (diuretic) and thereby treat ailments that include blood pressure, heart failure, kidneys, liver disease and diabetes. Similarly, drinking the root extract is also believed to be good for treating blood in the urine.


Another interesting side use is for pleasure in Kenya where they use it to make palm wine by way of sapping or drawing the moisture inside the tree just before it flowers.

In Eritrea and Ethiopia, besides using them as edible fruit, children burn this hard-shelled nuts in a firewood inside a mogogo stove (a traditional firewood stove) where they crack them open and remove the hard outer shell-covering. They then take out the inner kernel, hammer in a nail for a tip and use their handiwork as a traditional spin top. Sometimes a hole is drilled in on the side to make it create the special humming sound effect. Just like all spin tops across the rest of the world, a string is coiled around the top and pulled hard while unwinding it and letting it go to make it spin through inertia. Children play this fun outdoorsy game seasonally.


Other practical uses of the doum dates include the production of molasses, cakes and sweetmeats (halewat) which are made from the rind of the seeds; for creating buttons, beads and small carvings which are made from the hard seed inside the fruit; for creating black leather dye (tinta) which is made from the dry fruits; for weaving mats (tenkobet), bags, baskets, hats, fans (meshrefet), strainers (mezfef), bowls, rope, string, nets and coarse textiles which are made from the leaves of the palm tree. And finally, one should not also forget its last occasional use which is that of firewood.


Click to access Hyphaene_thebaica.pdf,thebaica&p=Hyphaene+thebaica#Synonyms

Click to access Aremu%20and%20Fadele.pdf

——–(a study in pdf)