Okoubaka aubrevillei: A Remedy for Modern Day Intoxications

James Odell, OMD, ND, L.Ac.

Okoubaka aubrevillei is a deciduous, monoecious tropophyte tree of the equatorial forest in West Africa, particularly in Ghana, Nigeria and on the Ivory Coast. It can grow to 40 meters in height and 3 meters in diameter. It belongs to the family of the Santalaceae, or the sandalwood family. In 1944, the tree was mistakenly categorized as being a member of the Octonemataceae family and it was not until 1957 that the tree was correctly categorized as a member of the Santalaceae family.  However, the earlier taxonomy mistake crops up in literature again and again, even in more recent publications.1

The tree has a magnificent crown with drooping branches, pendulums, with oval and serrated leaves of about 15 cm. long and 10 cm. wide. Tiny, gray flowers appear on old branches, their fruits turn a strong yellow when ripe. 

It is a semi-parasitic tree in which its roots attach to those of neighboring plants. This allows it to destroy surrounding plants likely to compete for water, light, and food. This explains why other plants around it do not thrive, an observation that has traditionally contributed to the belief that the tree has magical powers. The name Oku Baka is from the Anyin language, a Niger-Congo language spoken mainly in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. It translates as ‘tree of death’ due to its effect on surrounding vegetation.

Based on the records available for this genus, the population of Okoubaka aubrevillei in its range is probably less than 250 mature trees. The populations of the tree appear to have declined sharply (over 25%) in the last 60 years, in many locations - Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire.2, 3 Though the distribution range is more than 100 km2, it has been shown to be rare in all its reported locations. This scarcity is due to massive deforestation in western Africa, high demand for its bark and seeds for medicine, as well as its highly-priced wood. Thus, it is currently ranked as endangered and is subject to special monitoring. Despite the fact that the tree is reported in protected areas in many parts of its ranges, strict protection and management of protected areas have been characterized by widespread encroachment, poor staffing, inadequate funding, presence of enclave villages, land conversion to farming, and several other illegal activities in Nigeria4, 5, and other African countries.6, 7, 8

Folk Lore and Traditional Usage

Okoubaka has long been viewed as a mysterious medicinal tree, used both for its wood and therapeutic properties by shamans in West Africa. Traditional African medicine and shamanism were the dominant medical system for centuries successfully treating millions of people in Africa prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Formerly clouded in the secrecy of the magical realm of the African shamans and traditional healers, Okoubaka was used for stomach and intestinal conditions, food poisoning, various intoxications, infections, and even diseases of the skin.

The bark, leaves, and seeds of the plant have traditionally been used as a talisman to ward off evil spirits. The tree is considered invaluable for this reason and has been associated with the most stringent of taboos. Its usage was strictly reserved for local shamans. In order to prevent themselves from being poisoned the bark of the tree was chewed by African chiefs to protect themselves before meetings and visits to foreign tribe members. To resolve tribal feuds, adding poisons to food was commonly used. Many tasters’ of a tribal chief possibly owe his life to this bark. Current day African herbalists still prepare a powder from the tree's bark which is used against all kinds of poisoning.

There have emerged numerous records of Okoubaka being used for a wide variety of afflictions and conditions. The bark and seed have been used for the treatment of mental conditions (insanity)9 and for treatment of convulsions, as an aphrodisiac, for rituals and prevention of miscarriage.10 The bark and leaves have also been reported as a treatment for reducing swollen testicles (orchitis) among Edo people of Nigeria.11

In Akoase, Southern Ghana, the seeds were used in postnatal care, and its branches were tied on a broken limb, along with other plants, for the healing of the limbs.12 The bark is also reported to be used as an antidote for venomous stings and bites etc., and in the treatment of dropsy, swellings, gout, heart, leprosy, and venereal diseases.13

Current Research

Much of its traditional use by the African shaman and herbalist define its use in the western world today. Okoubaka was first mentioned in O.A Julian's Materia Medica in 1981.14 Since then studies have been few, but demonstrate its ability to stimulate the body's defense mechanisms against poisonings. Effectiveness has been seen with food-poisoning, pesticide poisoning, and many self-poisoning (auto-toxic) diseases.15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

Journal of Biology and Life Science

ISSN 2157-6076

2015, Vol. 6, No. 1

Map of Distribution of Okoubaka aubrevillei in West and Central Africa

Chemical Analysis

The bark and stems contain various catechins with antioxidant properties: gallocathechins, epicatechin gallates and epigallocatechin gallates. It also contains gallic acid, b-sitosterol, and stigmasterol. These polyphenols have detoxifying, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects on the liver and digestive system. The presence of phenolic compounds gives the bark antimicrobial and immunostimulant properties.20

In all its native range, the tree is used for various medicinal purposes. The main parts used are the bark and the seeds. The bark is used for treatment of insanity (Osemeobo, 2007). van Andel

Availability and Preparations

Okoubaka is available as powdered bark and as a homeopathic tincture. Several companies now manufacture okoubaka in a homeopathic form. Dried bark from the branches of the Okoubaka tree is pulverized, macerated in alcohol, and then potentized to the desired dilution. Dosage is to be individualized. Some examples of commercial homeopathic okoubaka are depicted below.


As a homeopathic remedy the main therapeutic indications given by Magdalena Kunst22 and others 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 are the following:

  • Food poisoning

  • Alimentary infections or infestations – parasitism, bacterial or yeast dysbiosis

  • Residual toxic conditions after intestinal infections

  • Environmental intoxication – xenobiotics

  • Side effect of cytotoxic chemotherapy

  • Nicotine toxicity

  • During and after childhood diseases – mumps, measles, rubella

  • Prophylactic use when traveling and consuming foreign food and water

Okoubaka holds promise as an herbal medicine for numerous modern-day intoxications. Unfortunately, there is concern over its endangerment. Medicinal plants are an important source of healthcare and livelihood for a large proportion of the human population in Africa. However, many medicinal plants such as Okoubaka are endangered because of unsustainable harvesting, and loss of habitats. Accompanying the loss of medicinal species is the loss of associated indigenous knowledge. Poverty, lack of adequate policies and lack of effort to enforce current existing policies and laws, are the major contributing factors for this endangerment.


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  2. Bagot, Jean-Lionel. "Indications of Okoubaka aubrevillei in oncological supportive care." Allgemeine Homöopathische Zeitung 265, no. 04 (2020): 21-24.

  3. Ladipo DO, Adebisi AA, Bosch CH. Okoubaka aubrevillei Pellegr. & Normand. In: Schmelzer GH, Gurib-Fakim, editors. A Medicinal plants. Prota; 2008. p. 11.

  4. Meduna, A. J., Ogunjinmi, A. A., & Onadeko, S. A. (2009). Biodiversity Conservation Problems and their Implications on Ecotourism in Kainji Lake National Park, Nigeria. J. Sust. Dev. Afr. 10(4), 59-73.

  5. Oseni, J. O. (2007). Ensuring Peaceful Coexistence between Man and Animal in Protected Areas in Nigeria. Available at:

  6. Struhsaker, T. T., Struhsaker, P. J., & Siex, S. K. (2005). Conserving Africa’s rain forests: problems in protected areas and possible solutions. Biol. Cons. 123, 45-54.

  7. Jachmann, H. (2008). Monitoring law-enforcement performance in nine protected areas in Ghana. Biol. Cons. 141, 89-99.

  8. Weladji, R. B., & M. N. Tchamba (2003). Conflict between people and protected areas within the Bénoué Wildlife Conservation Area, North Cameroon. Oryx, 37(1), 72-79.

  9. Osemeobo, G. J. (2007). Who decides on access to genetic resources? Towards implementation of the convention on biological diversity in Nigeria. Small-scale For. 6. 93-109.

  10. van Andel, T., Myren, B., & Onselen, S. V. (2012). Ghana’s herbal market. J. Ethnopharm. 140. 368-378.

  11. Idu, M., & Onyibe, H. I. (2007). Medicinal plants of Edo State, Nigeria. Res. J. Med. Plants, 1(2), 32-41.

  12. Myren, B. (2011). Magic plants in the south of Ghana. Report of Research internship. Biology Leiden University, Belgium. 52 pp.

  13. Burkill, H. M. (1985). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, Vol. 1, Families A-D, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. 960 pp.

  14. Julian OA. Dictionnaire de Matière Médicale Homéopathique :les 130 nouveaux homéothérapiques. Ed. Masson; 1981. p.278–9.

  15. Journal of Biology and Life Science ISSN 2157-6076 2015, Vol. 6, No. 1

  16. Normand, D. "Note sur l'anatomie du bois du genre nouveau Okoubaka." Bulletin de la Société Botanique de France 91, no. 1-3 (1944): 20-25.

  17. Normand, Didier. Atlas des bois de la Côte d'Ivoire. CTFT, 1950.

  18. Normand, Didier, Pierre Détienne, Paulette Jacquet, Alain Mariaux, and Jacqueline Paquis. "Manuel d'identification des bois commerciaux. Tome 1: Généralités. Tome 2: Afrique guinéo-congolaise. Tome 3: Guyane française." (1972).

  19. Normand, Didier, and Jacqueline Paquis. Manuel d'identification des bois commerciaux. Tome 2: Afrique guinéo-congolaise. GERDAT-CTFT, 1976.

  20. Peter, Achukwu U., Ufelle A. Silas, Onyekwelu C. Kenechukwu, Amadi N. Millicent, Achukwu O. Ngozika, and Amadi N. Francis. "EFFECTS OF STEM-BARK EXTRACT OF OKOUBAKA AUBREVILLIE ON SOME VISCERAL ORGANS OF WISTAR RATS." African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines 15, no. 3 (2018): 57-63.

  21. Wagner, H., B. Kreutzkamp, and K. Jurcic. "Inhaltsstoffe und pharmakologie der Okoubaka aubrevillei-Rinde." Planta medica 51, no. 05 (1985): 404-407.

  22. Kunst,. "Okoubaka, ein neues homöopathische Arzneimittel." Allgemeine Homöopathische Zeitung 217, no. 03 (1972): 116-121.

  23. Bagot, Jean-Lionel. "Okoubaka aubrevillei. A new homeopathic medicine for the side effects of chemotherapy." La Revue d'Homéopathie 6, no. 2 (2015): e1-e6.

  24. Bagot, Jean-Lionel. "Indications of Okoubaka aubrevi