Lead Tree

Names of Lead Tree, Past and Present

Chinese: yin he huan / yin ho huan
Japanese: ginnemu
Thai: katin
Indonesian: lamtoro
Indian: kubabul / subabul
Spanish: Santa Elena
Filipino: ipil-ipil / aghog / kabahero
English: lead tree
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Mimosa glauca / Leucaena glauca / Leucaena leucocephala

Lead Tree - Botany

The lead tree is a small tree that grows a maximum of eight metres in height and is composed of minute compounded leaves that measure some fifteen to twenty-five centimeters long interspersed with tinier leaflets measuring no more than seven to twelve millimeters in length. Due to its compounded leaf-structure, the lead tree may often be confused by some individuals as the moringa tree (Moringa oleifera), although upon close inspection, it can be differentiated by its entirely different leaf-structure (more closely resembling the bashful mimosa [Mimosa pudica], than the distinctly 'ace-of-clubs-like' leaves of the moringa tree). The lead tree is also discernable for its rough, shrub-like bark and braches, as well as its discernibly 'drier' wood structure (compared to the generally 'moister' wood of the moringa).

The lead tree is also well-known for its globularly-shaped white flowers that resemble fuzz-balls, and for its uniquely shaped fruits - really flattened seed pods that house a number of seeds numbering from five to as many as thirteen in some older specimens. Considered a native of Central America, the lead tree grows profusely in many parts of the world (chiefly in tropical and semi-tropical areas) and has been employed since time immemorial as a source of fuel, as a landscaping plant, a medicinal plant, and as a food-source by primitive societies. The versatility of the lead tree extends to its use as a type of livestock feed, having been employed as fodder by the majority of Filipino tribal societies since ancient times due to its ability to easily fill-up (and subsequently bulk-up) their livestock. [1] Because of its hardy and prolific nature, it is considered a pest or an invasive tree in several parts of the world, making it a prime choice for fuel.

Lead Tree - Herbal Uses

Nowadays, the most common use for the lead tree is as a source of fuel, typically as raw material for the creation of charcoal, or as firewood. Because of the wood's density and its heavy weight (in especially mature specimens) it has also been employed as a medium for carving and carpentry especially by native tribes. In earlier times, the heft, weight, and durability of the lead tree has also made it a prime choice for the creation of primitive blunt weaponry as well as a wide assortment of simplistic tools that were employed in the tribe's daily activities. To this day, the use of the lead tree as a source for fuel and as raw material for the creation of practical and artistic crafts remains commonplace both in rural and semi-urbanized areas, although for the latter, it is its use as a fuel source that remains a constant.

The lead tree is also commonly employed as a foodstuff, especially in rural settings, where its fruits (which resemble flattened tamarind seedpods or flattened pea pods) are eaten as a vegetable. The seed pods are typically consumed while they are as yet immature, and are simply sautéed or parboiled, yielding a crunchy, semi-sweet veggie that is commonly incorporated into soup-based dishes. When mature, the seeds are extracted from the pots and are cooked (via frying, roasting, or slight toasting) as a snack food. The seeds are also employed medicinally, as it is believed to be a purgative and an emollient. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the seeds are typically consumed as a means to expel roundworms and ringworms from the body, while Filipino folkloric medicine employ roasted ground seeds as an emollient for dry, broken, or inflamed skin. The crushed seeds usually yield a precious healing oil which is further refined through crude straining methods. It is typically used as a base for therapeutic ointments and liniments, although by itself, it is reputed to be a potent antimicrobial and antifungal agent and has been employed by native healers since time immemorial as a treatment for various skin diseases. [2] Because lead tree seeds yield very low concentrations of oil, the oil extracted from lead tree seeds are typically mixed with other base-oils, usually coconut oil (in the case of Filipino folkloric medicine), which also contains powerful therapeutic properties in its own right.

Aside from its medicinal uses, the seeds can also be toasted, ground, and employed as a substitute or alternative for coffee - a very commonplace practice especially in the mountains, as some tribes are unable to afford or obtain coffee either due to its expensive nature, or unavailability in their specific area. The consumption of lead tree seed 'coffee' may have some benefits, as some studies have shown that polysaccharides present in the seeds may possess anti-carcinogenic properties. The confectionary and pharmaceutical also employ raw powdered lead tree seeds as an alternative for guar gum, as it shows similar properties to the former, making it useful as a binder for the creation of medicinal tablets. This binding capacity has been employed by traditional Chinese herbalists in the creation of pills and tablets since prior to its general adoption by the modern pharmaceutical industries. The sap of the lead tree also yields a similar binding substance similar to gum Arabic, and is employed in much the same way as the powdered seeds in the creation of binders for traditionally made tablets or pills. [3]

The leaves of the lead tree also have significant uses, albeit very little medicinal value. The leaves are commonly employed as fodder for livestock and poultry, as is typically mixed-in along with premade or custom-mixed feeds. Because of its high protein content, the leaves help to 'bulk-up' livestock faster, although it does have unwanted side-effects, among them sterility and hair loss, but only when consumed in very large amounts due to the presence of the chemical compounds mimosine and leucenol.

The bark of the lead tree may be employed (usually by itself) as a mild emmenagogue. When combined with dried leaves and seeds and made into a very potent decoction, it yields a potent but potentially dangerous purgative that effectively rids the body of all intestinal parasites. When employed topically, it can be used as a rinse to help combat lice and flea infestations in both humans and animals, although its efficiency varies. The root of the plant may also be employed in the selfsame manner, although it is best used in combination with the bark. When made into a very strong decoction, this potent brew yields not only a highly effective emmenagogue, but a useful abortifacient and has been employed as such by indigenous Filipino tribes since prior to the Spanish Conquest. [4]

Lead Tree - Esoteric Uses

The lead tree's seeds are usually employed by Indians and Filipino shamans in the creation of necklaces, whereby they are strung together into beads. In some parts of India, Malaysia and in select rural and provincial areas of the Philippines, the lead tree seeds are employed to create prayer beads or rosaries for prayer or meditation. In Filipino shamanism, lead tree seeds are said to grant protection from evil entities or forest spirits (anito) when worn as a necklace, as is sometimes worn by healers during herb-gathering treks. In the animistic-Christian hybridized magick of some rural Filipino shamans, the necklaces made with lead tree seeds are employed in place of rosaries, and are used in evocations, invocations, and general prayer. The seeds are also burnt as an incense to appease forest spirits, or to attract the assistance of the little folk such as dwarves (duwende) or faeries (diwata) in Filipino shamanism.

Lead Tree - Contraindications And Safety

While the use of lead tree pods, seeds, and leaves as a vegetable is relatively safe in moderate doses, very large doses can often result in unwanted side-effects, most commonly sterility (in women) and alopecia (in both sexes), due to the presence of mimosine, and a toxic amino-acid leucenol. The absorption of these toxic compounds however has only been remarkable in instances where the lead tree's constituent parts were cooked in clay pots. It is suggested that cast-iron materials be employed when preparing lead tree parts to help prevent mimosine absorption, especially when employing it as a foodstuff. As with all herbal remedies, the consumption of root and bark decoctions should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women, while the consumption of the pods as a vegetable should be minimized or otherwise discontinued during pregnancy.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leucaena_leucocephala

[2] https://www.stuartxchange.com/Ipil-ipil.html

[3] https://herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.com/2012/03/lead-tree-ipil-ipilhealth-benefits-and.html

[4] https://www.stuartxchange.com/Ipil-ipil.html

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.
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