Medicinal trees - Trees with healing properties


Woman preparing home-made medicine for her sick daughter. Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund
Woman preparing home-made medicine for her sick daughter. Photo: Richard Hanson/Tearfund

Traditional medicines often include one or more tree parts or products. These may be the fruit, leaves, flowers, bark, roots, seeds or oil. Here we share some information about a few medicinal trees in the humid and arid tropics. We strongly recommend that you consult a local herbalist first about the correct quantities and use. In the case of serious symptoms, you should consult a doctor.

KAMALA – Mallotus philippensis

Found in humid tropical forests in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, southern China, India and Australia. 

  • All parts of the tree can be used as external applications for parasitic infections of the skin.
  • The fruit is used to treat intestinal worms.


Found in the tropical forests of South America.

  • The extracted resin from the bark, known as balsam, is an antiseptic and is used to treat skin complaints, bedsores and haemorrhoids. It should not be used on open wounds.
  • The balsam is also used in cough syrups to help loosen and bring up mucus from the lungs.

JATROPHA – Jatropha curcas

Found in all parts of the arid tropics.

  • In Myanmar, the seeds are used as a laxative. Oil from the seeds can have a laxative effect or induce vomiting. Extreme care must be taken as the purging effect is caused by poisons.
  • The leaves are anti-parasitic and water in which leaves have been boiled can be used to promote healing of wounds.

ACACIA – Acacia nilotica, Acacia arabica

Found in Africa and Asia.

  • Acacia gum is edible and can be used for the relief of some symptoms of throat and chest complaints.

Honey also has medicinal properties. Dabbing honey on a wound or burn promotes healing. Some honeys are anti-bacterial, and this explains why honey can be effective in soothing sore throats. Evidence for the effectiveness of honey remedies has not been established.

The material in this article has been drawn from Medicine trees of the tropics by Robin Levingston and Rogelio Zamora, published by the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.