The Colocynth (Citrullus colocynthis) is a herbaceous plant with long vine-like stems that spread out over the soil surface, known by anyone who has been even once to the Sahara for its characteristic fruits: striking spherical fruit resembling gourds or small melons, with green or yellow stripes depending on their stage of maturity.

Native to the Mediterranean and the north-east African Sahara, it colonises sandy loam and sub-desert soils, so preferring waddi beds and flood valleys, but it is found everywhere right across the Sahara, perfectly adapted to the desert climate.


It is a grazing plant much appreciated by mules and gazelles that each the melon-like fruits, before they dry up, and which provide most of the water they need to survive. But the other animals avoid it due to its strong bitter taste (for this reason the intestines of gazelles are never eaten).

The plant is highly poisonous containing a powerful alcaloid (responsible for the bitter taste of the fruit and its seeds) that gives it its medicinal properties but makes it equally dangerous; it is used as a treatment for snake bites, in small doses as a purgative, and it larger amounts by women to cause abortions. But its most surprising use is by some nomads, in particular the TUBU: the seeds are harvested in large quantities especially in time of famine, boiled numerous times to eliminate the toxicity and the strong bitter taste, dried and then ground, they make a nourishing flour eaten in the form of cakes and crackers.

From "SAHARA" - Rocco Ravà - Ed. CLUP

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