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Balanites aegyptiaca - (L.) Delile

Common Name Desert Date. Desert date, Soapberry tree
Family Zygophyllaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards The plant contains saponins[303 ]. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish[K ].
Habitats Found in a variety of habitats, growing best in low-lying, level alluvial sites with deep sandy loam and uninterrupted access to water such as valley floors, riverbanks or the foot of rocky slopes[303 ].
Range Africa - most of the drier areas except the far south, extending to Arabia.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Wet Soil Full sun
Balanites aegyptiaca Desert Date. Desert date, Soapberry tree

Balanites aegyptiaca Desert Date. Desert date, Soapberry tree


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Balanites aegyptiaca is an evergreen Tree growing to 6 m (19ft) by 4 m (13ft) at a slow rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Agialida aegyptiaca Kuntze Balanites ferox G.Don Balanites racemosa Chiov. Balanites roxburghii Planch. Ximenia aegyptiaca L.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Fruit  Leaves  Oil  Seed  Shoots  Stem
Edible Uses: Drink  Oil

The fleshy pulp of both unripe and ripe fruit is edible and can be eaten dried or fresh[46 , 303 ]. It has a slightly astringent taste and can be purgative in larger quantities[774 ]. The fruit is processed into a drink and sweetmeats in Ghana, an alcoholic liquor in Nigeria, a soup ingredient in Sudan[303 ]. The ellipsoid fruit is up to 4cm long[303 ]. Brown or pale brown when fully ripe, with a brittle coat enclosing a brown or brown-green sticky pulp and a hard stone seed[303 ]. Young leaves and tender shoots are used as a vegetable[46 , 303 ]. They are prepared by boiling and pounding, and are then fried or mixed with fat[303 ]. The flowers are a supplementary food in West Africa and a flavouring in Nigeria[303 ]. They are sucked in order to obtain their nectar[303 ]. A greenish-yellow to orange-red resin is produced from the stems. It is sucked and chewed when fresh[303 ]. The kernels produce an edible oil used for cooking[303 ]. The oil remains stable when heated and has a high smoking point, and therefore its free fatty acid content is low[303 ]. Its scent and taste are acceptable[303 ]. The seed contains up to 50% oil[774 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Antiasthmatic  Antidiarrhoeal  Antiperiodic  Dysentery  Emetic  Epilepsy  Febrifuge  Malaria  
Purgative  Stomachic  Vermifuge

It is traditionally used in treatment of various ailments including jaundice, intestinal worm infection, wounds, malaria, syphilis, epilepsy, dysentery, constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoid, stomach aches, asthma, and fever. It contains protein, lipid, carbohydrate, alkaloid, saponin, flavonoid, and organic acid. The roots are purgative and vermifuge[46 ]. A decoction of the root is used to treat malaria[303 ]. The roots are boiled in a soup to be used in the treatment of oedema and stomach pains[303 ]. They are also used as an emetic[303 ]. The bark is purgative and vermifuge[46 ]. An infusion of the bark is used to treat heartburn[303 ]. The bark is used to deworm cattle in Rajasthan[303 ]. Wood gum, mixed with maize meal porridge, is used to treat chest pains[303 ]. The plant is a potential source of steroidal sapogenins (diosgenin) for the hemisynthesis of corticosteroids[317 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Adhesive  Beads  Biomass  Charcoal  Fencing  Fibre  Fodder  Fuel  Hedge  Oil  Resin  Shelterbelt  Soap making  Wood

Agroforestry Uses: The usually evergreen behaviour potentially makes this plant an attractive element to introduce into shelterbelts, although because of its slow growth, it is not suitable as a principal species[303 ]. Its thorny habit makes this tree a useful plant for fencing and hedging[303 , 317 ]. Other Uses An oil obtained from the seed has been recommended for the manufacture of soap[46 ]. A strong fibre is obtained from the bark[46 , 303 ]. A greenish-yellow to orange-red resin is produced from the stems. It is used as a glue for sticking feathers onto arrow shafts and spearheads and in the repair of handle cracks and arrows[303 ]. The fruit and bark contain saponins[303 ]. An emulsion made from them is lethal to the freshwater snails that are the host of miracidia and cercaria stages of bilharzia and to a water flea that acts as a host to the guinea worm[303 ]. The seeds are used for rosary beads and necklaces[303 ]. The pale yellow or yellowish-brown wood is fine-grained, compact, hard, durable and easily worked[46 , 303 ]. The heartwood and sapwood are not clearly differentiated[303 ]. It shows no serious seasoning defects and no tendency towards surface checking or splitting[303 ]. The wood saws cleanly and easily, planes without difficulty to a smooth finish and is easy to chisel. It glues firmly and takes a clear varnish[303 ]. The timber has traditionally been a minor product, it is made into yokes, wooden spoons, pestles, mortars, handles, stools and combs[303 ]. The usually small log size and the prevalence of stem fluting makes sawmill processing difficult[303 ]. The wood is good firewood; it produces considerable heat and very little smoke, making it particularly suitable for indoor use[303 ]. It produces high-quality charcoal, and it has been suggested that the nutshell is suitable for industrial activated charcoal[303 ]. The calorific value is estimated at 4600 kcal/kg[303 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Coppice  Food Forest  Hedge

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Fodder: Bank  Industrial Crop: Biomass  Management: Coppice  Management: Standard  Other Systems: Parkland  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Protein-oil

A plant of the arid and sub-arid tropics and subtropics, where it is found at elevations up to 2,300 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 20 - 35c, but can tolerate 15 - 41c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 300 - 800mm, but tolerates 200 - 1,700mm[418 ]. Dislikes humid climates[335 ]. Grows best in deep sands, sandy clay loams, sandy loams or clays[303 ]. Plants are intolerant of shade after they pass the seedling stage[303 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 7 - 8, tolerating 6.5 - 8.5[418 ]. The plant can become a weed[418 ]. A slow-growing tree, reaching a height of 1 - 3 metres after 3 years; 2 - 5 metres after 8 years[418 ]. Fruiting commences when plants are about 5 - 8 years old, the yield increasing until they are around 25 years old[303 ]. The fruit apparently takes at least 1 year to mature and ripen[303 ]. Desert date coppices and pollards well, and can regenerate after lopping and heavy browsing. The fruit is in high demand as a food, which gives it high economic value; therefore, little fruit and thus few seeds are left for natural regeneration of the species[303 ]. Fruiting and foliage production usually occur at the height of the dry season, though this can vary[303 ]. The tree withstands grass fires[418 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Fodder: Bank  Fodder banks are plantings of high-quality fodder species. Their goal is to maintain healthy productive animals. They can be utilized all year, but are designed to bridge the forage scarcity of annual dry seasons. Fodder bank plants are usually trees or shrubs, and often legumes. The relatively deep roots of these woody perennials allow them to reach soil nutrients and moisture not available to grasses and herbaceous plants.
  • Industrial Crop: Biomass  Three broad categories: bamboos, resprouting woody plants, and giant grasses. uses include: protein, materials (paper, building materials, fibers, biochar etc.), chemicals (biobased chemicals), energy - biofuels
  • Management: Coppice  Cut to the ground repeatedly - resprouting vigorously. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Other Systems: Parkland  Africa - Trees scattered throughout cropland. An Irregular intercropping system.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.
  • Staple Crop: Protein-oil  (16+ percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Annuals include soybeans, peanuts, sunflower seeds. Perennials include seeds, beans, nuts, and fruits such as almond, Brazil nut, pistachio, walnut, hazel, and safou.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seeds may be collected from fruit that is being processed for other purposes, from dung, and directly from the trees. Soaking in water for some hours and then stirring vigorously separates the stones from the pulp. Seed germination can be improved by immersing the seeds in boiling water for 7 - 10 minutes then cooling then slowly. The effect that passage through an animal’s intestinal tract has on germination is unclear. However, seeds are said to germinate readily, although with some difference associated with date of collection[303 ]. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; viability can be maintained for 2 years in air-dry storage at cool temperatures or for several years in hermetic storage at 3°c with 6 - 10% mc[303 ]. Root suckers. Produced abundantly[303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Ader, Adogor, Aduwa, Arraronyit, Baddan, Baddanno, Bangbaalu, Bedena, Bito, Bizo, Cheure, Domoko, Dyemo, Ecomai, Egyptian myrobalan, Ekorete, Eroronyit, Ganyamda, Gari, Ghossa, Goot, Hangala, Hangalta, Hankalta, Hawi, Heglig, Heglieg, Hidjihi, Hidjilit, Hingan, Hinganabet, Hingot, Hingota, Hingua, Ingudi, Kasalusalu, Kielege, Kielega, Kiti, Korak, Kudekuda, Kulan, Kullen, Kuri, Lalob, Laloub, Logwat, Logwat, Lubwoti, Lugba, Lungoswa, Maghe, Mduguya, Mfwankomo, Mjirya, Mjunju, Mklete, Mkonga, Mkumudwe, Mng'onga, Mnyra, Model, Modha, Mohoromo, Msalu, Mulului, Muongo, Murtoki, Musongole, Muvambangoma, Mwambangoma, Nanjunda, Njienjia, Nulu, Nyahoko, Nyunguyu, Odhto, Ol-ngoswa, Olg'oswa, Olngoswa, Othoo, Pulupulu, Quud, Regorea, Sadhto, Segene, Seguene, Shifaraoul, Simple thorned torchwood, Sump, Taichot, Tborag, Teboraq, Teboragh, Thoo, Thorn tree, Thou, Tira, Too, Torchwood, Tunywo, Umgobandlovu, UmHulu, Zachun-oil tree, Zegene

Africa, Algeria, Angola, Arabia, Asia, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central Africa, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Africa, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinée, Guinea-Bissau, India, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Netherlands Antilles, Niger, Nigeria, North Africa, Pakistan, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Sahara, Sahel, Saudi Arabia, SE Asia, Senegal, Somalia, Southern Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, West Africa, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

The plant can become a weed

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(L.) Delile

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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