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Canarium schweinfurtii - Engl.

Common Name African elemi
Family Burseraceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Riverine forest and forest patches or remaining as isolated trees, probably because of the destruction of other forest species[308]. Rain forest, gallery forest and transitional forest[303].
Range Africa - Senegal to west Cameroon and extending to Ethiopia, Tanzania and Angola.
Edibility Rating    (3 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Canarium schweinfurtii African elemi

Canarium schweinfurtii African elemi
Minette Lontsie


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Canarium schweinfurtii is an evergreen Tree growing to 30 m (98ft) by 30 m (98ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10. The flowers are pollinated by Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Canarium chevalieri Guill. Canarium khiala A.Chev. Canarium occidentale A.Chev. Common Name: African Elemi


Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Oil  Seed
Edible Uses: Oil

The slightly greenish outer pulp of the fruit is oily and edible[303 ]. It can be eaten raw or softened in warm water to improve palatability[303 , 398 ]. It tastes similar to olives and is very popular as a snack among herders and children[398 ]. Often used as a condiment[335 ]. The fruit is about 35mm long[335 ]. The pulp oil is about 71 % palmitic acid and 18 % oleic acid[303 ]. The seed-kernel is oily and edible. It is cooked, and is sometimes prepared into a vegetable-butter and eaten as a substitute for shea-butter[303 ]. The seeds contain several fatty acids including oleic (36 %), linoleic (28 %), palmitic (26 %), stearic (7 %)[303 ]. Carbon Farming - Staple Crop: oil.


Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

In the past, the resin was exported to Europe for pharmaceutical use. It was used as a substitute for gum-mastic in making wound dressings in World War II[303 ]. The resin is used against roundworm infections and other intestinal parasites[303 ]. It is an emollient, stimulant, diuretic and has action on skin-affections and eczema[303 ]. The bark is emetic and purgative[303 ]. A decoction is used as a treatment against hypertension, dysentery, gonorrhoea, coughs, chest pains, pulmonary affections, stomach complaints, food poisoning etc[303 , 398 ]. The pounded bark is used against leprosy and ulcers[303 ]. Root is used against adenites whereas root scrapings are made into a poultice[303 ]. The leaves are boiled with other herbs and the decoction used to treat coughs[398 ]. The seeds are roasted and pounded and the resulting powder mixed with skin oil or jelly to treat wounds[398 ].


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Edible Shrubs provides detailed information, attractively presented, on over 70 shrub species. They have been selected to provide a mix of different plant sizes and growing conditions. Most provide delicious and nutritious fruit, but many also have edible leaves, seeds, flowers, stems or roots, or they yield edible or useful oil.

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Other Uses


The bark exudes a heavy, sticky oleoresin that smells like turpentine and solidifies to a whitish resin. It is obtained by slashing the bark and allowing the colourless expiation to trickle to the ground where it solidifies into a sulphur-yellow opaque resin[303 ]. The resin is used as primitive illuminant and as incense and releases a lavender-like smell[303 ]. The resin burns readily and is used as a bush candle[303 ]. The flame is very smoky and soot is collected as carbon-black from the outside of pots held over it for use in tattooing and to make ink in Liberia[303 ]. The resin is also used to repair broken pottery, for caulking boats and as a gum for fastening arrowheads to shafts[303 ]. The resin contains 8-20 % of an essential oil, the main constituent of which is limonene. It is rich in phellandrenes, and contains also resins and a bitter principle[303 ]. The resin is used as a fumigant against mosquitoes[303 ]. The elemi is often left standing on cleared land to provide shade and has potential as a wind break. It has been planted for reforestation in Uganda[303 ]. The endocarp is used by children as spinning tops[308 ]. The seeds are strung into necklaces or attached to traditional instruments[303 ]. The bark of young trees is split off in Gabon to make boxes[303 ]. The wood is said to secrete oil and is used for canoe making[308 ]. The heartwood is pinkish when fleshly cut but darkens to light brown mahogany colour; it is not slearly demarcated from the 5 - 15cm wide band of sapwood that is white with pinkish reflections. The texture is slightly coarse; the grain interlocked, thus causing a fine striped figure on quarter-sawn boards. The wood is light in weight; very soft; not very durable, being suseptible to fungi, dry wood borers and termites. It seasons slowly but fairly well, though there is a risk of distortion and checking; once dry it is poorly stable in service. works easily, stains and polishes well. Used as a substitute for true mahogany. The timber is used as core veneer, for decorative panelling, parquetry, furniture, flooring and for general utility purposes. Locally, the wood is used for mortars, planks, and canoes[303 , 848 ]. The wood is a good fuel, igniting readily and burning with a lot of heat[303 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming


Cultivation details

Management: Standard  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Oil

A tree of the hot tropical rainforests, growing at elevations from sea level to 1,000 metres[303, 335]. It grows best in areas where the mean annual rainfall is in the range 900 - 1,400mm[303]. Climate: tropical. Humidity: humid. Carbon Farming - Cultivation: regional crop only. Management: standard.

Carbon Farming

  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • 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: Oil  (0-15 percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Some of these are consumed whole while others are exclusively pressed for oil. Annuals include canola, poppyseed, maize, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut. Perennials include high-oil fruits, seeds, and nuts, such as olive, coconut, avocado, oil palm, shea, pecan, and macadamia. Some perennial oil crops are consumed whole as fruits and nuts, while others are exclusively pressed for oil (and some are used fresh and for oil).


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The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees, and Woodland Gardening. Our new book to be released soon is Edible Shrubs.

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Seed - pre-soak the seed by immersing it in hot water and then allowing it to cool in the water for 24 hours prior to sowing. The seed can be sown in nursery beds or in situ[303 ]. The ripe fruits should be collected when they fall to the ground and allowed to decompose, the stones should then be separated from the outer fruit coats. Seeds can be stored for a long time[303 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

African Elemi, canarium, mupafu, ube osa, mpafu, kenari or mbani

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Angola; Cameroon; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Congo; Ghana; Guinea; Côte d'Ivoire; Nigeria; Guinea-Bissau; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Central African Republic; South Sudan

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.

None Known

Conservation Status

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

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Canarium albumChinese White OliveTree0.0 -  LMHSNM11 
Canarium indicumCanarium Nut, Ngali, Galip nut, kenari nutTree35.0 10-12 FMHSNM423
Canarium luzonicumManila ElemiTree30.0 10-12  LMHNM434
Canarium ovatumPili NutTree20.0 10-12 MLMHNM433
Canarium vulgareJava Almond, Kenari NutTree45.0 10-12 FLMHNM413

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.


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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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