Garcinia, a large group of evergreen trees and shrubs native to Asia, southern Africa and Polynesia, belongs to the Guttiferae family. There are about 400 species of Garcinia growing in the tropics, of which about 24 species are found in the Indian peninsula.

In India, Garcinia cambogia and Garcinia indica are the most abundant species and are known locally as kokam and amsool. The delicious mangosteen fruit comes from Garcinia mangostana.

Medicinal use

In the ancient Ayurvedic texts Garcinia was referred to as Vrikshamla. Ayurvedic preparations made from Garcinia are used in the treatment of certain ailments:

Traditional use

In the Malabar and Konkan coast of the Indian peninsula the fruit rind of Garcinia cambogia and Garcinia indica is used as a substitute for tamarind to impart flavour. Popularly known as Malabar tamarind, it is extensively used for culinary purposes, particularly in the preparation of fish curry.

Bioactive principle

The major organic acid component that imparts the savoury taste to these fruits is hydroxycitric acid (HCA). This is a structural analogue of citric acid commonly found in citrus fruits such as oranges.

Mode of action

Studies with rats indicate that HCA is effective in lowering lipid levels. HCA, in fact, prevents the conversion of sugar to fat by inhibiting one of the enzymes involved in fat formation. This leads to an increase in the glycogen level in the liver which sends a satiety signal to the brain resulting in appetite reduction. HCA consumption also leads to an increase in fat mobilization and fat burning (thermogenesis).

Safety and toxicity

Even though Garcinia has long been used in food preparation, there have been no known manifestations of any toxic symptoms associated with such use. Moreover, the published toxicological data indicate that HCA is 200 times safer than citric acid. (Contributed by: Mr K. Balasubramanyam, Research Associate, Natural Product Division, VMSRF, PB 406, K.R. Road, Bangalore-4, India; e-mail:

Return to top of page


Gum brea is an exudate from the bark of the woody leguminous species Cercidium australe, which grows in the arid and semi-arid regions of northwestern and central Argentina. The gum has various industrial and pharmaceutical applications, including paints and adhesives. In its powder form it is used in the food industry as an emulsifier, thickening material and stabilizing agent. However, its use as a food additive is not yet permitted in Argentina because it is not officially registered in the National Food Code.

The chemical structure of gum brea is comparable to that of gum arabic; in fact, they have four similar carbohydrate groups, and differ only in one (xylose in gum brea instead of galactose in gum arabic). Both gums have a pH of 5.5 and similar physical properties, except that gum brea is water soluble.

The plant source of gum brea, Cercidium australe, is a small tree, normally 3 to 4 m high (reaching 8 m), with a diameter of 10 to 15 cm (rarely more than 25 cm). The wood of the tree does not have any major commercial use (except as fuelwood and charcoal), but the species is used as an ornamental for its abundant yellow flowers at the end of winter and in spring.

Gum production is more abundant in the dry and hot months (September to December and March to May). Only adult trees have a good gum yield: under optimal conditions, an average of 0.5 to 2.5 kg per tree can be obtained every 12 to 15 days.

Sale prices of the raw gum range from US$1.5 to $2 per kg in villages, to US$4 to $6 per kg in Buenos Aires. Prices are also influenced by the quality of the gum (e.g. humidity or presence of impurity). The study estimated that the gross relative profit of commercial intermediaries is equivalent to 80 percent of the primary cost. (Extracted and edited from: M. Garriga and H. Haas. Informaciones sobre la recolección, elaboración y comercialización de la goma de brea, árbol de las regiones semiáridas y áridas de la Argentina. Quebracho, September 1997.)

Return to top of page


Beekeeping in rural development

In 1998, the organization Bees for Development, in collaboration with Cardiff University of Wales, offered two short training courses, especially for those about to begin project work overseas:

- Honeybee Pathology
10-14 August 1998, Cardiff University

This five-day course was run in conjunction with the School of Pure and Applied Biology at Cardiff University. The week of study covered many aspects of honeybee pathology including: Varroa, foul brood, honeybee viruses and other honeybee diseases.

- Beekeeping In Rural Development
16 August - 15 September 1998, Cardiff University and Njiro Wildlife Research Centre, United Republic of Tanzania

This four-week course provided two weeks in the United Kingdom, followed by two weeks of practical work at the Njiro Wildlife Research Centre in Tanzania. The course covered many aspects of honeybee pathology including: Varroa, foul brood, honeybee viruses and other honeybee diseases.

For more information, please contact
Ms Glynis Hudson, Honeybee Pathology Course,
Professional Development Centre,
51 Park Place, Cardiff University of Wales,
Cardiff CF1 3AT, UK.
Fax: (+44 1222) 874560;
e-mail:; or
Bees for Development, Troy, Monmouth NP5 4AB, UK.
Fax: (+44 16007) 16167;

Women beekeepers in Calakmul, Mexico

The Biosphere Reserve of Calakmul is situated in the south of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, bordering on Belize and Guatemala. About 25 000 people live within the nucleus and buffer zone of the reserve. The majority of these people are immigrants from other parts of Mexico, coming in search of land, or to escape political and natural troubles. The typical means of production is slash-and-burn agriculture and, given the ever-growing population, the forest resources are diminishing and soils are becoming less productive. Many communities are without water, electricity or paved roads; the region is one of the poorest in Mexico.

Why cannot women keep bees? Although Pronatura Peninsula, a conservation NGO, began supporting beekeepers seven years ago, only men participated in beekeeping activities. Much of the women's work centred around the home, looking after children, washing, preparing meals and tending home gardens and small livestock. This work rarely earns a cash income and is often not highly valued.Apiculture offers a challenge to women: they see it as something interesting to learn and feel a sense of achievement and self-respect, as well as earning respect from other members of the community. The sale of honey, wax and other secondary products earns them a cash income over which they have autonomy.

Three groups of women participated in the beekeeping programme. The groups started with a revolving fund with which they bought all the equipment necessary to start keeping bees (e.g. veils, gloves and hives with bees). The women were given training and support to manage the bees and to organize themselves into a strong group with a committee.

Of the three groups, two have succeeded in paying back their initial loan and the third is still in its first year of operation. After completing the training the first two groups divided, some working alone, others in pairs. A local promoter has been trained to provide support to new and established groups and provide continuity to the programme.

Although disappointments sometimes have to be suffered (e.g. loss of colonies caused by ants, diseases and swarming; problems with the husbands and the housework), the programme is succeeding in increasing the self-esteem of the women. After the repayment to the fund, income does increase; nutrition, particularly of children, has at least marginally improved; and awareness of the importance of environmental protection has been heightened. (Source: K. Pasteur and R.D. Aguiree. 1998. Women beekeepers in Calakmul, Mexico. Beekeeping & Development, No. 46, p. 6-7.)

Return to top of page


Forest management of the North American pine mushroom (Tricholoma magnivelare) in the southern Cascade Range

Analysis of the import trade since 1976 shows that forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States provide Japan with the largest share of pine mushrooms (Tricholoma spp.) outside East Asia. A bioeconomic model mushroom was developed to determine whether North American pine mushrooms (Tricholoma magnivelare) merit more intensive management in the southern Cascade Range, a major centre of commercial harvesting.

The model links annual pine mushroom crops to joint production of other timber and non-timber forest products at the Diamond Lake pine mushroom management area in Umpqua National Forest, Oregon. Experimental silvicultural regimes stress the growth of major tree species hosting pine mushrooms plus the major timber species, western white pine (Pinus monticola Dougl. ex D. Don), for creating mixed species, uneven-aged forests with old-growth retention trees.

The economic feasibility of silvicultural scenarios was evaluated using statistical distributions of financial returns from forest products over a 25-year planning period. Early partial timber harvests offset the costs of management aimed at promoting larger crops of pine mushrooms. Stands with numerous, large Shasta red firs (Abies magnifica A. Murr. var. shastensis Lemmon) are most likely to produce the highest incomes initially from pine mushroom management. Conversion of stands with few tall, overstory trees or of stands dominated by Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis Dougl. ex Forbes) incurs the greatest costs for the creation of pine mushroom colonies. Bough pruning to reduce stand leaf area is designed to improve the understory environment for pine mushrooms; however, the sales of commercial conifer boughs may not offset the pruning costs. Cones of pine species contribute more to stand income than pine mushrooms in stands where there are few true fir or mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana [Bong.] Carr) overstory trees.

Future research and management requirements include a better understanding of links between weather patterns and mushroom production, more data on water and energy transfers through tree canopies and through ash and pumic soils, and a labour force trained to monitor and tend mushroom colonies. (Source: J.F. Weigand, ntfp-biocultural-digest, Vol. 2, No. 38.)

Himalayan morel mushroom (Morchella conica)

Despite being a relatively small country, Nepal is recognized for its very rich biodiversity. The number of ecosystems per unit area is probably greater than in any other country in the world. Of the 7 000 plant species reported, about 700 have medicinal properties. One important item in this category is the Himalayan morel mushroom, locally known as guchichyau, which is found at altitudes of 2 000 to 3 500 m. Guchichyau is one of the high-value NTFPs and is mostly found in the Karnali River area of Mid-western Development Region of Nepal. People in remote districts in the area have traditionally collected this mushroom for domestic use as a vegetable substitute and as a delicious foodstuff. Mushrooms are harvested from national forests, national parks and community-managed forests. In more recent times, however, people have become involved in marketing guchichyau locally and internationally and it is now mostly sold to traders for export. Exports of the mushroom were prompted by the influx of French and Japanese tourists who valued it as a luxury food item. The mushroom is used in the preparation of tasty dishes in expensive international hotels and restaurants, mainly in Japan and Europe.

The stipe and pileus are the parts collected, with harvesting lasting from early April until June. All harvesting is manual and carried out carefully to avoid breakage. Quality will vary according to availability in natural habitats. Guchichyau grows well in fireburn and dense coniferous forests. While no special attention has yet been given to managing these resources, Nepal's unique community-forest model provides ample opportunities to include guchichyau management considerations in future community-forest plans. Under this model, communities can directly receive forest product royalties.

Current harvesting practices do not harm the availability and abundance of the mushroom in its natural habitat. The harvestable cap/fruiting body disperses its spores for regeneration before collection. The cap develops and matures within a few hours to a few days.

Regarding current marketing trends, traders estimate that more than 5 tonnes (dry) could easily be collected annually from this area. Growing demand on international markets means that many traders, even some from Kathmandu, go to different parts of the Karnali area to buy the product for export. As may be expected, market prices vary at different market centres.

Harvesting also provides socio-economic benefits to rural people in mountainous areas. Collection of guchichyau and other NTFPs can provide valuable cash income to the harvesters (often women and children). Local collectors sometimes receive an advance from traders; the cash from sales is then used to buy household necessities such as clothes and food. (Contributed by: Rana B. Rawal.)

For more information, please contact
Mr R.B. Rawal, Team Leader/FMEE,
Ban Udyam-BSP New Era, Environment and Forestry Enterprise Activity (EFEA),
PO Box 722, Tulshipur, Dang, Nepal.
Fax: (+977 082) 20597;

CD-ROM monograph on the genus Boletus

The first multimedia CD-ROM on mycology is now available. Although "Boletus" is a strictly scientific monograph covering all the European species of the genus Boletus, its presentation and illustrations should also appeal to the general public. The CD-ROM, which has been edited by G. Acquaviva, L. Lanconelli and M. Rava and is only available in Italian, includes: more than 350 pictures of mushrooms, trees and spore microscopy; indexing of individual species of Boletus, with macro- and microscopic descriptions; systematics, morphology and anatomy of the genus; a dichotomous key for species determination; hypertextual glossary; tree-fungus and fungus-tree symbiosis, including illustrations and descriptions of symbiotic trees; Boletus and the kitchen - unpublished and original recipes; and a bibliography.

The price of the CD-ROM is US$39 plus postage.

For more information, please contact
Mr Giovanni Acquaviva.
Fax: (+39) 0546 699180;
e-mail:;; or

Collection and marketing of matsutake mushrooms in Yunnan Province, China

Matsutakes (also known as songrong in China) have been a prized edible mushroom in Japan since ancient times. The past few decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in both price and demand owing to the global increase in wealth in Japan. In the early 1980s, Japan started searching for alternative suppliers of matsutakes following insect infestations to local pine forests and a decline in the yield of native crops.

As a result, there is now an active industry in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces for the collection and marketing of matsutake mushrooms (Tricholoma matsutake) for export to Japan. Large-scale imports from China started around 1986 and since then there has been a veritable explosion in the trade for matsutakes, with refrigerated trucks bringing hundreds of tonnes of mushrooms from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces to Japan each year.

The opportunity to harvest and sell songrong has increased local incomes significantly in these regions. Matsutakes, which are mychorrizal with pine and oak trees, are collected by Tibetan villagers between July and September. In Zhongdian county, an estimated 80 percent of the population is involved in this business in one way or another. Harvesters can be paid 330 to 400 yuan per kg for top-grade matsutakes, reaching 1 000 yuan per kg for a few days of the season. This represents an enormous amount if one considers the average per caput income of 727 yuan per year in Zhongdian.

However, the market for matsutakes is complicated. As they are valued for their fragrant odour when fresh, they are shipped from remote mountainous areas to Japanese markets in as few as 40 hours. During that time, the intermediary chain means that the mushrooms may change hands six or seven times before reaching Japanese buyers. Furthermore, prices can fluctuate widely in response to rapid shifts in supply and demand at both regional and global levels. The much prized fresh fragrance of the mushroom means that matsutakes lose money with time and therefore must be traded rapidly. This risky short-term nature of the matsutake market is often compared to the stock market.

Concerns have also been raised about the sustainability of matsutake extraction and harvesting. As the immature button-like mushrooms tend to be valued more than the mature, flowered ones, many matsutakes on the market are immature and are sometimes extracted by digging small holes. Large-scale harvesting may be contributing to a general decline in matsutake yields. These concerns are compounded by the fact that matsutakes also play an important role in ecosystems and in providing trees with nutrition. Moreover, despite 40 years of research, cultivation attempts in Japan have not yet been successful.

Finally, there are social problems associated with the matsutake market. The lucrative market for matsutakes has caused many conflicts over access to forests where they are collected, usually between villages where boundaries have never been very well defined. In such circumstances, ownership of resources can be a thorny issue, especially when there is economic benefit. Disputes and retaliation over the right to collect matsutakes are now fairly frequent. (Source: Forestry and Society Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 2, May 1997.)

For more information, please contact Ms Emily Yeh.

Return to top of page


Tea tree oil and lemon myrtle oil - production and improvement

Farmers in many parts of Australia plant the tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia, for the valuable oil it yields. Dwindling natural stands have meant a dramatic increase in planted surface areas. Annual plantation production totals about 250 tonnes annually and about 80 percent of the oil is exported, mainly to the United States. Oils from the tea tree are used in products ranging from shampoos and conditioner to soap and cream, foot balms, insect repellents and germicides.

Lemon myrtle, Backhousia citriodora, is another Australian oil crop with interesting commercial potential. Lemon myrtle occurs naturally as a large shrub to medium-sized tree and is well known as an ornamental noted for its seasonally abundant flowers and fragrant lemon-scented leaves. Thanks to increasing demand for products based on native Australian plants, oils from these trees now have various applications as food, flavourings and fragrances in teas, perfumes and aromatherapy, and for certain medicinal and therapeutic purposes.

The yield and quality of oil from these trees are of primary importance for their commercial success and are affected by many factors. Quality may be affected by stage of growth (seedling versus mature tree), season and storage conditions, etc. Yield, however, is more likely to be influenced by environmental factors in addition to genetic makeup. Thus, factors such as irrigation, soil types and temperatures will probably affect yield more than quality.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the Queensland Forest Research Institute have begun intensive breeding and improvement programmes for both species. The aim is to improve the genetic stock of material and to boost production from current levels.

The aim of the tea tree breeding programme is to provide seed of progressively improving genetic quality and, by thinning out poorer lines, to increase yields by 60 percent. After initial assessment, the large differences found in a range of attributes - leaf oil composition, growth rate, leaf production, oil concentration and coppicing ability - in wild populations of tea tree suggested that considerable gains could be made from selecting for these characteristics.

Results from progeny trials and seed orchards would appear to confirm this. A seed production area in a natural stand of tea tree has also been established as part of the programme. The resulting improved seed will be progeny-tested for oil yield and quality before release to growers. Clonal banks, based on cloned cutting from the best 30 trees of a progeny trial, have been created.

The lemon myrtle programme also aims at providing growers with good-quality planting stock. Activities involve assembling a collection of lemon myrtle germplasm collected from across the species range; gathering baseline data on the variation in commercial traits in the species; developing a selection and propagation strategy; and releasing improved genotypes for industrial use. Seedlings and clones are being field-tested and the best performers selected for propagation trials and to establish clones.

There would appear to be plenty of scope for selection for high oil concentration combined with high leaf production. (Based on articles by: Ian Southwell, Principal Research Scientist, Essential Oils, Wollongbar Agricultural Institute; Robin Taylor, John Doran, CSIRO; A.P.N. House, Queensland Forest Research Institute.)

For more information, please contact
Dr John Doran, CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products,
PO Box E4008, Kingston, ACT 2604, Australia.
Fax: (+61 2) 6281 8312;

Return to top of page


Local to global: the international market for shea butter

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is carrying out a project to assist women shea butter producers in Burkina Faso to enable them to have control over production and to facilitate access to international markets. This project falls within the context of UNIFEM's mandate to increase women's economic empowerment through the globalization of commodities produced by women.A team from Columbia University was commissioned to prepare a study on the demand for and marketability of shea butter in North America, Europe and Japan. For this purpose, comprehensive trade data were collated and analysed. Information covered essential aspects of international trade for shea butter such as tariffs and import controls, quotas and commodity specifications. Subsequent strategies and recommendations for increasing the future marketing of shea butter could then be made.

Shea butter, or karité, is a vegetable fat extracted from the nut of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa), which is indigenous to Sahelian Africa. There are two methods of processing the butter: mechanical and traditional. Produced mainly by women, shea butter is used in the manufacture of personal, cosmetic and confectionery commodities.

To collect and analyse trade information, the team contacted 138 companies and received feedback from 59 of them. Relevant government sources were consulted for information on tariff and trade requirements. The team also consulted various trade organizations, chambers of commerce, etc., to glean comprehensive information on worldwide shea butter usage. Regional data were subdivided by type of commodity, i.e. two categories of cosmetics, and by confectionery product.

It emerged that Europe represents the largest market for shea butter for both the cosmetic and the confectionery industries. (The confectionery industry uses shea butter primarily for chocolate products.) In North America, there is considerable demand for shea butter for natural, ethnic and established cosmetic product markets. These markets have to contend with low consumer knowledge of the product. In Japan, some companies were identified as using shea butter in chocolate manufacturing. At present, the cosmetic industry in this region does not appear to utilize shea butter products. Finally, European and American refining companies that purchase shea butter directly from West Africa represent a significant market.

There are no tariffs, quotas or trade restrictions on shea butter imports into Europe or North America, but tariffs may apply in Japan. The team found that organizations of the International Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT) offer viable mechanisms for producers to bypass intermediary stages in the trade process, enhancing their chances of receiving a fair return. These bodies are equally helpful in marketing and liaison work with government import/export agencies. The team also reviewed a similar project implemented by a voluntary organization, COVOL Uganda, which assists women producers in northern Uganda.

The report makes several specific recommendations aimed at helping women producers to increase their profits by accessing international markets directly. They recommended that producers should:

For more information, please contact
UNIFEM, 304 East 45th Street, 6th Floor,
New York, NY 10017, USA.
Fax: (+1 212) 906 6705;


Uncaria tomentosa (Wild) DC. is a vine, belonging to the Rubiaceae family, which grows in the Amazonian forest. Used for thousands of years by the indigenous tribes, it has recently met with great market success in Europe and the United States: this is based on some German studies that have shown the immunostimulant activity of a number of alkaloids and procyanidines contained in its bark. Extracts of Uncaria tomentosa bark are currently used in the United States and Europe as an "alternative" or "complementary" cure with respect to official medicine in the treatment of many rheumatic diseases and viral infections, and in neoplastic pathology. The market of natural immunostimulants is probably one of the most profitable in Europe and the United States (14.4 percent of the medicinal plant market) and Uncaria tomentosa has indeed had an unprecedented success: in the United States it has risen from a negligible position in 1995 to 2.1 percent of the entire herbalist market in 1996 and 4.76 percent in 1997, becoming the eighth best-selling medicinal plant (Herbalgram, No. 41, p. 53, 1997). This success has provoked a huge increase in exports from Peru, which in the last three years have grown to over 1 000 tonnes of dried bark, mainly in the districts of Ucayali, Huánuco, Pasco, San Martín and Junín (INRENA, Manual para el aprovechamiento de la "Uña de Gato" en bosques naturales, INR-58-DGF, Lima, 1997).

This figure is certainly underestimated as it does not take into account exports of processed products and the domestic trade in Uncaria tomentosa. In addition, the cost of dried bark is significantly less than that of transport, which is why very large quantities of the plant are ordered for collection but then left on the site as their transport to Lima becomes impractical from an economic point of view. For these reasons, in some regions of the Peruvian selva Uncaria tomentosa is considered a vulnerable species and its inclusion in the CITES table has been proposed. At the moment, Uncaria tomentosa is classified as "Especie vulnerable" (vulnerable species) in the Peruvian official classification of natural products (R.M. No. 01082-90 AG/DGFF) according to the Reglamento de Conservación de Flora y Fauna Silvestre (D.S. No. 158-77-AG), based on the Ley Forestal de Fauna Silvestre (D.L. No. 21147).

But the legislative context regarding exportation of natural products from Peru is quickly evolving. In Atalaya, one of the regions of greatest exploitation of Uncaria tomentosa, the Organización Indígena de la Región de Atalaya (OIRA), an indigenous organization that groups together 75 Ashaninka, Yine and Shipibo communities of the region, with support from the Italian NGO, COE, has implemented a project aimed at identifying methods of sustainable extraction and processing of the bark in loco. [See under Special Features for more information on COE.]

The first part of the project, involving 25 communities, consisted of comparing three different methods of sustainable extraction: removing less than 40 percent of the bark from each trunk, cutting the lianas at a height of more than one metre above ground level, and planting with nursery plants in both primary and secondary forest. After three years, only the third method has given appreciable results in terms of growth of the individual plants (64 percent) even if it is probably the method that involves the greatest cost in terms of working hours (mostly spent in removing rival species). A study on the impact on the biodiversity of the primary forest is still in course.

The second part of the project was the creation in Atalaya of a small galenical laboratory, on the premises of the indigenous organization, in order to produce simple extracts that can be used as such or as raw material for subsequent processing. The first product to be identified was a 1:1 alcoholic extraction of Uncaria tomentosa. With a primary forest population (from which most of the product is extracted) of two individuals per hectare, a yield of 0.55 kg of dry bark per metre of liana and an average length of 27.9 m of usable bark per individual, each hectare of forest produces some 60 kg of dry bark. As the price of the bark on urban markets is in the region of US$0.50 per kg, one hectare of forest would produce an income of about US$30. Processing by alcoholic extraction, on the other hand, is capable of producing earnings of US$200 to $400 per hectare with even smaller quantities of raw material used as the extraction process becomes refined.

The main obstacles encountered so far are the precariousness and cost of transport from the production area, attaining quality standards that are suitable for the international market and maintaining local distribution of products that are, in fact, no longer traditional.

For more information, please contact
Mr Antonio Bianchi,
COE Traditional Medicine,
Via Lazzaroni 8, 20124 Milan, Italy.
Fax: (+39) 02 66714338 or
(+39) 0341 910311;

Return to top of page