Taking its scientific name from the country of Gabon where it was first discovered, the African Mango tree is found only in a small section of central West Africa, consisting of the countries of Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon and the Congo, It is considered an important plant throughout this region - parts of the plant have long been used by native inhabitants, both as food and as a multi-purpose traditional medicine.
African Mango trees grow for 10 to 15 years before they can produce fruit. Mature trees stand between 30 and 130 feet in height. They blossom with yellowish-white flowers in February and March, followed a few months later by round, green colored fruits, which are bright orange and juicy on the inside. Irvingia gabonensis is prolific - one tree can produce up to as many as 1000 fruits or about 220 lbs of kernels!
It's important to note that while the African Mango may resemble the common mangoes found in your grocery store, they are actually two unrelated plants. A grocery store mango, while rich in vitamins and fiber, does not have the unique properties of the African Mango. Just eating mangoes will not help you lose weight!
In its native countries, locals make use of each and every part of the Irvingia gabonensis plant. Leaves are applied as poultices or used to feed livestock. The fine-grained wood is used for building. The bark has analgesic (pain relief) and antibiotic / antibacterial qualities - it is ground, prepared and applied to the skin to relieve pain or brewed into concoctions which are taken internally to treat diarrhea. The pulp of the fruit is eaten as-is or used to make jams and jellies. In short, no part of the plant is wasted - the juice of the African mango is even used to make wine!
But it's the kernels of the fruit, also called Dikka or Dika Nuts, which are the most versatile part of the plant. They are ground into a paste which is used to thicken sauces and food, or ground into flour to make bread. They can also be pressed to extract oil which for cooking.
It's these Dikanut kernels which are of the most interest to doctors and scientists today. Rich in vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants, the extract from the kernels has been shown to have special properties which promote weight loss. They are also believed to have the potential to treat several other health conditions and are the subject of ongoing study.