Dennettia tripetala (Fam: Annonaceae) is the botanical name of a plant whose fruits are called pepper fruits. It is native to West Africa, including Nigeria, where the fruits are called nkarika in Efik, obi ata or igberi in Yoruba, mmimi in Igbo, imako in Urhobo and aki in Bini. The Dennettia tripetala tree thrives mainly in the Savannah and rain forest zones while the fruit usually ripens between April and May.
Constituents: Dennettia tripetala contains fatty acids, carbohydrates, proteins, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamins A and C, phytochemicals like terpenes, tannins, flavonoids, saponins and alkaloids.
Preparations: Pepper fruit is mostly chewed fresh but can also be used for food preparations and for preparing herbal medicines. Both the green, red and pink pepper fruits, as well as the leaves, roots and barks of the tree are notable for their pungent peppery taste and smell. It can be used as a spice for seasoning and flavouring food, such as white soup, spicy fish, hot drinks, alcoholic drinks, beverages, meat, vegetables, stew, sauces and sausages.
The pepper fruit can also act as a substitute for ginger in zobo drink production. In Igbo land, pepper fruits are usually served with garden egg, bitter kola, kola nuts and palm wine, during coronations, traditional marriages, naming ceremonies, cultural ceremonies, new yam festivals and other events.
Pharmacological actions and medicinal uses: The pepper fruit oil extract holds a compound named 1-nitro-2-phenol ethane which has an anticonvulsant and hypnotic effect that can heal infant convulsion effectively.
The seeds are vital for preparing food for new-born mothers without delay after childbirth as the spice aids in uterus contraction.
Extract from Dennettia tripetala fruits have shown insecticidal, hypoglycemic, cytotoxic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, anti-ulcer, antibacterial, antifungal, mildly laxative, antiviral, antihelmintic, stimulant, hepatoprotective and nephroprotective properties. As a result, different plant parts, especially the healthy fruits and leaves have been used for making herbal medicines for treating typhoid, diarrhoea, stomach upset, vomiting, worm infestation, cold, cough, fever and pain.
Pepper fruit seed can reduce intraocular pressure (IOP) considerably up to 25% in people suffering from glaucoma. This African fruit repairs damage in liver and kidney, which is related to the impact of multiple exposures to carbon tetrachloride.
Adverse effects: Although pepper fruit causes contraction of the uterus, which is good for nursing mothers, it also can lead to adverse conditions and even forced or premature labour for pregnant women, especially in the third trimester.
Some women who are allergic to pepper fruit can experience discomfort when consuming it. Consuming too much pepper fruit can lead to gastrointestinal problems. It is suggested that pepper fruit might also serve as an abortificient.
Economic potentials: The hexanolic extract of D. tripetala fruits has been found to be toxic to the larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and this points to the potential for generating insecticides from Dennettia essential oil. It is safer than the conventional insecticide, permetrin. It is useful as a grain protectant (during storage), food and medicine.
By Pharm. Ngozika Okoye
MSc, MPH, FPCPharm (Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency)