The name ‘carob’ comes from the Arabic el kharroub. Given that the size and weight of the seeds are very regular, they have been used as a unit of measurement since Roman antiquity and are the origin of the unit of measurement in the trade of precious stones, the carat.

Identity Card

Common name St-John’s bread, Locust bean
Binominal name Ceratonia siliqua L.

Taxonomy

kingdom Plantae
Family Fabaceae

Detailed Informations

Area of origin Mediterranean basin, Anatolia

Etymology

Ceratonia comes from Greek keratia, meaning small horn, in reference to its recurved seed-pods. Siliqua is a Latin word for pods, characteristic of the legume family.

Description and flowering period

It is a tree, at times presenting a shrubby habit, reaching from 6 to 15 meters in height. It can live for up to 500 years. The trunk is thick and its bark is reddish-brown and rough, the crown is large. The persistent pinnate leaves are dark-green and composed of oval leaflets. The flowers are small, numerous and devoid of corolla (petals), they only have a calyx (group of sepals protecting the flower bud) spirally arranged along the inflorescence axis in catkin-like racemes ranging from yellow to purple in colour. The fruits are legumes called “carobs” reaching 10 to 30cm in length and 2 to 3cm in width. They are slightly curved, thick and tough and are initially green then turn dark brown once mature. They contain a sugary grainy pulp as well as fifteen or so hard, flattened ovoid seeds.

Habitat

It appreciates rather arid locations. It is tolerant of occasional frosts down to -5°C but requires overall high temperatures to grow properly (thermophilic plant).

Uses

Ornamental (commonly planted throughout the Mediterranean to bring shade).

Medicinal: The fruit’s high fibre content is used to treat diarrhoea and constipation.

Food & drink: The seeds are turned into sweets in Cyprus, roasted like coffee; it is used as flour (for human and livestock consumption) due to its high energetic values.

Miscellaneous: The red wood is used in marquetry work (nineteenth century southern France), gum extracted from seeds for the textile, cosmetic and paper industries...

Notes

The name "Carob tree" is derived from Arabic "el kharroub". Numerous references to the species are found in the Bible as well as in Persian classical poetry.
Due to the seeds’ extremely consistent size and weight (0,20 grams), they have been used as a measuring unit since Roman times and are the measuring unit used in the precious stones’ trade: the carat. 1 carat is the weight of a carob tree seed.

Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN

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