The California bay is a very tall tree (20-30 m) which is renowned for its many medicinal, nutritional and artisanal properties.
|Common name||St-John’s bread, Locust bean|
|Binominal name||Ceratonia siliqua L.|
|Area of origin||Mediterranean basin, Anatolia|
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.
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).
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...
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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