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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Quirky, Catha, Medicinal plants

Recently I found an Ethiopian man and his wife in my front yard. They were picking the reddened leaves on an otherwise green bush/tree. The man explained this was a "cat" or "Chat" tree, the leaves produce a drugged like state when ingested. He asked me if he could harvest the tree,and not to tell any Somalians, Ethiopians, or Eritrean folk about my tree. He also told me that if I lived in Mogadishu I would be a wealthy man with this tree. He ate some leaves in front of me, and I tried a couple, but they were bitter and unpalatable to a westerner like me. I experienced a feeling of empowerment, strength, and mental alertness. Obviously the "Chat Tree" has some relationship to the "Bongo" young Somalians chew on like a cud.

During the worst of the Anarchy in the late 1990s in Mogadishu there was a lot of news footage of the street gangs, high on the plant they were chewing, and armed with machine guns and machetes, creating havoc.

Do you know the history of this tree?
What are the properties that cause the poisoning?
What is the tree`s botanical name?
Should I report the tree`s existence to the authorities?
Can you tell me what I have here?

P.S.-These trees are common front garden bushes that were widely planted in Perth, Western Australia. Next time I see an African hanging out under one of them, I think I will know why!


The chat, or khat tree, is Catha edulis (Celastrus edulis), and the leaves and branchlets have properties that stimulate the central nervous system. In addition to the euphoric or inebriating properties, chewing the leaves can cause irritability, decreased appetite, gastric upset, constipation, and inflammation of the mouth. Habitual use can lead to periodontal disease, and increased risk of esophageal cancer. The active compounds are Alkaloid D-norpseudoephedrine, as well as other alkaloids, and tannins. (Source: Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Human Health by Walter H. Lewis; John Wiley & Sons, 2003, 2nd ed.)

The Handbook of Medicinal Herbs by James A. Duke (CRC Press, 2002, 2nd ed.) indicates that Catha edulis has been used medicinally to treat a great number of ailments, including asthma, depression, diarrhea, glaucoma, and low blood pressure. Use of khat is an ancient, socially acceptable tradition in the Afro-Arabian culture (and became known as a recreational drug in the USA after American soldiers were exposed to its use in Somalia. Khat is subject to legal restrictions in many countries. (Medicinal Plants of the World by Ben-Erik van Wyk; Timber Press, 2004).

As for whether to report the harvesting of leaves from your tree, that would depend on whether khat use is specifically prohibited by law in Australia.

Date 2018-04-11
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May 23 2018 14:32:42