The Sultanate is blessed with rich biodiversity which holds many health and environmental benefits.
Al Shakhar of Calotropis procera is a species of flowering plant in the family Apocynaceae that is native to North Africa, tropical Africa, Western Asia, South Asia and SouthEast Asia. The green fruits contain a toxic milky sap that is extremely bitter and turns into a gluey coating that is resistant to soap.
Al Shakhar is a key component of Oman’s green cover which is a shrub spread over the plains, sand dunes, and wadis. The small flowering that reaches a height of 3 meters holds medical potential despite its toxicity.
The bark and root bark are used for digestive disorders including diarrhea, constipation, and stomach ulcers; toothache, cramps, and joint pain; and for parasitic infections including elephantiasis and worms.
These shrubs are found in plains, mountains, and on the sand dunes. Most of us do not know its environmental importance. Plant sciences specialists attribute the lack of people’s awareness to weak environmental awareness.
The leaves of Al Shakhar are oval in shape and pale green in colour, while its flowers grow in clusters of up to 2 cm in length, and its fruits are known for its purple shiny cor.
In ancient times, the shrub's fibers were used in the manufacture of clothes, carpets and fishing nets. It is also used in making gunpowder.
Studies found that the shrub is useful in treating knee and joint pain. For this, the leaves of Al Shakhar and its stem are boiled in water and salt. Then dip a roll of cloth, wring it and apply it on the affected part. This plant is also suitable as fodder for camels, cattle, and goats, especially after the rain, when leaves become less toxic. They also eat the flowers.
“In the past, our parents advised us not to touch this shrub because it causes blindness due to the milky substance that comes out of its stem,” locals told Observer.
An environmental sciences specialist stressed the need to raise awareness about the plant species in Oman by including them in school curricula. “The importance of environmental education lies in preserving the elements of biodiversity. It is key to sustainable development,” he said.