Charcoal tree is a fast-growing, evergreen shrub or tree with a heavy branching and rounded to spreading crown, reaching a height of up to 18 metres. It has a short basally swollen bole that can be 60cm in diameter.
The plant has a wide range of traditional uses for food, medicine and other commodities. A fast-growing tree, it has several applications in agroforestry as a shade tree, pioneer species etc. It is also grown in various areas in plantations as a timber crop and is grown as an ornamental in gardens, where its fast growth makes it a popular choice for a new garden.
Trema orientalis is a species of flowering tree in the hemp family, Cannabaceae. It is known by many common names, including charcoal-tree, Indian charcoal-tree, pigeon wood, Oriental trema, and in Hawaii, where it has become naturalized, gunpowder tree, or nalita. It has a near universal distribution in tropical and warm temperate parts of the Old World, with a range extending from South Africa, through the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and southern China to Southeast Asia and Australia.
Trema orientalis is native to tropical and southern Africa (including Madagascar), Asia (the Arabian Peninsula, China, eastern Asia, tropical Asia) and Australia.
The wood is relatively soft, and burns easily and quickly when dry. The wood is suitable for paper and pulp production, producing paper with good tensile strength and folding endurance. The bark can be used for making string or rope, and used as waterproofing fishing-lines. In India and Tanzania, the wood is used to make charcoal and is a good fire starter.
The tree has various uses as an herbal medicine in a wide range of cultures. The leaves and the bark are used to treat coughs, sore throats, asthma, bronchitis, gonorrhea, yellow fever, toothache, and as an antidote to general poisoning. A bark infusion is reportedly drunk to control dysentery and a leaf decoction is used to deworm dogs. In recent pharmacological studies, an aqueous extract from the bark has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in an experimental animal model of diabetes mellitus, and may be useful for treating this disease. Extracts from leaves of related species (Trema guineense and Trema micrantha) showed anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and analgesic activity in rodents, suggesting that T. orientalis could produce similar results.