The Mende (Dacryodes edulis) is a medium-sized evergreen tree, between 18 and 40 m tall. Its fruit is highly prized by the people of eastern Sierra Leone, where it grows luxuriantly in humid tropical forest. In addition to the popular name Mende, it is also called Bush pear, Butterfruit and Bush Butter tree. The fruit is an ellipsoidal drupe, 4 to 12 cm long and 3 to 6 cm wide, with a dark blue or purple skin and light green flesh. The taste is mild, but with slightly spicy and salty notes, similar to those of a heated and slightly sour avocado.
The seed and fruit possess a considerable amount of protein and oils, with particular concentration of palmitic and oleic acids.
Mende is used mainly for its fruit, which can be eaten either raw or cooked, roasted or softened in hot water. The cooked pulp, characterized by a buttery texture, is often accompanied with roasted or boiled corn.
The Mende tree adapts easily to variations in soil type, moisture levels, and number of hours of light. At the beginning of the rainy season, which is between May and December, flowering of the plant begins, and after 2-5 months the fruit is born.
The tree’s wood, which is elastic and pinkish white in color, is used for carpentry and the making of tool handles and mortars.
Traditionally, the plant is also used for medicinal purposes, and the different parts are used to treat ailments as varied as malaria, ulcers, otitis, and intestinal disorders.
Mende is not only native to the eastern and southern parts of Sierra Leone, but is also found in the rainforests of Guinea and Liberia. In these countries, however, the plants are mostly cultivated or found in semi-domesticated conditions, while in Sierra Leone the fruits are harvested in the wild. Here, moreover, Mende has a strong connection with the Poro and Bondo communities and has been cultivated by the indigenous Sherbro people for centuries.
Today, the Mende tree is at risk of extinction due to environmental degradation caused by rapid expansion of pastures and land deforestation, which pose a serious threat to these forest-loving plants. In addition, the method of harvesting the fruit, which involves felling the branches, affects the health and performance of the plants and drastically hinders their reproductive process. In most of the territory of Gola National Park, where Mende grows predominantly, environmental degradation has reached such a high level that the entire forest is collapsing. Current deforestation in the tropics generates soil erosion due to the lack of roots that fix and protect the soil from erosion by torrential rains. At present, only a small portion of these areas have good soils.