Ceiba by Volunteer Jess Payne

Throughout Asia, Oil from the seed of the Ceiba tree is extracted and often used to make soap and fertilisers. Ceiba means ‘giant tree’, however here in Thailand you rarely see them very tall, since they tend to break easily. Despite the stout-looking trunk, wood from a Ceiba tree is too soft to be very useful as timber-but it can be used to wash an elephant!

In some parts of the world, the Ceiba tree’s long, hanging vines were considered a sacred element of worship, as they were believed to have joined together the earth to the heavens.

Ceiba contains many chemical components that are responsible for varied medicinal and pharmacological properties. Bark from the Ceiba has been used for many years as a diuretic, to treat headaches and type II diabetes. Sap from the leaves has hallucinogenic properties; it is said that it can be drunk to treat mental illness. Ceiba extracts are potentially a source of antimicrobial compounds that can be used to aid control of microorganisms in the treatment of infectious disease. Pounded leaves can be applied to the skin to treat infections, as a dressing on tumours, abscess and sores, and the seed oil is rubbed in for treatment of rheumatism.

Most days our staff at Phang Nga Elephant Park will gather this natural vine that grows in our jungle, then use a hammer to soften it into a sponge like consistency (see clip here). When you bathe our elephants here at PNEP as part of an elephant care experience, you will be provided with some Ceiba. When combined with water it lathers up as a natural soap, which is great for the elephant’s skin. Our elephants love a pamper session and to be scrubbed with the Ceiba, especially on their heads.

The seed is edible either raw or cooked and it is said to be good for digestion. Studies show the leaf and bark contain sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, lead, copper, zinc and iron. It can be used as a vitamin supplement due to the presence of vitamins C and E that help to repair free radical damage to cells in the body. Many of our elephants will take the opportunity to steal it with their trunk and eat it once you are finished!