Date palm tree, Phoenix dactylifera (Fam. Arecaceae), called dabino in Hausa, is an economic crop which is grown in the arid region of northern Nigeria.
Dates contain fibres; simple sugars, such as glucose, sucrose and fructose; vitamins, such as B1, B2, B3 and B5, as well as A and C; minerals, such as selenium, manganese, copper, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
Date fruits are readily available in their dried form, though these are higher in calories than the fresh fruit. Dried dates may be soaked to rehydrate them before eating.
Dates may be used as natural sweeteners in various dishes, either as dried powder or syrup. Dates can be added to cakes, bread, and other dishes. Young date leaves may be cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart, though its removal kills the palm.
Pharmacological actions and medicinal uses
As a result of its nicotine content, dates are thought to be beneficial for curing intestinal disorders. Taking it consistently helps to inhibit the growth of pathological organisms, which in turn helps stimulate growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines.
Research shows that dates may help to improve bowel health and slow down the development and spread of colorectal cancer cells. Also, since dates are high in fibre, they are beneficial for preventing constipation and blood sugar control.
Dates are packed with anti-ageing benefits. Moreover, fluorine, found in dates, is an important chemical element that fights against tooth decay by shrugging off plaque and also strengthening the tooth enamel.
Studies have shown that dates provide protection against inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. They buffer cortisol, thereby, reducing its inflammatory effect. Consistent consumption of dates helps to lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and improves cognitive activities in older individuals.
According to a Jordan study, consuming dates in the last four weeks before labour can produce more favorable outcomes. Dates are also known to strengthen the muscles of the uterus in the last months of pregnancy.
Furthermore, it is said that when eaten with cucumber, dates help to keep the body weight at a normal level.
Dates are also said to have aphrodisiac properties. Studies have reported that the high levels of estradiol and flavonoid components in dates help to increase sperm count and motility. A study in India reported that date palm pollen have been used to treat male infertility in traditional medicine.
Though there is no extensive research on this, in parts of northern Nigeria, dates (along with pepper) are added to native beer to make the drink less intoxicating
Where blood sugar control is desired, dates should not be consumed frequently as their high carbohydrate content can add to diabetes woes.
World market price of dates increased from about $400 per metric tonne in year 2001 to about $800 dollars per metric tonne in year 2005. These are indications that the date palm industry has the potential to provide employment to both skilled and unskilled labour, thereby generating income and alleviating poverty. These employments can come directly or indirectly through the supply of raw materials from date palm to manufacture goods like local fan, ropes, baskets, foot mats, bags, beds, bird cages, traps, blankets, chairs, cushion, doors, window frames, fences, fire wood, life belt etc.
Findings also revealed a significant increase in the level of production of dates over the years, indicating a very bright market prospect at the international scene. For Nigeria to reach its full potential, the commercial development of date products are imperative.
Pharm. Ngozika Okoye MPH, MSc, FPCPharm (Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency)