Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in 1773.
Acacias are also known as thorntrees or wattles, including the yellow-fever acacia and umbrella acacias.
There are roughly 1300 species of Acacia worldwide, about 960 of them native to Australia, with the remainder spread around the tropical to warm-temperate regions of both hemispheres, including Africa, southern Asia, and the Americas.
Acacia seeds are often used for food and a variety of other products.
In Burma, Laos and Thailand, the feathery shoots of Acacia pennata are used in soups, curries, omelettes, and stir-fries.
Honey made by bees using the acacia flower as forage is considered a delicacy, appreciated for its mild flowery taste, soft running texture and glass-like appearance. Acacia honey is one of the few honeys which does not crystalize.
Acacia is listed as an ingredient in Fresca, a citrus soft drink, and Barq's root beer, as well as in Läkerol pastille candies, Altoids mints, and Wrigley's Eclipse chewing gum.
Various species of acacia yield gum. True gum arabic is the product of Acacia senegal, abundant in dry tropical West Africa from Senegal to northern Nigeria.
Acacia arabica is the gum-Arabic tree of India, but yields a gum inferior to the true gum-Arabic.
Many Acacia species have important uses in traditional medicine. Most all of the uses have been shown to have a scientific basis, since chemical compounds found in the various species have medicinal effects. In Ayurvedic medicine, Acacia nilotica is considered a remedy that is helpful for treating premature ejaculation. A 19th century Ethiopian medical text describes a potion made from an Ethiopian species of Acacia (known as grar) mixed with the root of the tacha, then boiled, as a cure for rabies. An astringent medicine, called catechu or cutch, is procured from several species, but more especially from Acacia catechu, by boiling down the wood and evaporating the solution so as to get an extract.
A few species are widely grown as ornamentals in gardens; the most popular perhaps is Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle), with its attractive glaucous to silvery leaves and bright yellow flowers; it is erroneously known as "mimosa" in some areas where it is cultivated, through confusion with the related genus Mimosa.
The bark of various Australian species, known as wattles, is very rich in tannin and forms an important article of export.
The ancient Egyptians used Acacia in paints.
Acacia farnesiana is used in the perfume industry due to its strong fragrance.
Most acacia species are used for valuable timber.
The Acacia is used as a symbol in Freemasonry, to represent purity and endurance of the soul, and as funerary symbolism signifying resurrection and immortality.
Several parts (mainly bark, root and resin) of Acacia are used to make incense for rituals. Acacia is used in incense mainly in India, Nepal, Tibet and China. Smoke from Acacia bark is thought to keep demons and ghosts away and to put the gods in a good mood.
Image Author: Winfried Bruenken
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