Catha edulis, known as Khat, comes from the Arabic word ‘kat’, which means shrub, and ‘edulis’, which means edible. It is consumed as an infusion (Abyssinian tea) for its astringent effects which help to ease fatigue and suppress hunger, although it can be dangerous as there is a risk of dependence.
Catha is borrowed from the Arabic word Kat, meaning shrub. Edulis means "edible" in Latin.
Description and flowering period
Catha edulis is a shrub reaching 10 to 18 meters in height. The bark is grey to brown, coarse and ridged. The shiny green leaves, veined with white are narrowly oval with serrated margins. They have a strong aromatic smell. The leaf-stalk is short and pinkish in colour just like the plant’s young branchlets. The star-shaped flowers which are borne in clusters, have 5 white petals and 5 short yellow stamens. The fruit is a small reddish-brown three-lobed capsule (1cm long) containing winged seeds.
Only suited to warm climates, it requires full sun. It grows at altitudes of 1500 to 3000 meters in its natural range.
- Local beverage: Leaves are infused to make Abyssinian tea.
- Craftsmanship: Its wood is used for cabinet-making, picket-fences and as firewood. An insect repellent is traditionally made from the bark.
- Miscellaneous: Fresh leaves are chewed (due to the presence of cathinone: an alkaloid). Their effect is astringent and reduces fatigue and hunger. Consumption can cause increased heart-rate and blood-pressure, shortness of breath, sleeping difficulties, digestive problems as well as psychotic episodes and under-nutrition, especially in addicts.
Khat is classified as a drug of abuse and is therefore illegal in many European countries (including France & the UK) as well as in the USA and China. Its consumption is strictly forbidden in Somalia and Saudi Arabia whereas it is traditionally used by most people in Yemen and Djibouti. The plant has been chewed since at least the tenth century and most presumably ever since antique times.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN