This genus consists of a single species of tree, widely distributed in E Africa, from Ethiopia to the Horn of Africa and South Yemen. Catha edulis (khat, qat) is widely cultivated in Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, and Kenya for its leaves, which are chewed fresh as a stimulant locally, and air-freighted to Arab communities worldwide in countries where it has not been banned. Between a third and a half of cultivable land in Yemen is devoted to growing khat. It contains alkaloids similar in effect to amphetamine, and to ephedrine in Ephedra species (See, joint fir), including cathinone, which remains active for only 24 hours after harvesting, and cathine or norpseudophedrine, which is used in geriatric medicine. Khat chewing is thought to have originated in the Harar region of Ethiopia, and is acceptable in the Koran as an alternative to alcohol and other stimulants. The use of khat is considered psychologically rather than physically addictive.

Evergree shrub or small tree with bright green, shiny, ovate, pointed leaves, to 8cm (3in) long, with evenly toothed margins and a characteristic drooping habit. Dense clusters of small white flowers appear along the twigs in summer, followed by dry capsules.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Qat, Arabian tea, bushman's tea
Botanical Name:
Catha edulis
Native Location:
E Africa, the Horn of Africa, S Yemen
Well-drained to dry soil in sun.
By seed sown when ripe.
Twigs are picked all year round and used fresh within 24 hours.
15m (50ft)
6m (20ft)
Parts Used:
A bitter, astringent, stimulant herb that suppresses the appetite.
Medicinal Uses:
Leaves are chewed or infused as a stimulant. Internally for malaria, coughs, asthma and other bronchial complaints, and to improve mental function in old age (Africa). Taken as an aid for weight reduction in Germany. Excess raises blood pressure and causes headaches, arrhythmia, hyperthermia, or other side-effects; persistent use may result in aggressive behavior and personality disorders.
Culinary Uses:
Leaves are brewed as tea and are an ingredient of tej, an Arabic mead.
This herb is illegal in many countries, including Canada, France, Italy, Morocco, Norway, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg 158