Atil (Maerua crassifolia Forssk.) is a small evergreen tree, 3-10 m high, with a rounded flattish crown. Branches are twisted and often densely leaved. Leaves are oblong and ovate, variable in shape and size, usually 5-15 mm long and 2-8 mm broad, somewhat fleshy, glabrous and almost sessile. Flowers are white, sweet-scented and without petals. Fruits are pubescent, irregular cylindrical pods, 3-6 cm long, 0.6-1 cm broad, markedly constricted into 1-6 sections (eFloras, 2010; JSTOR, 2010).
Maerua crassifolia is a multi-purpose tree used in fodder banks and agroforestry systems (Diatta et al., 2007). The wood is used to make tools and weapons. Leaves and fruits are edible for humans (Göhl, 1982). Crushed leaves and leaf decoctions are used in ethno-medicine to treat fever, stomach disorders and skin affections (Burkill, 1985). The Tuareg use the leaves to treat camels, either orally after crushing (against tick infestations or digestive disorders) or by local application against saddle wounds (Antoine-Moussiaux et al., 2007). The leaves can be cooked in butter or animal fat before application (Ag Arya, 1998). Infusions of leaves are also used for human intestinal diseases in North Africa, due to the health properties of their lipids and triterpenes (Ibraheim et al., 2008). Due to their high nutritional value, the leaves of Maerua crassifolia can be used in human diets during times of food scarcity (Freiberger et al., 1998), but only after boiling to increase palatability and remove factors such as saponins that cause diarrhea (Cook et al., 1998).
Like other Capparidaceae, Maerua crassifolia is a good browse species, particularly in tropical Africa (Le Houérou, 1980b). It is hardy and tolerant to grazing (Le Houérou, 1980a) but remains stunted under heavy grazing conditions (Boudet et al., 1980). In very arid lands (Arabian Peninsula), trees are left half-dead after grazing (Chaudhary et al., 2006).