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Saltbush (Salvadora persica)


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Common names 

Saltbush, toothbrush tree, mustard tree, arak, miswak [English]; árbol cepillo de dientes, arbusto de sal, árbol del arac [Spanish]; arbre brosse à dents, arbre à cure-dents, arbre à frotte-dents [French]; tandenborstelboom, mosterdboom [Dutch]; Zahnbürstenbaum [German]; ashuwaki [Hausa]; pohon Siwak, pohon sikat gigi [Indonesian]; mswaki, msuake [Swahili]; Misvak ağacı [Turkish]; الأراك [Arabic]; ഉകമരം [Malayalam]; اراک [Persian];  உகாய் [Tamil]; గున్నంగి [Telugu]

Related feed(s) 

Saltbush (Salvadora persica Garc.) is an evergreen shrub or small tree that can reach a height of 6-7 m. It has an erect trunk with slightly rough bark and a wide crown of profuse, crooked and dropping branches. Saltbush leaves are opposite, oblong-elliptic to almost circular, 3 x 7 cm, light to dark green, rather fleshy, borne on a 1 cm long petiole. The inflorescence is a 10 cm long panicle that bears very small, greenish to yellowish flowers. The fruit is pink to scarlet, spherical, fleshy, 5-10 mm in diameter. It contains one seed that turns from pink to purple to semi transparent at maturity (Ecocrop, 2011; Orwa et al., 2009).

Saltbush is a multi-purpose shrub (Ecocrop, 2011). Saltbush fruits can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried and stored, sometimes as a famine food (Ecocrop, 2011; Freedman, 2009; Orwa et al., 2009). Saltbush leaves and young shoots may also be used as vegetables. Roots and small branches are used to make toothbrushes in India, Arabia and Africa. Saltbush yields a soft, termite-resistant wood used for construction and furniture as well as for firewood and charcoal. The seeds contain 30-40% of non-edible oil that has over 50% lauric and myristic acids and few C8 and C10 fatty acids, which makes saltbush an alternative source of oil for the soap and detergent industries. Saltbush also has a wide range of uses in ethno-medicine and ethno-veterinary medicine (Orwa et al., 2009). In veterinary medicine it is mainly used against helminthiasis, brucellosis, retention of the foetal membrane and anthrax (Reuben et al., 2011; Toyang et al., 2007; Gezahegn, 2006; Ole-Miaron, 2003, Macharia et al., 2001).

Saltbush is readily browsed by all classes of ruminants. Its leaves make good evergreen fodder, available when other species have disappeared. They are a valuable source of water during droughts, due to their high water content (Shamat et al., 2010; Orwa et al., 2009).


Saltbush is native to North, East and Southern Africa, in the Arabic Peninsula, West and South Asia. It is widespread up to an altitude of 1800 m. It thrives in dry environments, in areas where groundwater is readily available such as waterholes, river banks, desert floodplains and along drainage lines. It is found in thorn scrub, grassy savannahs and also in valleys, on dunes and termites mounds (Ecocrop, 2011; Orwa et al., 2009).

Saltbush is a very hardy species (92.8% survival 30 months after planting) that can survive extremely harsh conditions, including high salinity, heat stress and drought conditions (AFRI, 2010). Saltbush is found in areas with less than 200 mm annual rainfall. It can grow on a wide range of soils including loams, black-cotton soils and sandy soils but it prefers clays. It is highly tolerant of alkaline and saline soils: it can grow on coastal regions and inland saline soils (Ecocrop, 2011; Orwa et al., 2009). Saltbush could potentially be grown for fodder production on coastal sandy strata using saline water for irrigation (Dagar et al., 2002).

Environmental impact 

Shelter and shade provider

Saltbush is a valuable shelter and windbreak for protecting habitations, gardens and orchards (Orwa et al., 2009). Its shade is beneficial to soil moisture and livestock, thereby improving soil fertility (Gezahegn, 2006).

Soil reclamation

Saltbush is helpful in sand dune and saline soils reclamation (Orwa et al., 2009). Germination is not hampered by soil salinity and saltbush can withstand salinity levels as high as 50 dS/m (Qadir et al., 2008). On waterlogged saline soils, salinity levels of 25 dS/m did not hamper root development. Saltbush cultivation under brackish water irrigation was also possible (Dagar et al., 2002).

Nutritional aspects

The leaves and young shoots of Salvadora persica are browsed by all stock, but saltbush tends to be valued more as a camel, sheep and goat forage since cattle are rarely present in the driest parts of its distribution range (Orwa et al., 2009). The pods are also eaten by camels, sheep, goats and cattle as a protein supplement (Gezahegn, 2006). Camels are tall enough to be able to browse the upper parts of the Salvadora persica tree and their prehensile upper lip is used for selectively grasping plant parts (Faye et al., 1989; Kuria et al., 2005; Shamat et al., 2010; Wilson, 1989). They can trap a branch or shoot tightly in the mouth and with their heads turned sideways strip leaves off the branch (Kassilly, 2002).

Saltbush is particularly important in some countries during the dry season, when it may be the only forage available (Shamat et al., 2010). In Kenya, for instance, it is a very important forage for camels in desert areas of the country (Stiles et al., 1991) and one of the preferred trees or tall bushes eaten by camels, with Euphorbia spp, Maerua angolensis and Balanites aegyptiaca (Faye et al., 1989; Kassilly et al., 2000). In Senegal, saltbush can be a valuable supplement for zebu cows fed rice straw during the dry season (Molénat et al., 2005). In this country, leaves and young twigs are eaten by cattle, sheep, goats and camels (Diallo, 1973).

The leaves of Salvadora persica have a high water content (15-36%) and constitute a precious water source for animals such as camels, with a very high water recycling capacity (Faye et al., 1989; Kuria et al., 2005). The leaves contain about 11-13% CP in the DM, which is sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements of camels (Al-Dosari, 2001; Rangnekar, 1992). Leaves of saltbush have a quite good nutritive value relative to competing species. For instance, their in vitro dry matter digestibility is higher than that of Avicennia marina (76.6% vs. 60.5%) (Al-Dosari, 2001). A very high in vitro digestibility (98%) has also been reported (Shaltout et al., 2008). Indeed, leaves are considered as the best forage for fattening camels or for camel cows when delivering calves (Gezahegn, 2006). The leaves are also said to increase lactation in cows (Orwa et al., 2009). However, the composition of saltbush depends on the growth stage, season and soil, and on the parts selected by the animals, so the nutritive value of the plant consumed is highly variable.

The leaves contain very high levels of minerals (up to 40%), which is a problem for almost all ruminants, excepted for camels that are able to cope with it by their ability to store minerals when fed in excess (Shaltout et al., 2008). Salvadora persica bushes are low in Cu, Zn, Mn, contain suitable amounts of iron, but excessive amounts of Mn, Se and S (Assaeed et al., 1995; Faye et al., 1990). Its richness in NaCl, which gives it its surname "saltbush", constitutes a true "salt cure" for livestock (Schareika, 2002). The high salt content of the leaves is said to affect the taste of milk (Orwa et al., 2009).


The roots of Salvadora persica have been tested in growing rabbits as a growth promoter as they enhanced immune function, and improved meat quality. The higher protein digestibility could be due to improved absorption of amino acids and/or to the bactericidal, antimycotic or antifungal properties of the roots (Ibrahim et al., 2005). The inclusion of 0.2-0.25% Salvadora persica roots in male rabbit diets increased productive performance (final weight, feed efficiency) and reproductive performance (including libido, mating activity and physical semen characteristics) (El-Kholy et al., 2008).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 30.8 5.6 23.4 39.3 8
Crude protein % DM 14.2 1.8 10.9 18.4 31
Crude fibre % DM 10.5 1.2 7.9 14.1 29
NDF % DM 23.1 2.2 19.5 27.7 27
ADF % DM 14.2 1.3 11.5 16.6 27
Lignin % DM 3.3 0.4 2.6 4.3 27
Ether extract % DM 1.8 0.4 1.1 2.6 30
Ash % DM 34.1 3.9 23.1 40.7 31
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 12.6 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 69.0 23.0 9.8 91.1 16
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.1 0.3 0.7 1.5 16
Potassium g/kg DM 16.9 4.3 10.0 27.6 16
Sodium g/kg DM 1.3 1.1 0.1 3.1 6
Magnesium g/kg DM 11.4 22.1 2.9 94.2 16
Manganese mg/kg DM 74 24 44 116 8
Zinc mg/kg DM 11 6 5 21 8
Copper mg/kg DM 3 1 1 5 8
Secondary metabolites Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Tannins (eq. tannic acid) g/kg DM 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 9

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Bartha, 1970; CIRAD, 1991; Russell, 1947

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:44:59

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Giger-Reverdin S., 2015. Saltbush (Salvadora persica). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/97 Last updated on October 6, 2015, 11:53

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)