The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree that produces the cashew seed and the cashew apple. It can grow as high as 14 metres, but the dwarf cashew, growing up to 6 metres, has proved more profitable, with earlier maturity and higher yields.
The cashew seed is served as a snack or used in recipes, like other nuts, although it is actually a seed. The cashew apple is a fruit, whose pulp can be processed into a sweet, astringent fruit drink or distilled into liquor.
The shell of the cashew seed yields derivatives that can be used in many applications from lubricants to paints, and other parts of the tree have traditionally been used for snake-bites and other folk remedies.
Originally native to northeastern Brazil, the tree is now widely grown in tropical regions, India and Nigeria being major producers, in addition to Vietnam, the Ivory Coast, Pakistan and Indonesia.
Many parts of the plant are used in the traditional medicine of the Patamona of Guyana. They grind the seeds into a poultice for treating snakebites, apply nut oil to cracked heels or as an antifungal agent, and use the fruits, bark, and leaves for many other purposes including anti-fungal activity, for sores and rashes, or as an antipyretic, and for antidiarrheal applications. The leaf extracts with petroleum ether and ethanol inhibited growth of several species of bacteria and fungi. Chemicals identified in cashew shell oil have been assayed against Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium responsible for many dental cavities, and found to have activity in vitro against this and other Gram positive bacteria.