Aegle marmelos : A tree with immense medicinal, ethnobotanical, and traditional properties

>> Thursday, January 27, 2011



Aegle marmelos is scientific name of the fruit tree which is also known as Bel or Sriphal in local Hindi language. Its English Names are Stone Apple and Bengal Quince.


The Aegle marmelos tree is one of the most useful medicinal plants of India. Its medicinal properties have been described in the ancient medical treatise in Sanskrit, Charaka Samhita. All the parts of this tree including stem, bark, root, leaves and fruit at all stages of maturity has medicinal virtues and has been used as traditional medicine for a long time.

The fruit is of considerably medicinal value when it just begins to ripen. The ripe fruit is aromatic, astringent which helps construction of skin, coolant and laxative. The unripe or half-ripe fruit is astringent, digestive stomachic which improves appetite and antiscorbutic, i.e. which helps to fight scurvy caused due to vitamin C deficiency.

Description of the tree
The bael fruit tree is slow-growing, of medium size, up to 40 or 50 ft (12-15 m) tall with short trunk, thick, soft, flaking bark, and spreading, sometimes spiny branches, the lower ones drooping. Young suckers bear many stiff, straight spines. A clear, gummy sap, resembling gum arabic, exudes from wounded branches and hangs down in long strands, becoming gradually solid. It is sweet at first taste and then irritating to the throat. The deciduous, alternate leaves, borne singly or in 2's or 3's, are composed of 3 to 5 oval, pointed, shallowly toothed leaflets, 1 1/2 to 4 in (4-10 cm) long, 3/4 to 2 in (2-5 cm) wide, the terminal one with a long petiole. New foliage is glossy and pinkish-maroon. Mature leaves emit a disagreeable odor when bruised. Fragrant flowers, in clusters of 4 to 7 along the young branchlets, have 4 recurved, fleshy petals, green outside, yellowish inside, and 50 or more greenish-yellow stamens. The fruit, round, pyriform, oval, or oblong, 2 to 8 in (5-20 cm) in diameter, may have a thin, hard, woody shell or a more or less soft rind, gray-green until the fruit is fully ripe, when it turns yellowish. It is dotted with aromatic, minute oil glands. Inside, there is a hard central core and 8 to 20 faintly defined triangular segments, with thin, dark-orange walls, filled with aromatic, pale-orange, pasty, sweet, resinous, more or less astringent, pulp. Embedded in the pulp are 10 to 15 seeds, flattened-oblong, about 3/8 in (1 cm) long, bearing woolly hairs and each enclosed in a sac of adhesive, transparent mucilage that solidifies on drying.



Image 1 : Aegle marmelos tree



Image 2 : Aegle marmelos tree with ripe fruits


Image 3  : Aegle marmelos  showing a single ripe fruit


Image 4  : Aegle marmelos

Origin and Distribution of Aegle marmelos

The tree grows wild in dry forests on hills and plains of central and southern India and Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh, also in mixed deciduous and dry dipterocarp forests of former French Indochina. Mention has been found in writings dating back to 800 B.C. It is cultivated throughout India, mainly in temple gardens, because of its status as a sacred tree; also in Ceylon and northern Malaya, the drier areas of Java, and to a limited extent on northern Luzon in the Philippine Islands where it first fruited in 1914. It is grown in some Egyptian gardens, and in Surinam and Trinidad. Seeds were sent from Lahore to Dr. Walter T. Swingle in 1909 (P.I. No. 24450). Specimens have been maintained in citrus collections in Florida and in agriculture research stations, but the tree has never been grown for its fruit in this state except by Dr. David Fairchild at his home, the "Kampong", in Coconut Grove, after he acquired a taste for it, served with jaggery (palm sugar), in Ceylon.

Varieties of the tree: Aegle marmelos
One esteemed, large cultivar with thin rind and few seeds is known as 'Kaghzi'. Dr. L.B. Singh and co-workers at the Horticultural Research Institute, Saharanpur, India, surveyed bael fruit trees in Uttar Padesh, screened about 100 seedlings, selected as the most promising for commercial planting: 'Mitzapuri', 'Darogaji', 'Ojha', 'Rampuri', 'Azamati', 'Khamaria'Rated the best was 'Mitzapuri', with very thin rind, breakable with slight pressure of the thumb, pulp of fine texture, free of gum, of excellent flavor, and containing few seeds.
S.K. Roy, in 1975, reported on the extreme variability of 24 cultivars collected in Agra, Calcutta, Delhi and Varanasi. He decided that selections should be made for high sugar content and low levels of mucilage, tannin and other phenolics.

Only the small, hard-shelled type is known in Florida and this has to be sawed open, cracked with a hammer, or flung forcefully against a rock. Fruits of this type are standard for medicinal uses rather than for consuming as normal food.

Food Value per 100 g of Edible Portion

Water
54.96-61.5 g
Protein
1.8-2.62 g
Fat
0.2-0.39 g
Carbohydrates
28.11-31.8 g
Ash
1.04-1.7 g
Carotene
55 mg
Thiamine
0.13 mg
Riboflavin
1.19 mg
Niacin
1.1 mg
Ascorbic Acid
8-60 mg
Tartaric Acid
2.11 mg


Medicinal Uses: The fresh ripe pulp of the higher quality cultivars, and the "sherbet" made from it, are taken for their mild laxative, tonic and digestive effects. A decoction of the unripe fruit, with fennel and ginger, is prescribed in cases of hemorrhoids. It has been surmised that the psoralen in the pulp increases tolerance of sunlight and aids in the maintaining of normal skin color. It is employed in the treatment of leucoderma. Marmelosin derived from the pulp is given as a laxative and diuretic. In large doses, it lowers the rate of respiration, depresses heart action and causes sleepiness.
For medicinal use, the young fruits, while still tender, are commonly sliced horizontally and sun-dried and sold in local markets. They are much exported to Malaya and Europe. Because of the astringency, especially of the wild fruits, the unripe bael is most prized as a means of halting diarrhea and dysentery, which are prevalent in India in the summer months. Bael fruit was resorted to by the Portuguese in the East Indies in the 1500's and by the British colonials in later times.

A bitter, light-yellow oil extracted from the seeds is given in 1.5 g doses as a purgative. It contains 15.6% palmitic acid, 8.3% stearic acid, 28.7% linoleic and 7.6% linolenic acid. The seed residue contains 70% protein.

The bitter, pungent leaf juice, mixed with honey, is given to allay catarrh and fever. With black pepper added, it is taken to relieve jaundice and constipation accompanied by edema. The leaf decoction is said to alleviate asthma. A hot poultice of the leaves is considered an effective treatment for ophthahnia and various inflammations, also febrile delirium and acute bronchitis.

A decoction of the flowers is used as eye lotion and given as an antiemetic. The bark contains tannin and the cournarin, aegelinol; also the furocourmarin, marmesin; umbelliferone, a hydroxy coumarin; and the alkaloids, fagarine and skimmianine. The bark decoction is administered in cases of malaria. Decoctions of the root are taken to relieve palpitations of the heart, indigestion, and bowel inflammations; also to overcome vomiting.
The fruit, roots and leaves have antibiotic activity. The root, leaves and bark are used in treating snakebite. Chemical studies have revealed the following properties in the roots: psoralen, xanthotoxin, O-methylscopoletin, scopoletin, tembamide, and skimmin; also decursinol, haplopine and aegelinol, in the root bark. A categorical medicinal mention of medicinal properties of Marmelos is given here as under-

Applications in  Constipation
Ripe bael fruit is regarded as best of all laxatives. It cleans and tones up the intestines. Its regular use for two or three months helps evacuate even the old accumulated faecal matter from the bowels. For best results, it should be taken in the form of sherbat, which is prepared from the pulp of the ripe fruit. After breaking the shell, the seeds are first removed, and contents are then taken out with a spoon and passed through a sieve. Milk and little sugar may be added to make it more palatable. The pulp of the ripe fruit can also be taken from the spoon without the addition of milk or sugar. About 60 grams of the fruit will suffice for an adult.

Diarrhea and Dysentery
The unripe or half ripe fruit is perhaps, the most effective food remedy for chronic diarrhea and dysentery where there is no fever. Best results are obtained by the use of dried bael or its powder. The bael fruit, when it is still green, is sliced and dried in the sun. The dried bael slices are reduced into powder and preserved in air-tight bottles. The unripe bael can also be baked and taken with jaggery or brown sugar.

The fruit appears to have little effect in acute dysentery when there is definite sensation to defecate but instead of significant amount of faeces, blood and mucus alone are passed. The powdered drug is specially recommended in this condition. Its beneficial effect its, however, most evident when the condition has become sub-acute or chronic. After the use of the fruit in these conditions, the blood gradually disappears and the stool assume a more feculent and solid form. The mucus also disappears after continued use for some time. It is also a valuable remedy for chronic dysenteric conditions characterized by alternate diarrhea and constipation.

Peptic Ulcer
An infusion of  bael leaves is regarded as an effective food remedy for peptic ulcer. The leaves are soaked overnight in water. This water is strained and taken as a drink in the morning. The pain and discomfort are relieved when this treatment is continued for a few weeks. Bael leaves are rich in tannins which reduce inflammation and help healing of ulcers. The bael fruit taken in the form of beverage has also great viscous content. This substance forms a coating on the stomach mucosa and thus helps in the healing of ulcers.

Respiratory Affections
A medicated oil prepared from bael leaves gives relief from recurrent colds and respiratory affections. The juice extracted from bael leaves is mixed with equal quantity of sesame oil and heated thoroughly. A few seeds of black pepper and half a teaspoonful of black cumin are added to the hot oil. It is then removed from the fire and stored for use when necessary. A teaspoonful of this oil should be massaged into the scalp before a head bath. Its regular use builds up resistance against colds and coughs.

A common practice in south India is to give the juice of bael leaves to bring relief from wheezing and respiratory spasm. The leaf juice, mixed in warm water with a little pepper, is give as a drink.

Other Uses of the tree and its parts
1. The fruit pulp has detergent action and has been used for washing clothes. Quisumbing says that bael fruit is employed to eliminate scum in vinegar-making. The gum enveloping the seeds is most abundant in wild fruits and especially when they are unripe. It is commonly used as household glue and is employed as an adhesive by jewelers. Sometimes it is resorted to as a soap-substitute. It is mixed with lime plaster for waterproofing wells and is added to cement when building walls. Artists add it to their watercolors, and it may be applied as a protective coating on paintings.

The limonene-rich oil has been distilled from the rind for scenting hair oil. The shell of hard fruits has been fashioned into pill- and snuff boxes, sometimes decorated with gold and silver. The rind of the unripe fruit is employed in tanning and also yields a yellow dye for calico and silk fabrics.

2.  In the Hindu culture, the leaves are indispensable offerings to the 'Lord Shiva'. The leaves and twigs are lopped for fodder.

3.  A cologne is obtained by distillation from the flowers.

4. The wood is strongly aromatic when freshly cut. It is gray-white, hard, but not durable; has been used for carts and construction, though it is inclined to warp and crack during curing. It is best utilized for carving, small-scale turnery, tool and knife handles, pestles and combs, taking a fine polish.

Key words Aegle marmelos, tree, medicinal values of fruits,


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