The Devotional Fruits

The use of this tree in India can be traced back to as early as 1,000 BC. Indian Jujube, Indian Plum or more common, Ber (Ziziphus Mauritiana/ बोर, बोरी) is a beautiful, spiny, evergreen medium-sized tree. The tree whose greatest quality is its ability to thrive and produce fruits in arid or semi-arid regions.

The Ber is an important tree in the dry regions as it grows readily & quickly on poor ground. It grows vigorously and has rapidly developing & exceptional deep taproot system, a necessary adaptation to drought conditions. Ber tree may be erect or wide-spreading, with gracefully drooping thorny branches & zigzag branch-lets. It can withstand severe heat, frost & drought, hence it is planted in dry areas and on sites unfit for other crops. It coppices very well and can be easily propagated by seeds or root suckers.

Ber has number of uses to its name. An apt description of its value is that Ber produces the three vital 'f's that desert dwellers require- fruit, fodder and fuel. It bears heavily with nutritious fruits, excellent as Agroforestry species, one of the few trees that can be used to host lac insects, makes good fodder and has some medicinal properties too! One idealist describes this species as "a gift of mother nature which symbolizes the productive capacity of the seemingly infertile ecosystem".

The fruit is nutritiously rich & delicious in flavor. It contains vitamin C much higher than apples or citrus fruit & second only to guava. It is also high in Beta Carotene & vitamin A. The ripe fruits are mostly consumed raw or even dried, but are sometimes pickled or used in beverages, candy making .

This thorny tree makes good live fencing & is an excellent Agroforestry tree to use in hedges. The tree has been planted for shade and windbreaks. Its a suitable species to aid in fixation of coastal dune sand. Its leaves are readily eaten by camels, cattle, sheep, goats and are considered nutritious. These leaves also make excellent mulch as they bring deep seated nutrients to the surface layer. In India & Queensland, the flowers are rated as a minor source of nectar for honeybees. The honey is light and of fair flavor. The Indian Jujube is one of several trees grown in India as a host for the lac insect, Kerria Lacca. The leaves are also gathered to feed tasar silkworms. Highly priced tasar silk is the only silk commercially exploited in the tropics. The tree also makes excellent charcoal.

In traditional medicine of Ayurveda, the leaves, fruits, bark & even roots are used against various ailments. Ber is used to treat a variety of ailments including: colds and flu, malnutrition related diseases in children, convulsions, indigestion. The oil from seeds is believed to have potential as a treatment for skin disorders or even as biodiesel.

Other uses include tanning, dyes and shellac which is obtained from resinous lac, in the manufacture of gramophone records, polishes, fine lacquer work, sealing wax and varnishes. An oil is pressed from seeds which, due to purity, lack of odour, resistance to rancidity, is used as natural base for creams & ointments, pharmaceuticals, heating oils, plasticizers, fire retardants, high pressure lubricants. A wax is also obtained from seeds, used in candles, polishing wax for cars, furniture, electrical insulators etc.

In our great epic Ramayana, there is a mention that Lord Rama delightedly had the half-eaten fruits, ber, from Shabari, an old tribal devotee of Rama. These fruits have further significance in the epic when Meghnad (Ravana's son) attacks the two brothers and only Lakshmana becomes unconscious, but Rama is saved because he have had the Jhootey ber of Shabari. This mention shows the importance of the tree.

Despite of being such a useful tree, Indian Jujube is never planted or made to grow near house & city gardens. In fact, the tree plays important role in ecosystem. It attracts number of small birds and insects, including butterflies & moths. Other than Babool, it is the most preferred habitat by sparrows & alike small birds. The adjacent photograph shows a natural habitat of House Sparrow comprised of the Indian Jujube. Some might think that the tree will compromise the beauty of their garden. But the truth is- Indian Jujube will increase its beauty with lots of small birds!

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