An Apple Or Two

Bael or Holy Fruit or more aptly, Golden Apple (Aegle Marmelos/बेल) is the only member of its monotypic genus Aegle. It is one of the most useful and well known of the Indian tree. Almost every part of the tree is put to some use and it has been used very widely for thousands of years in India. It bears sacred aromatic leaves, fragrant flowers and edible fruits.

The Bael is considered as a sacred tree by the Hindus. They offer its leaves to Lord Shiva during worship. Almost every Hindu temple in India would have one or more Bael trees in their courtyards.

In the Hindu religion, the Tri-foliate leaves typical of the Bael is seen as the 3-pronged Trident (Trishula) that Lord Shiva holds in his right hand. The Trident symbolizes his three fundamental Powers (shakti) of Will (ichchha), Action (kriya) and Knowledge (gyana). The Trident also symbolizes the past, the present and the future. It is believed that the leaves absorb foul gases from the atmosphere and keep it clean and salubrious.

Though more prized for its medicinal virtues than its edible quality, this interesting tree is, nevertheless, of sufficient importance as an edible fruit too! Bael fruits contain nutritious pulp and is eaten fresh. It is rich in carbohydrates, fibres, proteins, calcium, iron, phosphorus, carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. A popular drink called sherbet in India, is made by beating the seeded pulp together with milk & sugar. The drinks are consumed perhaps less as food or refreshment than for their medicinal effects. Mature but still unripe fruits are made into jam, marmalade, jelly, pickle or syrup, likewise for both food and therapeutic use.

The tree is known to have medicinal properties. In Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used to cure diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhoids, hepatitis, colitis, eye & ear infections and as a brain & heart tonic.

Being a deciduous tree, Bael provide green manure, or leaves can be used as fodder. An essential oil is extracted from the leaves which is used in cosmetics. Other commercial products from the tree include gum, tannin & dyes. A mucous is obtained chiefly from the fruit which is used as cement when mixed with lime; it is also mixed with water paints as a drier and to give a glossy finish; it is also used as a soap substitute. This tree is also a larval foodplant for the Indian Swallowtail butterflies.

In India, Bael has the reputation of thriving where other fruit trees cannot survive. The tree has no exacting cultural requirements, doing well with a minimum of fertilizer and irrigation. The Bael seems to be relatively free from pests and diseases. The tree is commonly grown from seed.

Another tree which displays similar type of fruits is Curd Fruit or Wood Apple (Limonia Acidissima/कवठ, कैट) which is a large deciduous tree.

In fact this term 'Wood apple' is also used for the Bael fruit. But it is more appropriate for the Curd Fruit. Interestingly, the tree is also the only species within the monotypic genus Limonia, just like Bael tree.

Wood Apple also bears edible, nutritious fruits. The fruit is eaten fresh or is used to make jams, jelly, syrups etc. Other uses include gum, dyes, tannin. The gum is said to be useful in preparation of water colours, and to be preferred to Gum Arabic. Oil is said to be obtained from the leaves and the seeds. The hard dry shells of small fruits are made into snuff boxes. The tree flowers abundantly with tiny, beautiful flowers; which attracts many birds and insects.

Wood Apple has traditionally been used in many herbal remedies as a digestive stimulant, astringent, anti-dysenteric, anti-hemorrhoidal and as an anti-diarrheal. The fruit and the leaves are used in herbal preparations. The tree is propagated by seeds.

Both these trees, Bael and Wood Apple are perfect trees for roadside plantation.

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