The Trees for Taste

Here is a tasty treat for you that you will surely enjoy! :)

Although it may not be what you would choose for an afternoon snack, we consider Lemons (Citrus Limon/लिंबू) as powerhouses when we want to bring out the flavor of other foods. Lemon tree is becoming more and more popular as landscaping plant, offering not only fruit but an attractive form of year-round, glossy, deep green foliage and fragrant flowers that would rival any!

Lemons are oval in shape and feature a greenish-yellow, textured outer peel. Like other citrus fruits, their inner flesh is encased in 8 to 10 segments. While most of them are tart, acidic & astringent, they are also surprisingly refreshing. Slices of Lemon are served as a garnish on food or with iced or hot tea, to be squeezed for the flavorful juice.

The fruit is very nutritional. It contains vitamin A, B complex, C and E with number of minerals like Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium, Iron, Selenium, Manganese, Copper, Zinc etc in good quantity. Probably that is why it is used tremendously in cooking. A drink made from Lemon juice a cool, refreshing one. Lemon juice, fresh, canned, concentrated & frozen or dehydrated & powdered, is primarily used for lemonade, in carbonated beverages or other drinks. It is also used for making pies and tarts, as a flavoring for cakes, cookies, cake icings, puddings, sherbet, confectionery and preservatives.

But beyond cooking, in the world of traditional medicine, the lemon is widely known for its healing powers and is used in many different ways. Lemon juice is valued in the home as a stain remover, and a slice of lemon dipped in salt can be used to clean copper-bottomed cooking pots. Lemon juice has been used for bleaching freckles and is incorporated into some facial cleansing creams. Lemon peel is the source of lemon oil, pectin and citric acid. Lemon oil is added to frozen or otherwise processed lemon juice to enrich the flavor. It is much employed as a flavoring for hard candies. It is also much used in furniture polishes, detergents, soaps & shampoos. It is important in perfume blending, especially in colognes.

Not only the fruit juice but oil expressed from lemon seeds is also employed medicinally. Lemon juice is widely known as a diuretic, anti-scorbutic, astringent and febrifuge. Lemon juice in hot water has been widely advocated as a daily laxative & preventive of the common cold. Lemon juice and honey, or lemon juice with salt or ginger, is taken when needed as a cold remedy.

The lemon tree is a very hardy tree. It doesn't require much care and grows moderately fast. It has the reputation of tolerating very infertile, very poor soil. It is easily propagated from seeds.

The Lemon tree is a suitable species for urban home gardens. But it can also be a good agroforestry tree. The fruit peel & foliage can be used a s a cattle-feed. The aromatic flowers may serve as bee-forage. The tree also controls soil erosion with the help of dense network of roots. Furthermore, it gives green manure which is useful in farming. It is a ideal species for fencing or as a windbreak.

The another species to add taste to your food is the Kokum tree (Garcinia Indica/कोकम, आमसूल, रातंबा, भेरंड) which is a graceful, tall evergreen tree. It is indigenous to the Western Ghats region of India, along the western coast which is gifted with rich soil, adequate rainfall and very good sunshine.

Kokum tree has dark green foliage & a pyramidal shape. The tree blooms in winter and the fruits ripen in summer. The Kokum fruit or Ratamba looks similar to small variety plum and has dark purple color when ripe. Fruits are harvested when ripe and only the rind is preserved by drying in the Sun. That is Kokum or Aamsul. Sometimes salt is rubbed onto the rind to speed up the drying process. It is used as a slightly sour spice in recipes from Maharashtra that yields peculiar taste and dark red colour. It is preferred in curries and other dishes from Konkan. It is widely used in Konkani cuisine, in Gujarat and some cuisines of South India.

Kokum is mainly used as a souring agent. It has a fruity & distinctive tangy flavor. It is commonly utilized as a garnish in Indian cuisine and is an essential ingredient to a tasty local curry, Sol Kadhi. It is a popular drink used during hot summer months to quench thirst and to provide gastric relief. 

The fruit tree has culinary, pharmaceutical and industrial uses. The tree is also ornamental, with a dense canopy of green leaves and red-tinged, tender, emerging leaves. It is found in forest lands, riversides & wasteland and also gets cultivated on a small scale. It is rainfed, does not have any pest or diseases & is almost a 'zero-attention' species. It does not require irrigation, spraying or fertilizers. Those researching on the tree see it as having a bright future. It is propagated from seeds.

Kokum has a long history in Ayurvedic medicine as it was traditionally used to treat sores, dermatitis, ear infection and to relieve gastric problems like acidity, flatulence, constipation & indigestion. The tree pacifies vitiated vata, kapha, obesity, hypercholestremia, diarrhea, colic, ulcers, inflammations and hyper-perspiration. Kokum is known to strengthen the cardio-vascular system and stabilize liver function. The hydroxycitric acid present in the fruit fights cholesterol and curbs lipogenesis, thus aiding weight loss.

Kokum fruits contain rich amounts of anti-oxidants that bind with free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to body cells. They also promote cell regeneration and repair. Kokum juice is also thought to be effective against allergies due to bee stings and other insect bites, sun exposure symptoms and acidity. It is mixed with yogurt and salt to make a natural antacid, the perfect addition to spicy Indian feasts.

Kokum seed contains 23-26% oil, which remains solid at room temperature and freezes to form Kokum butter. It is extensively used in the preparations of confectionery, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry as it works wonders on dry, chapped, sensitive, irritated or burnt skin. Kokum butter is rapidly gaining popularity over Cocoa butter as an intensive skin moisturizer. Due to its soothing and healing properties, it is also applied directly to wounds and infected areas on the skin. It is rich in healthy fats like stearic and oleic acids and can also be used as edible oil.

Kokum sherbet/juice is a healthier and far more refreshing option as compared to commercial bottled drinks. It acts as an appetite stimulant and has anti-helmintic properties. It also helps in bringing down fever and allergic reactions. Kokum juice is extremely popular during scorching summer months as it has a cooling effect on the body and shields the body against dehydration and sunstroke.

Kokum can be an excellent agroforestry species. It grows moderately fast & provide good quantity of green manure. It usually can be seen as shade or wind-break species.

Finally here is a tree which is actually not native to India. It originated in tropical Africa, including Sudan. Its the Tamarind tree (Tamarindus Indica/चिंच). Surprisd?? But that's right! The tree was so long ago introduced into and adopted in India that it has often been reported as indigenous here; and it was apparently from this Asiatic country that it reached the Persians and the Arabs who called it tamar e hind (Indian date, from the date-like appearance of the dried pulp), giving rise to both its common and generic names. Marco Polo mentions the tree in the year 1298. In the Indian Brahmasamhita scriptures, the tree is mentioned between 1200 and 200 B.C. and in Buddhist sources from about the year A.D. 650. May be due to this very very long period, the tree has become familiar to the birds, insects and wildlife if India.

It is a long-lived evergreen tree with wide, dense crown. It grows well over a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. It tolerates a great diversity of soil types, from deep alluvial soil to rocky land & porous limestone. It withstands salt spray and can be planted fairly close to the seashore. Its extensive root system contributes to its resistance to drought and wind. The evergreen habit and the beautiful flowers make it suitable for ornamental planting in parks, along roads and riverbanks.

Just like Kokum, Tamarind is mainly used as a souring agent. All kitchens of India (especially south Indian) will have Tamarind, which is used in a variety of preparations. The fruit pulp, mixed with a little salt, is a favourite ingredient of the curries and chutneys popular throughout India. The ripe fruit of the sweet type is usually eaten fresh, whereas the fruits of sour types are made into juice, jam, syrup and candy. Fruit is marketed worldwide in sauces, syrups and processed foods. It has a high content of vitamin B (Thiamine & Niacin) as well as a small amount of Carotene and vitamin C. The flowers, leaves and seeds can be eaten and are prepared in a variety of dishes.

The soft, succulent pulp is used as a confectionery and an ingredient sherbets and beverages. The fruit is equally nutritious too; containing protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber. The tender pods can also be eaten as a vegetable, cooked or pickled. Once the seeds are extracted and the pods removed, Tamarind pulp can be stored for several months in a compressed form. Ripe tamarind fruit has a widely recognized and proven medicinal value. The fruit is said to reduce fever and cure intestinal ailments. Its effectiveness against scurvy is well documented. It is a common ingredient in cardiac and blood sugar reducing medicines. The pulp is also used as an astringent on skin infections. It is even used as a laxative. Leaves and flowers, too, are useful as they are both edible and the leaves make a good poultice for boils; also an infusion from them makes a fine yellow dye which is used to give a green colour to silks previously dyed with indigo.

The foliage has a high forage value and is coppiciable. Flowers are reportedly a good source for honey production. It also provides an excellent charcoal. The tree usually employed as shade species or as a wind-break. It is easily propagated by seed.

Without these trees, there would be hardly any taste left..not only in our cuisines, but also in Nature! Yummy na?! :-P

Neem and Neem!

We all are aware of importance of the Noble tree Neem. Today we will get acquainted to two tree species which, though closely resembles Neem, are in no way related to it.

The Curry Leaf (Bergera Koenigii/कढीनिंब, कढीपत्ता) is a small evergreen tree which is a fast grower. It is known so because it has the 'leaf that is used to make curry' and it is present in almost all the dishes of Tamil Nadu state. In other states of India also, the leaves are a must and are absolutely necessary for the authentic flavour!

It is also known as Sweet Neem since the appearance of the leaves is similar to the unrelated medicinal Neem tree. Similarly in Gujarati, it is known as Meetho Leemdo (means Sweet neem). The leaves are highly aromatic. It is a good source of vitamin A, Calcium & Iron. The leaves primarily used in providing a flavour in Indian food. The flowers are small, white & fragrant. The small black shiny berries are edible and are very nutritious.

The Curry leaves are highly valued as seasoning or a natural flavouring agent in southern and west-coast Indian cooking, and especially in curries, though can be used in many other dishes to add spice like chutneys, soups, pickles, vegetables, buttermilk preparations etc.

The leaves and fruits are also used as a herb in Ayurvedic medicine. Their properties include much value as an anti-diabetic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hepato-protective, anti-hyper-cholesterolemic and many more. It can help in reducing blood sugar level. Curry leaves are cool, stimulant and also known to be good for hair, for keeping it healthy and long. It also helps prevent premature hair greying. A volatile oil extracted from leaves is used as a fixative for soap perfume. This plant is quite ornamental due to its compound leaves. It can, therefore, be used as a hedge and as an ornamental species. It is also known for its soil-binding ability, hence prevents soil-erosion.

Curry Leaf tree does not require much maintenance or care. The tree is easily propagated from its numerous root-suckers or seeds.

The other species which is frequently confused with Neem tree is Bead tree or Persian Lilac (Melia Azedarach/बकाणनिंब). It is a moderately-sized, fast-growing tree. Locally, it is also known as Bakain.

The tree appears very beautiful due its bright green foliage. It produces dense, shady and well rounded canopy. In landscapes, it is usually pruned to form an umbrella shape.
Bead tree is a tough survivor and is usually grown in gardens or as a street tree where it provides cool shade on hot summer days. The tree produces bright and lush green foliage in spring followed by beautiful clusters of tiny, pale-purple or lilac blooms that draw attention to their presence by their delightful fragrance. The cherry-like green fruits grown abundantly.

Like Neem, it is naturally resistant to pests, termites and fungal infection. Extract from the bark and fruit has pharmacological properties and is used to kill parasitic roundworms. It is well known for its medicinal uses. Its various parts have antihelmintic, antimalarial, cathartic, emetic properties and are also used to treat skin diseases. Seed-oil is used in rheumatism. Leaves and fruits are insect repellent. Dried ripe fruit is used as an external parasiticide.

The hardy tree is drought-tolerant and is easily propagated by seeds. It also withstand coppicing and lopping as for fodder and leaves are highly nutritious. It also gives good quality charcoal. Fruit stones make ideal beads and are used in making necklaces & rosaries.

Bead tree is a well-known ornamental avenue tree, for its scented flowers and shady, spreading crown. But it is also widely used as a shade tree in coffee plantations or as windbreak. It also provide abundant green manure.

It seems, its best to have these Neems! :-)

The Indian Bread-fruit

A unique fruit tree..Jackfruit (Artocarpus Heterophyllus/फणस) is a handsome & stately tree, 30-70 ft tall, with evergreen, alternate, glossy, somewhat leathery leaves. Jackfruit tree is unique in the fact that it produced huge fruits directly from its stem.

It is a beautiful tree which has played a significant role in Indian agriculture. Archaeological records revealed that the tree was cultivated in India 3000 to 6000 years ago. It has  individual flowers borne on an elongated axis and forming a racemoid inflorescence. Male spikes produced singly, elongated, whitish-green or dark green with smooth skin, becoming yellowish & rough when mature. Female spikes either solitary or paired, oblong or cylindrical with rough, light to dark green skin and green annulus. Flowers are pleasantly aromatic but the fruits are more interesting! Its not a fruit, but a collection of fruits.

A multiple fruit can be seen consisting of several achenes (syncarp), each of which is indehiscent and one-seeded. Inside are the fruit-lets, which are the true fruits! It is composed of fleshy aril and the seed. The aril is golden yellow to yellow-orange in colour and is sweet & aromatic. It is a good source of dietary fibre and contain various nutrients like vitamins & carotenes. May be due to this nutritious fruit, Jackfruit is one of the three auspicious fruits of Tamil Nadu state, along with Mango and Banana.

Jackfruit is a relatively hardy tree with a long taproot. It grows well in a warm, humid climate. It tolerates a wide range of soils including shallow limestone & rocky substrates. It can also withstand lower temperatures and frost. The tree can be grown from seeds & cuttings.

Jackfruit tree plays important role in erosion control. It can be planted to control floods and soil erosion in farms. It also provide delicious fruit which when young is cooked as a vegetable, pickled or canned in brine or curry. Pulp of ripe fruit is eaten fresh or made into various local delicacies, chutney, jam, jelly & paste; or preserved as candy. The pulp is also used to flavour ice-cream & beverages and reduced to a concentrate or powder to be used for preparing drinks. Even the seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, dried and salted as table nuts. They are also ground to make flour that is blended with wheat flour for baking. They are nutritious too as rich in vitamin A, sulphur, calcium & phosphorus!

The tree also has other uses. Leaves can be cropped as fodder for cattle & elephants. Trees planted at a close spacing act as a windbreak and are sometimes used as shade for coffee. It gives a dark, water-soluble resinous gum containing tannin & can be made into varnish. A rich yellow dye can be produced which is used for silk and the cotton robes of Buddhist priests. The latex is commonly used as adhesive for mending broken earthenware, caulking boats, mending holes of buckets. In India and Brazil, the latex serves as a substitute for rubber.

Jackfruit tree is equally revered for its medicinal properties. It is used to treat various ailments like ulcers, skin diseases, diarrhoea, boils, stomach-ache & wounds. Pulp and seeds of the fruit are regarded as a cooling tonic. Seeds are said to be an aphrodisiac. The sap is an anti-syphilitic and a vermifuge. The bacteriolytic activity of the latex is equal to that of Papaya latex.

There is one more astounding fact about the fruit. When fully ripe, the unopened Jackfruit emits a strong disagreeable odor, resembling that of decayed onions, while the pulp of the opened fruit smells of Pineapple & Banana.

Jackfruit is a great tree, frequently planted in neighbourhood of villages, often surviving the village and remaining a monument to one time human occupation. Due to its beautiful foliage, it can also be planted in urban societies and gardens.

The Fruit of the Gods

For long in the period of recorded history, the tree been known to have grown in the Indian Sub-continent, and many other adjoining regions of South Asia and around. Jamun or Java Plum (Syzygium Cumini/जांभूळ) is a fairly fast growing species and can live more than 100 years.

Jamun tree has a special significance with the monsoon of the Indian sub-continent. This is the time when big old trees of Jamun whirl in monsoon winds and spread a hint of fragrance in rainy days. The flowering and fruiting varies with the locality, but the general time for the fruit is towards the beginning of the rains. The purple-black fruit of Jamun ripens and is eaten very fondly. The fallen fruit attract a large number of Blue-bottle flies, butterflies, birds and squirrels. The fruits are also eaten by jackals and civets. Industrially, fruits can be made into jams, jellies, juice & puddings.

Jamun is an evergreen, tall and shady tree that grows tall and becomes woody very fast. Mature trees of Jamun bear white and tiny flowers that are usually behind broad pendant trees.

Besides its sweet, sometimes astringent, edible fruit, the seed is also used in various alternative healing systems like Ayurveda (to control diabetes), Unani and Chinese medicine for digestive ailments. The leaves and bark are used for controlling blood pressure and gingivitis. Wine and vinegar are also made from the fruit. It has a high source in vitamin A and vitamin C. Jamun is quite hardy tree and does not require much care. It can tolerate frost as well as long spells of summer. The tree may even be used to reclaim water-logged sites. It can easily be propagated from seeds. Young plants should be provided with a well drained soil, moderate watering and bright sunlight.

Jamun's dense foliage provides shade and is grown for its ornamental value. It makes good fuel too. It is one of the trees on which the tasar silkworm is fed. It may be used as a good agroforestry species. The leaves can be used as fodder and flowers are rich in nectar & yield high-quality honey. Jamun tree is also used in dyeing and tanning.

The Jamun is one of the trees held in veneration by the Buddhists and is often planted near Hindu temples because regarded as sacred to Lord Krishna and to Lord Ganesha. Lord Krishna has been described as having skin the color of Jamun. According to Hindu tradition, Rama subsisted on the fruit in the forest for 14 years during his exile from Ayodhya. Because of this, many Hindus regard Jamun as a 'Fruit of the Gods,' especially in Gujarat state of India. In Maharashtra, Jamun leaves are used as marriage pandals.

The fruit of the Good! Isn't it?! :-)