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Sunday, January 22, 2012

JHAND, MESQUITE TREE - FLOURISHES IN DESERTS: HISTORY AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF PROSOPIS CINERARIA


HONEY MESQUITE TREE, JHAND, KANDI, KHEJRI, PROSOPIS CINERARIA 
This mesquite tree is native to the Indian sub-continent, Afghanistan and Iran through to the Arabian Peninsula, although it was introduced into Abu Dhabi to stabilize sand dunes. It is a member of the Fabaceae or Leguminoseae family and so related to peas and beans, as well as kudzu or pueraria, senna, the dhak tree, alfalfa, carob, broom, lupins, chickpeas and peanuts to name just a few.
  It can flourish in drought-ridden areas and is a nitrogen-fixer, making the soil it grows in more fertile. And because it has a tap root which can grow to 3 metres it does not compete with plants which grow around it for moisture. In India and Pakistan sorghum and millet are grown under it as it protects them from the blistering summer sun under its canopy. It can also protect maize (sweet corn), wheat and mustard which can also be found growing in its vicinity.
  Its bark and leaf galls are used for tanning in the leather industry as it contains tannins, which give it astringent qualities. The bark is a little sweet and edible in times of famine, and like Babul (Acacia nilotica) it produces a gum which can be substituted for gum Arabic, produced between the months of May and June.
  Its trunk is not formed in a way which lends the wood to timber but it is strong and durable and used for posts, tool handles, bat frames and firewood and charcoal.
  Its unripe pods are pickled and used in curries in some parts of India, but the pods and leaves are fodder for animals, providing a good source of protein. There are prickles on the thin branch stems and care must be taken to avoid them.
  In folk medicine the tree and its parts are used as a heart tonic, astringent and soother of the stomach, and is used for a variety of complaints. In India the flowers mixed with gur are given to prevent miscarriages. The smoke from the leaves is used to relieve eye problems while the bark is said to help concentration, get rid of intestinal worms, help with asthma and bronchitis, dysentery, leucoderma, leprosy and pile among other ailments. The fruit is indigestible, reportedly, and destroys nails and hair and makes people vomit. The pod has astringent properties.
  It has been found that an extract of the bark has antifungal properties, and this is traditionally used for venomous snake and insect bites. The leaves and fruit are used in medicines for nervous disorders. An extract of the roots has been found to have analgesic actions, and the palutibin isolated from the flowers (which look a little like a hairy caterpillar as do those of Grevillea robusta the silk oak) is thought to be cytotoxic, although more research needs to be done on all parts of this tree.
  It also has religious significance as it was used to kindle the sacred fire in Vedic times and Ram is said to have worshipped this tree which represents the goddess of power, before he lead his army to defeat Ravanna.
  In these ways it is of great importance in India and in medicine throughout the range of its natural habitat. In Pakistan it is the symbol of the Province of Sindh as it grows well in the Tahr desert there.

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