WHAT IS KAMPILLAKA OR KAMALA? THE MONKEY FACE TREE: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF MALLOTUS PHILIPPINENSIS
Mallotus means ‘fleecy’ and this name was given this tree because of the hairs on its fruit. It is sometimes erroneously called the Monkey Puzzle tree, but this is the usual name of the genus Araucaria araucana, which is unrelated to Mallotus philippinensis. As its name suggests it is a native of the Philippines, and also of India, Pakistan, Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Australia. In some parts of the world for example in India it grows to a height of 10 metres, but in other parts of the world, it grows to a height of 20 metres.
It has been used in traditional medicine since at least 1000 BC and is mentioned in the ancient Indian medical texts. Traditionally it is used to get rid of intestinal worms and is one of the best herbal remedies for this. This has been shown to be the case by modern medical research which has also vindicated other traditional uses of this tree. All parts are used and in recent years the stems and flowers, as well as the fruit have been tested for their medicinal properties.
The leaves are pounded into a paste and applied to wounds and they have maturant properties, this means that they draw pus out of wounds. It would seem that the fruit is used most, in traditional medicine, although research has shown that the flowers and bark have useful properties too.
The tree is an evergreen which flowers in February and March, and the white flowers die to turn into fruit covered with a layer of crimson hairs. One study conducted by K Moorthy et al and published in 2007 concluded “Test results would tend to corroborate the folk belief that the flowers of this plant are efficacious against respiratory infections and would justify its further investigation.” The same study also stated that the bark “may be used for treatment of several infectious diseases.” (“Phytochemical screening and antibacterial evaluation of the stem bark of M. philippinensis var.Tomentosus” 2007)
The fruit has undergone numerous studies and it has been found to contain many acids which are listed below with their properties.
· Gallic acid: this has anti-inflammatory properties as well as being antibacterial.
· Caffeic acid: has the same properties as gallic acid and is also an anti-fungal agent.
· Ferulic acid: this has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.
· Cinnamic acid: is an antifungal and anthelmintic and also gives protection against infections by pathogenic micro-organisms.
· Salicylic acid: this is an antipyretic and can be used externally as an antiseptic and antifungal for a variety of skin problems.
It also contains chlorogenic, vanillic and o-coumaric acids.
In Ayurvedic medicine the leaves are used for their bitter, cooling properties and to increase the appetite. The fruit is used as a purgative (too much of it causes vomiting and nausea) for its wound healing qualities, as a maturant, a carminative (it gets rid of the problems of flatulence) an alexitic (a substance which resists poison and a preservative agent used against infectious and contagious diseases) and is used in cases of bronchitis and other respiratory diseases and for stomach problems which includes enlarged spleens. It is also believed that it gets rid of stones in the kidneys and other organs. The powdered fruit is also used to cure eye diseases and to remove tapeworms from the intestines.
The oil from the seeds and fruit is used as a hair-fixer and added to ointment, while the remains or seed cake after the oil has been extracted is used as fertilizer. As the roots can also yield a dye for wool and silk (orange-brown) no part of the tree is wasted. Even the trunk or stem can be made into paper and this is the required quality for writing and printing paper.
The tree and its parts contain bioflavonoids, saponins which are glycosides that have anti-inflammatory properties, and all the parts especially the fruit have potent antioxidant properties, which might be why it is used as an aphrodisiac in some cultures.
The Monkey Face Tree, Mallotus philippinensis, clearly has many health benefits for us as modern medical research has borne out.