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WHAT IS PONGAM TREE? INDIAN BEECH TREE: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF PONGAM TREE
PONGAM TREE, INDIAN BEECH, PONGAM PINNATA
The Pongam tree or Indian Beech is known by many names in the Indian subcontinent, including, Honge tree, Kalanj, Panigrahi papar and kanji. It has a few different “English” names too which include Poonga Oil Tree, and Karum Tree. The name Pongam comes from a Tamil word and pinnata refers to the pinnate leaves of the tree. It’s a member of the Leguminosae species of plants and is distantly related to thePueraria or kudzu root, although it is more closely related to members of the Fabaceae family or pea family. It is native to the Indian subcontinent and perhaps to Myanmar. However it has been naturalized in Australia, Fiji, Japan and Malaysia and has been introduced to Egypt Florida and Hawaii. It is a fast-growing shade tree which can grow to heights of 40 metres and its thick taproots are nitrogen fixers, so it is valuable to farmers. Like jatropha (Croton tiglium, or jamalgota) it is being investigated for its potential use as biodiesel.
For centuries it has been used in the traditional medicine of the Indian subcontinent and all parts of the tree are utilized. The fruits are woody pods which contain oil-bearing seeds which mature just before the tree produces new leaves. The flowers grow like wisteria flowers and can be white, pink or purple. When they fall they make excellent fertilizer as they are nutrient-rich. The leaves and branches are used as cattle fodder and the oil from the seeds is used for lamps. The timber is also used in cabinet-making and for cartwheels and to make poles and posts. Locals also use the wood for fuel. The tree is also host to lac insects as is thebanyan tree.
It is said that the leaves when fed to cattle help them to produce more milk of a richer quality so they are useful in arid areas. In the Philippines the bark of the tree is used to make string and rope. A black gum is obtained from the bark and this is used to treat wounds inflicted by poisonous fish. The seeds are said to stupefy or poison fish.
A red-brown oil is obtained from the seeds which has been used in the tanning industry, to make soap and is also employed to cure skin diseases. Juice extracted from the roots is antiseptic and is used to clean the teeth, as are twigs from the pongam tree.
In India the fruit and sprouts of the tree are used for abdominal tumours and a powder made from parts of the tree is employed for the same purpose in Vietnam. The seeds are used in traditional medicines in Asia to cure scabies, herpes and as an ointment for rheumatic pains. Juice extracted from the leaves is used for clod, coughs, indigestion and heartburn, flatulence, diarrhoea, gonorrhea and leprosy. A decoction made from the bark of the Pongam tree is used for piles and taken internally. Powdered seeds are considered good for reducing fevers, for helping with bronchitis and whooping cough and the flowers are used to treat some of the symptoms of diabetes. They are also used to stop bilious attacks and nausea.
In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, parts of the tree are used to get rid of internal parasite, for lice, and for reducing the effects of poison and contagious diseases. The leaves promote digestion and have anti-inflammatory properties so are used to dress wounds. The fruit and seeds are used for piles, urinary discharges problems affecting the brain, eyes, head and skin. The oil is also used to stop biliousness to remove intestinal worms, to help with eye problems, and is put on wounds. It is also given in cases of leucoderma (white patches on dark skin) and applied to rheumatic joints which are inflamed.
Medical studies have been carried out on the leaves, roots and flowers of the Indian Beech tree, and it has been found to contain variousbioflavonoids and amino acids and fatty acids such as linoleic, palmitic and oleic acids among others. It would seem that the leaves may help to protect the liver and improve its functioning, as well as having antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. The roots may also help to protect the liver and the leaves and oil have potent antioxidant properties, as do the flowers. However research into the Indian beech tree is still ongoing and the traditional uses have yet to be confirmed as efficacious at the present time.