The Indian laburnum is a spectacular sight when in bloom around April in Pakistan. The blossoms range in colour from yellow to orange and sepia, and are more prolific than those of its cousin the British laburnum which destroys the vegetation under it. This tree is the producer of the national flower of Thailand which is the symbol of Thai royalty. It is also the state flower of Kerala, India, where it is one of the central elements of Vishu the Malayalees New Year festival celebrated in March - April. It is part of the Kani Kannal preparations (meaning lucky sight or gift). Before morning prayers are sung or said the women of the household prepare the lucky sight, which is a large pot (uruli) made of bell-iron, in which is placed the flowers of the Indian laburnum tree, a palm-leaf manuscript (grantha) a gold ornament, coins in a silver cup, new cloth, two halves of a coconut, a cucumber, mangoes and a jackfruit. The pot is placed in front of a mirror and a statue of Krishna, decorated with garlands, with two burning oil lamps on either side with a chair facing it. Members of the family are then led blindfolded into the room so that the first thing they see is the lucky sight of the pot. This sight will bring good fortune for the rest of the year it is believed. The elders present bless the younger members of the family and give them money.
It is one of the most widespread trees on the Indian subcontinent and a member of the Leguminoseae family. This makes it a member of the bean family and a relative of green beans and other trees which have long seed pods, such as the carob and kachnar, or Mountain Orchid tree. The Indian Laburnum is used for many ailments, and all parts are used. Monkeys are particularly fond of the sweet pulp around the seeds and are responsible for spreading the trees. In Hindi it’s called the Monkey Stick tree, Bandarlathi, a reference to the size of the pods which can grow to 90 centimetres long. In Urdu it is called Amlatas, and this tree figures in many romances and was one of the trees planted in the Mughals’ gardens, so there are some of them in the Shalimar gardens in Lahore. It has been planted along the roadsides, making them look wonderful in spring.
The seeds are poisonous but the flesh isn’t and the blossoms have a delightful pungent smell. The pods start soft and green and then turn brown and black and hard. The pulp from the pods was used to flavour tobacco and is a potent laxative which should not be consumed in large doses. Interestingly, cattle and goats seem to avoid the flowers and leaves of this tree, which is god for the hakims (traditional healers) who harvest all parts for traditional medicinal preparations. The wood makes good firewood and charcoal and the trunk wood is strong and durable so fence posts and agricultural implements are made from it.
Traditionally the roots are used to cure skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema, and the root bark extracts have been tested in clinical trials and this use is borne out. Modern research has also shown that an extract from the tree can protect the liver and trials are underway to see how effective it can be against HIV/AIDS. The pulp around the seeds has one of the highest calcium contents in any fruits, 827milligrams in every 100 grams of dry matter. It is also a good source of other minerals, namely manganese and iron. The pulp also contains amino acids such as lysine and glutamine. The fruit could be an important source of nutrients and energy for us which at present are underused. It has more nutrients than apples, apricots, peaches, pears and oranges.
The stem bark has potent antioxidant properties as do the leaves and the flowers and pulp to a lesser extent. Extracts of the bark have been used in creams for piles in the West as it seems it is good for the veins and blood flow.
In traditional medicine in the subcontinent the roots are used for skin diseases, to alleviate burning sensations, and to cure syphilis. The bark is rich in tannins, and so is used for boils, leprosy, ringworm, and colic, to relieve constipation and diarrhea, as well as dyspepsia and heart problems. The leaves are also used for the skin dry coughs, bronchitis and burning sensations; the fruits are used for flatulence, dyspepsia, colic, inflammation and intermittent fevers. The flowers are said to be good for skin diseases, purging the body of toxins, and also as coolants and skin complaints.
Science has found that parts of the tree possess potent antioxidant properties, are antibacterial, antiviral and cholesterol lowering. It also has pain-relieving properties as well as being useful to treat fevers and to reduce blood pressure. However no part can be taken in large doses as they provoke vomiting, nausea and stomach pains and cramps.
I think I am just content to look at this tree; others such as the neem are as beneficial.