THE BAEL FRUIT TREE - SACRED TO SHIVA: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF BAEL FRUIT
The Bael fruit tree is native to the Indian subcontinent and was mentioned in early Sanskrit writings in 800 BC. It is sacred to the Hindus and so is cultivated in many temple gardens. It is thought to be the dwelling place of Lord Shiva and the leaves are inhabited by the goddess Lakshmi. The leaves are offered to Shiva in religious ceremonies, and in the Bael Kama ceremony young pre-pubescent girls are ‘married’ to a bael fruit which symbolizes Shiva so that she will become and remain fertile. Such a ceremony is carried out in Bhutan.
The Bael tree is also known as the Indian Quince, to which it bears some outward resemblance, though it is a member of the Rutaceae family so related to the lemon and citron trees, it contains limonene so its oil is used as a dressing for hair and to scent wood, especially carved items. The wood from the bael tree is not durable so is usually used for decorative and small items such as knife handles. It goes under two other Latin names, Crataeva marmelos and Foronia pellucida-Roth, but is mostly recognized as Aegle marmelos. It can grow to heights of between 40 and 50 feet, and has yellow flowers which are used to make perfume and cologne. The fruit start by being green and on maturity has a pale yellow rind, containing woolly seeds wrapped in mucilage. When the young leaves are bruised they have a pleasant aroma but on maturity they are not very pleasant. The young shoots are eaten as a vegetable in Thailand, where the tree is cultivated. There mangosteen is used as a substitute for the bael fruit in medicine, but it appears not to be as effective. The branches, when cut, exude a gummy sap which hangs down and solidifies, giving the tree an unusual appearance. In India the tree has a reputation of being able to thrive in places where other fruit trees can’t.
It seems that all parts of the tree have their uses, with the gummy sap being used as an adhesive by jewellers and as glue for household purposes. The ripe fruit can be scooped from the pod and eaten but I can’t do this as the smell is off-putting like the ber fruit. The pulp is often soaked in water and then mixed with palm sugar and ice which makes a refreshing drink in summer. The ripe fruit can also be mixed with milk and honey or palm sugar to make it more palatable. Jams and jellies are made from it and given to people who are recovering from bouts of diarrhoea and dysentery. The ripe fruit is also considered a laxative while the unripe bael fruit is given for diarrhoea as it contains tannins. The pulp can be mixed with guava and made into a jelly too and this is quite pleasant. Another pleasant drink that cools the body is made by mixing the pulp with tamarind pulp and an infusion of the flowers is a very good, cooling drink.
It contains some B-complex vitamins, as well as carotene, vitamin C and tartaric acid among other things. There are tannins in the leaves and fruit, but there are more in the wild fruit than the cultivated variety.
The leaves are said to cause a foetus to abort and to cause sterility in a woman. It has other notable qualities to as in some parts of the world the bark of the tree is used to poison fish. The fruit pulp can be used as detergent and some poor families use it instead of soap. Sometimes the gum is added to lime plaster and cement, and some artists use it to coat paintings to preserve their water colours.
The young fruit is often sliced and sun dried to be sold in local markets or exported to Europe and Malaysia. In Malaysia it is used for its medicinal properties. There are many remedies for treatment with the bael tree, and here are some of them, for information only as any herbal remedy should only be taken with the approval of your health care practitioner.
The leaf juice from the mature leaves can be mixed with honey and used for catarrh and fevers, and with black pepper added for jaundice and constipation when this is accompanied by edema (swollen legs). Asthma is treated with a decoction of the leaves and hot poultices can be made with them to reduce swellings, acute bronchitis and inflammation. A decoction of the flowers is used for itching eyes and to get rid of internal parasites. A decoction of the bark is said to be effective in cases of malaria, while one made from the root is given for heart palpitations, arrhythmia, indigestion, bowel problems and to stop vomiting.
It is believed that the fruit, leaves and bark have antibiotic properties and the root, leaves and bark of the tree are good antidotes for snake bites. These properties appear to have been proved to the satisfaction of researchers.
In some communities ear problems are treated by dipping a stiff piece of the root of the bael tree in neem oil and then lighting one end and catching the oil which drips from the lighted end. This is stored for use and a drop is put in ears which have problems. It is believed that if you make an oil by heating oil from bael tree leaves with an equal amount of sesame oil, and adding a few black peppercorns and ½ a teaspoon of caraway seeds, then removing this from the heat and allowing to cool, you can massage this mixture into your scalp before washing your hair in order to stop recurring colds and respiratory problems.
These home remedies are added for interest rather than any other purpose!