WOOD APPLE - UNIQUE CITRUS FRUIT: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF WOOD APPLE
This is a very curious-looking citrus fruit, and has many names both in English and Latin. Whatever you choose to call it this citrus fruit is unique in that it is the only one in its genus. It is like the lemon, grapefruit, meethay, kinnow, and pommelo a member of the Rutaceae family, and was previously known by the Latin name Limonia acidissima L., although according to the agro Forestry database it is now called Feronia limonia. It is also known as Feronia elephantum CORREA and Sehinus limonia L. In English it is also called the Indian Wood Apple, Monkey fruit, Curd fruit, and kath bel and a variety of other names in Indian dialects and languages. In French it is called pomme d’elephant pomme de bois or citron des mois. It looks a little like the Bael fruit (Aegle marmelos) when on the tree, but it is a totally different fruit.
The tree this fruit grows on is a slow-growing one which is erect with sharp spines on its bark. The flowers are a greeny colour or dull red. The fruit has a very hard rind which has to be cracked open with a hammer or other tool, and the sticky pulp, with its small, numerous white seeds can then be scooped out and eaten raw. This pulp is brown, with a mealy texture, and has an astringent taste. It can be bitter or a little sweet, and can be made into jam, jelly or chutney. The jelly made from the pulp looks like blackcurrant jelly when it is made as it goes a dark purple colour. The leaves smell a little of aniseed.
It was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In this system of medicine it is used to protect the liver, and clinical studies have recently shown that it can protect the liver and kidneys of rats in the lab, although studies have not yet been carried out on humans. It is also used as a cardiac tonic, and given the antioxidant properties of this fruit it should be of benefit to the cardio-vascular system. It contains iron, phosphorous, calcium, tannins and pectin, and its astringent qualities mean that the unripe fruit is a good treatment for chronic diarrhoea and dysentery. It is prescribed for hiccoughs, sore throats and gum diseases. In a poultice the pulp is used to help with venomous insect bites and stings, as is the dried, powdered rind.
The pulp is blended with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup as a refreshing drink, and it can be frozen and made into ice cream.
Juice from the young leaves is mixed with milk and gur (jaggery) and given to children to stop vomiting and other gastric problems. Powdered leaves are also mixed with honey and given to children with diarrhoea or dysentery. Again children are given a decoction of the leaves to aid digestion, and oil from the leaves is said to stop itching.
The leaves, bark, roots and fruit pulp of this tree are, when combined used as an antidote to snake bites. An extract of the bark of the tree is used in cosmetics to help prevent sun burn and to protect from UV rays.
The leaves contain flavonoids, polyphenols, coumarin and glycosides, but their properties and constituents are still being studied. In one study it was shown that extracts of the leaves could inhibit nitric oxide production in the body, and in another the extract was found to have antifungal properties. In rats it also helped reduce gastric ulcers.
When the monsoon and rainy season is over the tree produces a gum which can be used as a substitute for or an adulterant of gum Arabic, and is used in artist’s watercolours as well as in inks and varnishes. The wood from the tree is hard and durable, a yellow-grey colour which is used for construction, making agricultural implements and many other items as well as being used for fuel. The rind can be made into decorative items such as small boxes too, if it is not dried and powdered for medicinal use.
This tree and its fruit may have as yet unknown medicinal benefits, and the traditional uses of it may be proved scientifically.