The story of wood apple
Be it in India or Indonesia, bael fruit is immensely popular
THE YAJUR VEDA mentions the bael tree, but the Charaka Samhita, an Ayurveda treatise from the 1st millennium BC, was the first book to describe its medicinal properties. Hindu scriptures abound in references to the bael tree and its leaves. The devotees of Lord Shiva commonly offer bael leaves to the deity, especially on Shivaratri; this probably explains why bael trees are so common near temples. Hindus also believe the goddess Lakshmi resides in bael leaves.
As food: Indonesians beat the pulp of the ripe fruit with palm sugar and eat the mixture at breakfast. The sweetened pulp is a source of sherbet in the subcontinent. Jam, pickle, marmalade, syrup, jelly, squash and toffee are some of the products of this versatile fruit. Young bael leaves are a salad green in Thailand.
Other uses: Bael fruit pulp has a soap-like action that made it a household cleaner for hundreds of years. The sticky layer around the unripe seeds is household glue that also finds use in jewellery making. The glue, mixed with lime, waterproofs wells and cements walls. The glue also protects oil paintings when added as a coat on the canvas. The fruit rind yields oil that is popular as a fragrance for hair; it also produces a dye used to colour silks and calico.
Nutrition: Hundred gm of bael fruit pulp contains 31 gm of carbohydrate and two gm of protein, which adds up to nearly 140 calories. The ripe fruit is rich in beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A; it also contains significant quantities of the B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin, and small amounts of Vitamin C. Wild bael fruit tends to have more tannin than the cultivated ones; tannin depletes the body of precious nutrients, and evidence suggests it can cause cancer.
Medicinal uses: The bael fruit is more popular as medicine than as food. The tannin in bael has an astringent effect that once led to its use as a general tonic and as a traditional cure for dysentery, diarrhoea, liver ailments, chronic cough and indigestion. In fact, Vasco da Gama's men, suffering from diarrhoea and dysentery in India, turned to the bael fruit for relief. The root juice was once popular as a remedy for snakebites.
The seed oil is a purgative, and the leaf juice mixed with honey is a folk remedy for fever. The tannin-rich and alkaloid-rich bark decoction is a folk cure for malaria.
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