The bael fruit comes from a tree native to India and neighbouring Bangladesh, with the scientific name Aegle marmelos. In India, Hindus consider it a sacred tree. It has been cultivated in other countries outside of its native range and can be found today in many parts of South-eastern Asia. It is important tree because of its fruit, which is used both as food and in the traditional medicine of the area.
The tree can grow very large and robust, reaching a maximum height of about 10 meters. The trunk is very strong and gives the tree stability and structure, with very long and straight branches. A particular quality of the leaves is their aromatic scent, with a sweet touch. Flowers are located among the leaves and can be green or white in color. The most valuable part of the tree is its fruit, which has a woody texture and a smooth exterior. Inside every fruit there are many hairy seeds, with a very scented pulp that can be peeled off when the fruit is fresh or dry.
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The fruit of the bael tree matures very slowly and needs as much as 11 months in order to become fully ripe. It is very large in size, sometimes even bigger than a pomelo or a grapefruit. Its outside shell is woody and very durable. Like in the case of coconuts, it can only be opened using a heavy tool like a hammer or a machete. The pulp can be yellow, green or even grey and has a special taste. Some people compare it to a mix of marmalade and roses, it has also been described as a marmalade prepared from tamarind and citrus. Inside a mucus with a very slimy consistence, there are many seeds covered with fibrous hair.
Fruits, bark, leaves, stems, roots.
For a long time, all parts of the tree have been used for their medical benefits. In the traditional medicine in the tree's native range, the root, bark, stems, leaves and of course the fruits have been held in high esteem. The fruit is best harvested for medical purposes right when it begins to ripen. The fruit is very enjoyable to eat, being refreshing and very tasty. However, it has very important medical properties, being an excellent laxative and very useful in the control of bleeding and other secretions. It can solve several digestive problems and its high vitamin content makes it useful against scurvy.
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The main medicinal use of the bael fruit is as a powerful laxative. In time, it can thoroughly clean the intestines and completely detoxify the body. The best results come after a longer cure of about 2-3 months, in order to completely clean the intestines and bring them back into optimum shape. The usual way to profit from the laxative effect is to prepare a sherbet. This is easily made at home from a single ripe fruit, after breaking the shell and removing the seeds. The remaining pulp can be mixed with milk and some sugar, in order to prepare a delicious and healthy beverage.
The bael fruit, regardless if ripe and unripe, helps against digestive infections like dysentery or severe diarrhea. However, if the sick person already has a fever, it is too late and the treatment will not be effective. For the best effects, the bael fruit must be administered in dried or powder form. The locals prepare it by slicing the pulp of a green fruit and letting it dry in direct sunlight. The powder or dried pieces can then be stored in tight containers for later usage. A faster way to dry the bael is to bake it in the oven and consume it mixed with jiggery and sugar.
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The leaves are known to cure peptic ulcer, if prepared as an infusion. The infusion can also be made at home, by soaking the leaves overnight in water. In the morning, just remove the leaves and drink the water, nothing else is required. Repeat this for a few weeks and the effects should begin to show, eliminating all the abdominal problems and pain. The anti-ulcer action of the leaves is caused by the high content of tannins. These can regenerate the mucus layer inside the stomach, which shields it from gastritis and ulcers. For best effects, the tannins should have enough time to work inside the stomach, this is why beverages are recommended.
The root of bael also has medicinal uses. It has been known for a long time as a powerful home-made cure in the treatment of a wide range of ear problems. The bael roots are very astringent, which heals infection and reduces inflammation. The home-made cure can be prepared from a durable chunk of bael root, soaked in neem oil and then burned completely. This combines the qualities of the root with the ones of neem, which has very strong antiseptic properties of its own.
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Breathing problems and minor infections like cold can be treated by extracting the oil from Aegle Marmelos leaves, which has powerful medical benefits. First, a quantity of fresh bael leaves must be pressed until all the juice is extracted. The juice has to be mixed with sesame oil, then heated together. A small quantity of black pepper and cumin can be added when the oil is hot. The final product can be stored and used for a long time. Locals also massage the scalp with the oil before every bath. It is said that this oil can provide complete immunity to cough and minor cold.
The fruits can be eaten and prepared in various ways, both fresh or in dried form. Several popular drinks can be prepared from the fresh bael, the easiest way is to just strain the juice and add some sugar in order to make a drink similar to fresh lemonade. In the summer, it is made into a very popular drink named Bela pana, a type of sharbat that can be found in almost every home. It is a traditional drink in April, during the celebration of the Odiya New Year (Pana Sankranti).
The recipe can vary slightly from one province to another but in Odisha there are two varieties. Besides the pulp of the fruit, Bela Pana includes many other ingredients: water, fresh cheese, milk, crushed black pepper and ice. The bael pana is a simpler drink, prepared by mixing the pulp with citrus juice, water and some sugar, straining it after a few hours, then adding some ice. A single fruit can be used to produce up to six litres of juice.
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The fruit can also be dried by placing the slices in sunlight. The hard dry slices can later be soaked in water before consumption. Fresh leaves and shoots of bael can be eaten as green vegetables and added to salads.
Bael is very easy to cultivate and can be extremely resilient. The tree tolerates severe drought, which is actually beneficial and required for an increased production of fruits. It can be grown in many different types of climate and soil and no care is needed afterwards.
In order to propagate the tree, the seeds must be used. The seeds are quite sensitive and only those from ripe fruits taken from the tree propagate well, the ones from fruits fallen to the ground usually fail. Due to the size of the tree, bael grows very slowly. The first fruits are only produced after a minimum of 5 years but 25-30 years are needed until the tree reaches normal yields. Another propagation method is by using the root suckers found on the tree. The advantage is that the quality of the tree is known, so it is easy to propagate one with a good production of fruits.
The tree contains a large number of organic plant chemicals. Steroids, alkaloids and coumarins can be found in most parts of the bael tree. Roots include compounds such as scopoletin, xanthotoxin, tembamide and psoralin. Aegelin and skimianinc have been isolated from the leaves. The bark's chemical composition changes with age but two important compounds, umbelliferone and coumarin, can be found in both the young bark and the old one. In addition, old bark contains marmesin, sterols, umbelliferone, triterpenoids and fragrine.
The essential oil prepared from the leaves is rich in A and B-phellandrene. A quantity of essential oil of up to 0.6% can be extracted from the leaves, a very important source of d-limonene. The fruit is rich in an organic compound named marmalosin.
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