Kamala

Mallotus philippensis

Herbs gallery - Kamala

Common names

  • Kamala
  • Kamala Tree
  • Kumkum Tree
  • Monkey-Race Tree
  • Red Kamala

The kamala is a plant related to spurge family, with the scientific name Mallotus philippensis. It is also named the red kamala because the fruit can be used to produce red paint. It must be noted however that kamala also means lotus in many languages of India. Kamala is unrelated to lotus, which is a completely different plant with an attractive flower and an important symbolic value in Asia. In addition, this plant is given numerous other names in the various languages of the area. The kamala normally grows at the edge of rainforests or in broken terrain with at least a moderate level of rain.

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Kamala is native to South East Asia and might originate from the Philippines. It has a wide range today, from Mount Keira (N.S.W) in the extreme south and all the way to Afghanistan at the northern limit. In Philippines it is called banato and the local variety has given the botanical name of the plant.

The size of the herb is variable, it can be a small bush or even a pretty large tree with a height of 25 meters and a trunk with a thickness of up to 40 cm. The trunk has a rough base and it is covered with grey bark, normally with a smooth surface that can sometimes be wrinkled. The young branches can be brown and covered with hair near their tip.

Leaves grow in opposite pairs and can have a length between 4 and 12 cm, with a thickness of about 2 - 7 cm. Their shape can be either ovate or oblong, with sharp tips. Their top is green and smooth, while the bottom is faint grey and has some very small red glands that can only be noticed with a magnifier or microscope. The stems of the leaves can grow to a maximum length of 5 cm. Veins are very visible on the underside of leaves and the first one is the most important, being as long as half of the leaf.

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Kamala's flowers are located on racemes with a length of up to 6 cm and have a yellow or brownish color. Every tree has a different sex and the male and female flowers can't be found on the same one. Given the vast range where the plant is found, the blossom happens at different times of the year. Flowers appear in March to April in the Philippines but as late as June to November in Australia's New South Wales province. About three months after the blossom, the fruits start to mature, in any month of the year. The fruits are capsules with three lobs, their most interesting feature is the red powder that covers them. Diluting this powder in alcohol produces a red dye that can be used to color wool and silk. Every lobe includes a small black round seed, not larger than 2 - 3 mm, which can be used when it's fresh to propagate the tree.

Parts used

Fruits, bark, seeds.

Uses

The plant is useful against both internal and external issues. Kamala herb is effective in digestive problems like constipation, flatulence or tapeworms but also heals ulcers, cough, internal bleeding, renal and vesicle stones. It can also remove scabies and other types of skin parasites. Kamala is considered among the best herbal remedies for internal worms.

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Kamala has many other uses in its native area. The red dye produced from the fruit is used to color silk and it is also a powerful antioxidant when mixed with various types of vegetable cooking oils and ghee. The oil has cosmetic properties as a hair fixer but can also be used industrially as an ingredient in paint and varnish. Paper can be produced from the wood pulp, while the seeds serve as manure. The red pigment can also be used for cooking.

Kamala has many potential health benefits but it is mostly famous as an anti-parasite in the local communities. It can kill many types of parasites, both internal and external ones, especially those that live on the skin or along the digestive tract. Studies have revealed that the fruit and its hair are particularly effective against parasites, while the bark is a powerful germ killer. Researchers have discovered the anthelmintic qualities of the kamala fruit, which explains its power against worms and could potentially make it a cure for fascioliasis, a liver disease caused by these worms. At the same time, the plant's resin is a potent purgative. Animal tests have revealed a very strong action of the resin in cases of tapeworm infestation, which was cured in almost 80% of the trialed experiments.

The plant acts like a strong purgative of the intestines, unrelated to its effect on worms. It can eliminate all types of toxins and purify the body from the inside. The same effects are observed in external applications, kamala being able to remove all sorts of diseases and parasites from the skin. Some examples include: worms, infection, scabies, leprosy or any type of eruption. It is considered the second-best remedy for tapeworms, only the root of male ferns being more effective. It is especially powerful against the Taenia solium internal parasite.

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The cleansing power of kamala has benefits for the digestive system overall. Since it eliminates toxins, it can boost bowel activity, improve digestion and act like a laxative. Local traditional practitioners also employ the plant in the treatment of eye disorders.

The same properties make the plant a solid choice for preserving various types of food like dairy products or cooking oil. Its usage as a food coloring agent is well attested but is considered doubtful today, given its strong purgative effects. The wood is good as fuel, leaves can be eaten by domestic animals, while the Chinese use the plant to grow lac insects.

The tree's bark is fibrous, which is useful in the manufacture of ropes, baskets and even synthetic furs. The wood can be turned into paper and can be used as timber but it has some particularities. It has a light color, from white to grey, sometimes with darker veins. It is finely grained and can become smooth when worked on. It is quite resilient and heavy, with no smell or taste. However, it can be attacked by insects and it shrinks a lot in time, which decreases its usefulness.

Habitat and cultivation

It is usually found mixed with other tree species, although it can also grow alone. Kamala can be encountered in forests but also in broken terrain. It is the most common in evergreen secondary forests, where it can even be the most numerous tree in some areas. It is a very resilient tree that tolerates shade, drought and even frost.

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It can grow in shade from germination but full light is required for the fastest development. When planted by humans, some work is required while the tree is young, when it will need constant digging and removal of weeds from around the root. On its own it can expand to any exposed area where the soil is good enough.

There are two ways of propagation. If seeds are chosen, they must be planted in a glasshouse at the end of the dry season, after about one year they can be moved to the garden. The second option is to cut and use the root suckers.

Collection and harvesting

The kamala seeds can be harvested from the fully mature fruits. The seeds are very strong and can be stored for quite some time without any problems. If kept in a dark and dry place, the seeds can be used to propagate the tree even after six months.

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