The wood apple (scientific name Limonia acidissima) is a unique plant species, being the only member of the genus Limonia, which includes only this type. It is native to Asia and can be found in several separate regions: in India and the surrounding countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), the countries of Indochina as well as the area around Malaysia. It is considered sacred in some of these countries, as well as being famous for its health benefits.
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The wood apple is an erect tree with a slow rate of growth. It consists of several main branches, which divide into numerous smaller ones as they reach the top, with hanging tips. It has a rugged bark, some of the twigs have spines with a length of up to 5 cm, very sharp. The bark has fissures and scales on its surface. Leaves have a length between 7.5 and 12.5 cm, with a dark green color. The leaves of wood apple look like leather, their apex is often blunt or missing and have a number of oil glands that produces a scent similar to citrus fruits when crushed.
The flowers grow in small panicles located at the end of branches or on their sides. Their color can be green or red, with a small size of no more than 1.25 cm. Flowers can have any sex but often are bisexual.
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Fruits of wood apple are oval or sometimes round in shape, between 5 and 12 cm in size. They are either white or grey, with a hard woody rind with an average thickness of 6 mm. There are many small white seeds inside. The flesh of the fruit is brown in color, with a strong smell. Its taste can vary from sweet to acidic, usually quite astringent and resinous.
Fruits, roots, leaves.
The wood apple is popular as a cultivated tree in several Asian countries. It can be found in India and its neighbours, as well as in nations in Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Cambodia or Malaysia. For a long time, it was grown only for religious purposes and for eating, being considered a food choice for the poor. Beginning in the 1950's, its health benefits became known and it started to be cultivated for medicinal use.
There are two main cultivated versions, both providing important health benefits. The main difference is the size and taste of the fruit: one is large and sweet, the other is smaller and more acid in taste.
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One of the main medicinal uses for wood apple is in the treatment of kidney problems. Regularly eating the fruits eliminates toxins from the body, helping the internal organs. Wood apples provide several key compounds that are able to shield both the liver and the kidneys, if provided in constant doses.
Traditionally, the fruits of wood apple have been used to assist with digestion. They are known to be helpful against a wide array of stomach and intestinal problems, from chronic diseases like dysentery to stomach ulcers or piles. It is also able to kill intestinal worms and remove them from the body. The easiest way to use the wood apple fruit as medicine is to prepare a juice by mixing the fruit with warm water. This drink cleans the entire digestive system and provides an overall detoxifying effect. It can also help with constipation, due to its laxative properties.
Research trips among the natives of the jungle areas on the borders of Thailand and Myanmar have revealed other uses for the wood apple fruit. Women of that region are using the wood apple pulp as both a cosmetic and in treatment. Research has proved that the application of wood apple pulp on the skin of pregnant women can protect both them and their babies from malaria. The area is known to be infested with malaria and dengue fever and the wood apple pulp is used as a cure. In addition, the significant content of vitamin C makes the fruit effective against scurvy.
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Other parts of the plant have also been used in medicine. The leaves are rich in bioactive compounds and can cure a wide range of breathing issues, from simple sore throats to severe problems like chronic cough. Leaves can also be added to drugs for the liver or the heart, due to their high content of beta-carotene, thiamine and riboflavin. Diabetes can be treated in a natural way using the gum secreted by the tree, while roots are an effective cure for ear pain and infections.
In its native range, a traditional chutney prepared from the wood apple fruits is considered both a delicious desert and a powerful cure for several diseases. It is prepared with a mix of tamarind and salt and said to be especially effective against hiccups. A different recipe is used to treat breast or uterine cancer as well as sterility, mixing wood apple with honey and local spices like cumin and cardamom. Snakebites can be countered with several parts of the plant, including the roots and the bark.
Sever other medicinal uses are attested, even if no serious research has been done so far. The leaves are known to be effective against joint pain. Post-birth depression in women can be avoided by eating wood apple fruits. Infusions from the leaves can prevent anorexia, when mixed with fresh pepper. Heart conditions like high pressure can be treated by drinking a beverage prepared by infusing either the bark or the stems. Finally, the fruit has tonic properties when eaten raw or taken as a powder or poultice.
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The tree also has several industrial uses. After purification, the pectin has numerous applications. Wood apple shell is strong enough to be worked by artisans, it can be turned into small boxes or round-shaped containers. The gum is a cheaper alternative to Arabic gum, but not of the same quality. It can serve as an ingredient in the production of various paints and inks.
The tree's wood is very heavy and resilient, so it can be used for construction, even if the slow rate of growth makes it a rare essence. Like all types of wood, it is also possible to burn it as fuel. The fruit can be use industrially by pressing the rind in order to produce an oil that can be turned into a dye or used in perfumes. The pulp is traditionally used as a cleaning agent.
You need a hammer to open the fruit because the rind is very thick. It can be eaten fresh or prepared into a jam or used as an ingredient in other sweets. Wood apple pulp tends to be sticky but can be eaten in its raw form. Sugar is sometimes added on top, in order to compensate the higher acidity of the smaller fruits.
An easy and delicious way to prepare the fresh fruit is to mix it into a beverage with coconut milk or other sweet product, such as palm syrup. This mixture can also be frozen to turn it into ice cream. The fruit can also be prepared as a chutney or jam. When made into a jelly, it has an attractive purple color similar to the one of blackcurrant jelly. In some islands of Indonesia, wood apple pulp mixed with honey is also a popular choice for breakfast. Indians mostly use it as in ingredient in chutneys, while Thai cuisine adds the fresh leaves in salads.
Commercially, it is possible to process the pulp through a pulper machine to remove the seeds and the hard parts. The pulp is then mixed with water, strained and pasteurized, then bottled up as a nectar that can be found in shops. Wood apples can also be canned, after adding a sweetener like palm sugar or syrup to the pulp. The pulp can't be dried for preservation but it is possible to freeze it.
In its native range, propagation is usually done using the seeds but the tree grows very slowly and at least 15 years are needed until it will produce the first fruits. There are a few faster alternatives, like using root cuttings or budding in order to create a smaller tree that will bear fruit quicker.
The fruit is rich in proteins and carbohydrates, with a content of 140 kcal for one hundred grams of pulp. Wild fruits usually contain more tannins than the cultivated ones and are harder to eat raw, but with increased health benefits. The pulp provides vitamin C, vitamin B and other bioactive compounds like riboflavin, thiamine and beta-carotene.
Like most fruits, it's advisable not to eat too many of them. Ingesting large quantities can cause minor digestive disorders like flatulence or constipation. It should also be avoided by people with thyroid problems. Like all exotic fruits, pregnant and lactating women should not consume it as a general precaution, because its effects have not been fully studied.
The locals have a funny way to find out if the fruit is ready for harvest, by dropping it from about 1 foot. Mature fruits don't bounce from hard surfaces but they are not ready for eating yet and have to be placed in the sun for another 2 weeks to become fully ripe.