FLAME OF THE FORESTS
Its known as Palash, Tesu, Dhaak, Kinshuk and Chamata throughout the country. In the months of January- March, when all the leaves of the Palash tree are shed it is a sight to behold, laden with bright orange-red flowers which lends it the famous name ‘Flame of the forest’.
Botanical name: Butea monosperma
Nature of herb
The Butea monosperma tree is popularly known by many vernacular names such as Palash, Tesu, Dhaak, Kinshuk and Chamata throughout the country. In the months of January- March, when all the leaves of the Palash tree are shed it is a sight to behold, laden with bright orange-red flowers which lends it the famous name ‘Flame of the forest’. The famous Hindi saying, ‘dhaak ke teen paat’, also comes from the pinnate leaves of the tree which have three leaves each. Palash flowers and wood have a religious value and are used in havan or yagna ceremonies giving it the name ‘Sacred tree’. The flowers have a beak-shaped keel giving it another colloquial name ‘Parrot tree’. It is said that the tree is a form of Agnidev, God of Fire. In Tamil Nadu the flowers are used in the worship of Lord Shiva.
The tree is associated with the arrival of Vasant (spring) in West Bengal and is essential to spring celebrations. Palash flowers are used to make natural color during the festival of Holi. In Sanskrit, the flowers are used to symbolize the arrival of spring and the color of love. In the Meitei community of Manipur, when a member dies and his body is untraceable, the rest of the family cremates the wood of this tree instead of the body. Many tribal women use the flowers to adorn themselves. In Maharashtra, fresh twigs are tied on the horns of bullocks on the occasion of ‘Pola’ festival. The Indian Postal Department also issued a postal stamp to celebrate the value of the flower it adds to the Indian landscape. The tree also finds its mention in the poems of Rabindranath Tagore and Harinder Singh Mahboob.
All the parts of tree have been used extensively in alternative medicines such as Unani, Homeopathy and Ayurveda medicines for its analgesic, aphrodisiac, anti-fertility and antiseptic properties.
It is a medium sized deciduous tree that has a characteristic ash-colored grey trunk.
The leaves are smooth and trifoliate having an 8-16 cm long petiole. Leaves are pinnately compound borne in three leaflets, each leaflet being 10-20 cm long. The leaves are shed during the flowering season.
The tree trunk is crooked, rough and ash grey with irregular branches. It has a fibrous bark with red colored exudates..
From January to March, the tree is laden with bright orange-vermillion flowers. The flowers have five petals and are borne in clusters bearing racemes up to 15 cm in length. 3 flowers together form swollen nodes on the olive-green velvety rachis.
Fruits are compressed pods being 15-20 cm long and 4-5 cm broad having a 2 cm long stalks.
- Height at Maturity
It grows up to 15m.
- Life Span
It is a woody perennial tree.
It is native to the Indian subcontinent and is also found in many South East Asian countries. It is a characteristic tree of the plains, often forming pure patches in grazing grounds, open grasslands and often forms clusters in forests.
It can be found up to an altitude of 1500 m, in tropical and subtropical regions with an annual rainfall ranging from 500-1700 mm. It is very drought resistant and frost hardy plant and can sustain temperatures ranging from 2.5 – 47o C.
It is capable of growing on a wide variety of soils such as loamy, saline, gravelly and black cotton soils. It is also capable of growing on barren lands (but not in arid regions) and can withstand water logged conditions. It grows well in the ph range of 8 - 9.3.
- Palash bark is applied externally to treat wounds and cuts.
- Palash seeds have a compound known as palaosin and often used to treat intestinal worms such as Ascaridia galli, ascaris lumbricoides, toxocara canis, oxyurids, dipylidium caninum and taenia.
- The seeds are also laxative in nature.
- The flowers are effective in the treatment of liver disorders.
- The gum is used to treat dysentery and diarrhoea.
- Dried flowers are used for bathing to cure skin rashes and infection in summers.
- The flowers are rich in Sulphur, which makes them excellent for treatment of skin ailments by cleansing the bloodstream of free radicals.
- The paste of flowers can be used externally to cure joint pains, swelling, sprains, injury and arthritis.
- The bark of the tree also has blood purifying properties.
- The concoction made by flowers is beneficial in impotency, menstrual cramps, cough and cold.
- Fruits and seeds of the plant are used to treat skin ulcers, piles and disorders related to eyes such as cataract.
- The root of Palash tree is used as an analgesic. It is also used to cure night blindness.
- The gum from the tree called kamarkas (in Hindi) is used in various food dishes. The flowers when tender are used as a vegetable by certain tribes in India.
- The leaves of the tree are used to make plates and bowls for serving meals in certain villages of India.
- The flowers are used to prepare a yellow-orange dye for fabrics and are also used to prepare a traditional Holi color.
- A traditional remedy for snakebite (that is used in some parts of India), is to give mix of equal amount of Palash bark and ginger orally.
- The bark fibers are used for making rough cordages.
- Palash root bark contains beta-sitosterol, leucoanthocyanidin, amyrin, betulinic acid, stigma sterol and palasonin.
- Gum and bark contain tetramers of leucocyanidin and tannins.
- Palash flowers contain seven flavonoid glucosides, butin, isobutrin, three glucosides (coreopsin, isocoreopsin and sulphurein), monospermoside and isomonospermoside.
- Palash leaves contain glucosides.
- Seeds contain proteolytic and lypolytic enzymes, Palasonin, monospermoside and somonospermoside. Palasonin from seeds has anthelmintic activity.
- Land preparation
Land should be well ploughed before sowing with the addition [email protected]/ha. The beds for sowing the seeds should be around 2.5 cm deep and the seeds should be sown at a distance of 20-30 cm, each row being around 10 cm apart.
Natural regeneration by both seeds and root suckers is profuse. Artificial propagation is chiefly from sowing seeds directly, each seed being 25-30 cm apart in lines 3-5 m apart. Root suckers and nursery seedlings can also be used for propagation. Germination starts in about 10-12 days is completed in 4 weeks and the saplings are ready for transplantation. Fresh seeds have a good germination capacity.
Imminent irrigation after sowing is required. From thereon, irrigation can be done as and when needed.
- Plant nutrients
FYM is [email protected]/ha at the time of sowing. Thereafter, no fertilizer is required as such.
It is necessary during the initial stages after plantation. It is required after every two years.
- Plant protection
The most common danger to the young seeds & plants is from cattle. Insects can also harm the sapling. The pests can be controlled by spraying any natural pesticide such as neem oil, raw garlic juice, keisul gur and pyrethrum. The tree is very hardy and relatively resistant to insects and pathogens
- Tree management
Palash trees need moderate light for their optimum growth. Although it can withstand some shade, dense shade suppresses its growth. They can withstand heavy annual lopping. The trees are pollard and coppice well, producing root suckers freely.
In the month of May- June, the pods ripen and are ready to be harvested. Gum is collected by making incisions in the bark.
- Post Harvesting
Seeds, pods, flowers and bark are dried in shade after harvesting. Nylon or polyethene bags are ideal for packaging so as to prevent the entry of moisture.
- Uses in Ayurveda
Internally, the drug is used as an antiseptic, astringent and anti toxic. It is prescribed in menstrual disorders, seminal weakness, obesity, piles, liver malfunction, kidney stones, non healing ulcers, persistent dysentery, in skin diseases and leprosy. Seed powder is used as an anti-helminthes, externally the powder is pounded with lemon juice for herpes and ringworm. Palaasha kshaar (a medicinal ash made from Palasha) is prescribed for piles.
- Uses in Unani
Tender leaves and bark is prescribed in vitiation of semen. A decoction of the bark is given in leucorrhoea, sexual debility and as an emmenagogue, diuretic and aphrodisiac. It is also used for treating the laxicity of the vagina as an astringent. Other uses are the same as in Ayurvedic medicine.
- Uses in Folk Medicine
Leaves, flowers and solution of gum is used in folk medicine externally to cure boils, pimples, buboes and hemorrhoids. A weak decoction made from bark extract is given in cold, cough and catarrh. Freshly obtained juice is used in septic sore throat as a gurgle.
- Leather tan
The red exudate obtained from the bark, hardens into a gum known as ‘Bengal kino’ possesses astringent properties and is used in tanning of leather.
The flowers are used to prepare an organic Holi color and as a dye for fabrics.
Palash trees are well suited for silvopasture at wide spacing (10-15 m) in extensive tracts of grassland.
- Shellac production
Lac is the scarlet resinous secretion of a number of species of lac insect (Kerria lacca Ker.) produced as protective covering. It is soluble in alcohol and is used in making sealing wax, tribal bangles, wood finish,food glaze and brush-on colorant. B. monosperma is suitable and potential host for developing Rangeeni lac insect culture on its tender shoots.
The Rangeeni lac insect produces two crops in a year, one in summer and one in winters. For raising the summer crop, the tree is inoculated with broodlac in October-November which matures in June- July, while for the rainy season crop inoculation with broodlac is done in the months of June-July which matures in October- November. 50 g of good quality broodlac is able to infest about 5 m of succulent shoots (for combined summer and rainy crop).
- Erosion control
In India, farmers use Palash trees to stabilize field bunds.
The leaves are fairly rich in nutrients and are a source of good quality fodder for buffaloes.
- Holi special
Holi- the festival of colors which marks the onset of Vasant (spring) - the time when winter ends and summer commences. Due to the seasonal changes, the propagation of diseases increases significantly. Palash flowers which are known to have anti-septic, anti-fungal, astringent and analgesic properties were used to prepare a traditional yellow-orange color for Holi by soaking the flowers in water overnight. In ancient times, this tradition of wetting people with Palash flower color was followed to make people resilient to the scorching heat of the summer and to resist diseases caused by seasonal changes.