Bael fruit, (Aegle marmelos), also spelled as bel, is a tree of the family Rutaceae, cultivated for its fruit.
Bilva, Holy fruit tree, Bel, Shirphal, Bengal quince, Wood apple
The tree’s wood is yellowish white and hard but not durable The slow-growing trees bear strong spines and alternate compound leaves with three leaflets. The sweet-scented white flowers are borne in panicle clusters and are sometimes used in perfumes. The fruit is pyriform (pear-shaped) to oblong in shape and 5–25 cm (2–10 inches) in diameter. It has a very hard woody grey or yellow rind and sweet, thick, orange-coloured pulp.
The bael fruit typically has a diameter of between 5 and 12 cm. It is globose or slightly pear-shaped with a thick, hard rind and does not split upon ripening. The woody shell is smooth and green, grey until it is fully ripe when it turns yellow. Inside are 8 to 15 or 20 sections filled with aromatic orange pulp, each section with 6 (8) to 10 (15) flattened-oblong seeds each about 1 cm long, bearing woolly hairs and each enclosed in a sack of adhesive, transparent mucilage that solidifies on drying. The exact number of seeds varies in different publications. It takes about 11 months to ripen on the tree and can reach the size of a large grapefruit or pomelo, and some are even larger. The shell is so hard it must be cracked with a hammer or machete. The fibrous yellow pulp is very aromatic. It has been described as tasting of marmalade and smelling of roses. Boning (2006) indicates that the flavour is "sweet, aromatic and pleasant, although tangy and slightly astringent in some varieties". It resembles a marmalade made, in part, with citrus and, in part, with tamarind. Numerous hairy seeds are encapsulated in a slimy mucilage.
Aegle marmelos is native across the Indian subcontinent and is found wild throughout the Indian Peninsula. It occurs in dry, open forests on hills and plains at altitudes from 0–1,200 m (0–3,937 ft) with mean annual rainfall of 570–2,000 mm (22–79 inches). It has a reputation in India for being able to grow in places that other trees cannot. It copes with a wide range of soil conditions (pH range 5-10), is tolerant of waterlogging and has an unusually wide temperature tolerance from −7–48 °C (19–118 °F). It requires a pronounced dry season to give fruit.
The fruits can be eaten either fresh from trees or after being dried and produced into candy, toffee, pulp powder or nectar. If fresh, the juice is strained and sweetened to make a drink similar to lemonade. It can be made into sharbat or Bela pana, a beverage. Bela Pana made in Odisha has fresh cheese, milk, water, fruit pulp, sugar, crushed black pepper, and ice. Bel pana, a drink made of the pulp with water, sugar, and citron juice, is mixed, left to stand a few hours, strained, and put on ice. One large bael fruit may yield five or six litres of sharbat.
If the fruit is to be dried, it is usually sliced and sun-dried. The hard-leathery slices are then immersed in water. The leaves and small shoots are eaten as salad greens. Bael fruits are of dietary use and the fruit pulp is used to prepare delicacies like murabba, puddings and juices.
As per Dhanvantri Nigantu, unripe fruit is Sangrahi, Agnidipak, Katu (pungent), Tikta (bitter), Kashaya (astringent) in taste, Uhsna Veerya, Tikshna and Kapha nashak (alleviates Kapha), hence used to treat Grahaniroga, Pravhika and Agnimandya as an ingredient of various Ayuvedic formulations, like Bilvapanchak kwath, Bilvadi leha and Bilvadi ghrita etc.
The leaves, bark, roots, fruits, and seeds are used in traditional medicine to treat various illnesses, although there is no clinical evidence that these methods are safe or effective. The fresh ripe pulp of the higher quality cultivars, and the "sherbet" made from it, are taken for their mild laxative, tonic and digestive effects. A decoction of the unripe fruit, with fennel and ginger, is prescribed in cases of hemorrhoids. It has been surmised that the psoralen in the pulp increases tolerance of sunlight and aids in the maintaining of normal skin color. It is employed in the treatment of leucoderma.
For medicinal use, the young fruits, while still tender, are commonly sliced horizontally and sun-dried and sold in local markets. Because of the astringency, especially of the wild fruits, the unripe bael is most prized as a means of halting diarrhea and dysentery, which are prevalent in India druing the summer months.
A bitter, light-yellow oil extracted from the seeds is given in 1.5 g doses as a purgative. It contains 15.6% palmitic acid, 8.3% stearic acid, 28.7% linoleic and 7.6% linolenic acid. The seed residue contains 70% protein.
The bitter, pungent leaf juice, mixed with honey, is given to allay catarrh and fever. With black pepper added, it is taken to relieve jaundice and constipation accompanied by edema. The leaf decoction is said to alleviate asthma. A hot poultice of the leaves is considered an effective treatment for ophthahnia and various inflammations, also febrile delirium and acute bronchitis.
A decoction of the flowers is used as eye lotion and given as an antiemetic ( drug that is effective against vomiting and nausea). The bark contains tannin and the courmarin, aegelinol; also, the furocourmarin, marmesin; umbelliferone, a hydroxy coumarin; and the alkaloids, fagarine and skimmianine. The bark decoction is administered in cases of malaria. Decoctions of the root are taken to relieve palpitations of the heart, indigestion, and bowel inflammations; also to overcome vomiting.
The fruit, roots and leaves have antibiotic activity. The root, leaves and bark are used in treating snakebite. Chemical studies have revealed the following properties in the roots: psoralen, xanthotoxin, O-methylscopoletin, scopoletin, tembamide, and skimmin; also, decursinol, haplopine and aegelinol, in the root bark.
Bael fruit is harvested between March and May. Bael fruit is picked when it's still yellowish-green. Let it sit until the stem separates from the fruit and the green tint disappears. Mature bael fruits ripe in 2-3 weeks under ambient conditions. Large size fruits take longer time in ripening as compared to small sized fruits.
Avoid fruit that is bruised or showing signs of mold.
In current market Bael fruit is available in the form of Murabba & Juice & Sharbat and you can make candy at home.
Written By: - Mr Roshan Vasantrao Pawar | Student - Indira Gandhi National Open University Delhi, School of Social Work
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