Boundless benevolence of the bael
The bael tree is an important source of ayurvedic medicine. Its fruit adds another dimension to its multifarious qualities
Deepak Rikhye

Conservation of trees with afforestation were recommended as perhaps the only solution at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1992), to protect the environment. The present rate of deforestation will result in the loss of approximately one quarter of the world's plant species within 15 years (IUCN, 1990). In India, our strategy would be to select different species for different areas. Let us begin an awareness of trees that thrive in India. If we consider two varieties of fruit trees, the bael and the wild guava are interesting. Planting them in mixed stands at parks or existing green belts and other vacant areas, would be of benefit. Fruit and seed of trees are a major source of food for birds and certain animals. Both these trees have their medicinal values which is not always described. They are both deciduous and therefore will contribute compost and humus to the adjacent area where they are grown.

The bael tree is an important source of ayurvedic medicine. Its fruit adds another dimension to its splendiferous qualities that have prevailed over a considerable passage of time. Many of us do not live in an arcadian environment. The gifts of nature are often denied to us; like the bael fruit. This wonderous fruit is also known by the sobriquet, Bengal quince. The aegle marmelos is indigenous to the drier regions of India, extending to Burma. The fact that this tree is deciduous, results in it shedding its leaves in winter. It has blended into the flora of the subcontinent. Its trifoliate leaves are used to worship Lord Shiva, proving yet again that the bael tree has been a part of India back to a pristine past. Its identity in the North, Bengal, Orissa and Assam is bael or bel. In the South, it is bilva in Tamil and bilavamu in Telugu.

The tree's greenish white flowers are scented. The globose-shaped fruit has a pulp sweet to taste, making it a popular juice in summer. In Bengal, it is part of a delicious cuisine.

The root, bark and seed are valued for preparing ayurvedic medicine. The root is part of the Dasmula or Ten Roots. The Dasmula or Ten Roots denote the roots of ten different trees which are integral to the formulation of any ayurvedic preparation. This proves that the bael's properties are omnipresent in any ayurvadic medicine because the root of this tree is one of the important ten roots. Medicine from this tree cures melancholia, fever, and palpitations of the heart.

The fruit has been a favourite of past generations. In summer, the juice was prepared and filled into earthenware vessels where it remained amazingly chilled. The refrigerator was introduced into India in 1927, as a "recent innovation", (Salim Ali). That was never a problem for the bael. It shared its bounty all the way back from an unimaginable era.

The wild guava (careya arborea) is distributed throughout India and like the bael, to Burma. A dense and moist forest is what this tree prefers. That explains its distribution to Sri Lanka. The fact that this tree has an identity in different parts of India, proves that this species has thrived in the subcontinent for centuries. In Hindi it is kumb, in Bengali kumbi, in Tamil, ayma, and in Telugu, Araya. It is a large deciduous tree and grows to 25metres. It has a thick bark which is dark grey. Its obovate leaves are large. The 8 cm flowers are attractive in pink and white. They appear in March-April on leafless branches. The almost globose fruit is large and green in colour. Each fruit consists of numerous seeds, with pulp. The fruit is edible and aromatic. The medicinal value of this tree begins with the bark. A decoction of the bark is used for treating stomach infections. The leaves are used to treat ulcers. The bark is a friend to farmers. The inner bark rubbed on shoes keeps off leeches. The arborea is one of the 5 species of the genus Careya, found in South Tropical Asia. To revive tree species in our green belts, or along avenues, we do not need to be confined to ornamental trees. Any concentration of trees, anywhere, will gift us with oxygen and reduce the level of carbon dioxide. They will act as "sink" areas and will absorb industrial gases, thus reducing air pollution. They will create a better environment.

It was Lord Buddha who acknowledged the wonders of trees, saying:

"A tree is a symbol of boundless benevolence. It goes on giving enormous quantities of useful materials. It gives shade even to a wood cutter who has come to cut it".