Wealth that is Simarouba

Last Updated 23 September 2013, 14:13 IST

After biofuel plants like Neem and Jathropa, it is the turn of the Simarouba. This South Central American tree is useful in not just dryland reclamation but also in curing certain types of cancer, finds Sumana Bharadwaj

When scientist couple Dr Syamasundar Joshi and Dr Shantha Joshi, both doctorate holders in botany, held the seeds of Simarouba gluaca, given to them by the Karnataka Government for research, little did they realise that their future would be inextricably tied to the plant the seeds grew into. Little were they aware of the overwhelming discoveries they were set to out to make and that they were holding the simplest, most economical solution to most problems faced by mankind today. After in depth research and documentation about the uses of the plant, Dr Joshi now refers to the tree as Mother Simarouba and no task inthe Joshi household is complete without a prayer to Mother Simarouba to seek her blessings.

Simarouba glauca DC, also known as Paradise tree or Aceituno, is a tree indigenous to South or Central America. In India, however, research on Simarouba began approximately in the ’60s. Research orchards were first established in Amravathi and Akola in Maharashtra followed by Gujarat, Rajasthan, Orissa and then in the southern states of Karnataka and Kerala.

The tree was introduced in the University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK campus, in 1986 and systematic research began from 1992 onwards.

It is a hardy perennial plant that grows well in warm, humid, tropical climate. It is a mid-sized evergreen that grows to a height of 7-15 mts. The plant starts bearing flowers after just 4-6 years and attains stability in production after another four-five years.

The plant’s well developed tap root system may be one of the important factors for its high drought tolerance, since it allows the tree to draw moisture and nutrients from large volumes of soil. It can tolerate a wide range of pedo-ecological conditions.

It can adapt to varying soil conditions from sandy, lateritic, gravelly to black soils with a pH solution ranging from 5 to 8.5 with moderately good porosity. It can grow in volcanic and degraded soils, making it one of the best trees for dryland reclamation.

The once-barren land with degraded lateritic soils on GKVK campus in Hebbal has an evergreen canopy today standing testimony to this claim. It has been successfully cultivated in non-arable lands and in black cotton and saline soils. Simarouba has grown well in the wastelands of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh.

It can grow in plains, hill slopes with shallow soil and undulating terrains unsuitable for cultivation and is hence considered a crop for marginal lands. Being a fast-growing tree, the addition of biomass to wasteland is about 10-15 tonnes per hectare per year improving soil health and fertility. The plant can be grown in alley cropping method, as plantations, boundary planting, bund planting or as avenue trees or dooryard trees. And every part of the tree, from roots to leaves, can be used, earning the plant the name Lakshmi Taru by Sri Sri Ravishankar.

Utility factor

The uses of the plant are numerous. Dr Joshi calls the plant a ‘shrine of securities’. “You can start not just a green revolution, but an evergreen revolution cultivating Simarouba. We can achieve economic, health, environmental, educational, employment, energy and food security for all. One well-grown tree can ensure the good health of one person. So Bangalore needs just 80 lakh Simaroubas to take care of the health of the entire city,” he says.

Its leaf litter can be used for vermicompost. The organic manure produced from the cultivation of even just one tree is 20 kg from just leaf litter and pulp waste, apart from the de-oiled seed cakes.

The fruit pulp contains 11-16 per cent sugars which translate to 12,000 litres per hectare of a healthy drink or can be used to produce ethanol. Waste fruit pulp can be used in vermicompost also.

Seed usage

Seed shell can be used in manufacturing particle board and activated charcoal, apart from being a good fuel which leaves behind an ash rich in potash. The seeds contain 60-75 per cent oil, the highest from any plant which means a yield of anywhere between 1,000—2,000 kg of oil per hectare. The edible oil from Simarouba tree is the only plant source of top quality vegetable butter.

Only the Central American countries have realised the value of the tree and marketed it since 1950s, laments Dr Joshi. Seeds can also be used to generate biodiesel and various oil-based industrial products. Dr Joshi says the biofuel from Lakshmitaru is far superior to the much touted biofuel plants like neem, pongemia and jathropa. The de-oiled cake makes for a nitrogen-rich manure.

Timber from Simarouba is light, moderately strong, attractively grained and can be used to manufacture household furniture and other products. It can be harvested by as early as six years. Products made from Simarouba resemble rubberwood products minus the disadvantage of warping seen in rubberwood.

Natural medicine

Simarouba has a long history of use as a natural medicine in the tropics and is invaluable for its medicinal properties. Simarouba has 11 medicinally important quassinoids, the active principles in the tree, that have antimicrobial properties and four quassinoids namely ailanthinone, glaucarubinone, dehydroglaucarubinone and holacanthone that are anti-luekemic and anti-cancerous. All  illnesses caused by microbes like bacteria, viruses, protozoa like Chikungunya, hepatitis, herpes, malaria, viral coughs and colds, dental caries, gastritis caused by helicobacter pylori and rheumatoid arthritis can be effectively cured by consumption of a decoction made from leaves and bark of the tree. The anti-cancerous properties of the extract can cure I and II stage cancer and improve the quality of life in the III and IV stages, says Dr Joshi.

And it is a boon for women with menstrual problems as well. Many of his patients report a complete recovery or drastic improvement from various conditions such as gastritis from H.pylori, acidity, rheumatoid arthritis, cancers of the mouth, lungs, ovaries, breast and various menstrual problems. And while a 60ml Simarouba extract is sold for $23 in the West, Dr Joshi charges for just the labour, which is almost negligible. “My job is to bring the mother (Simarouba) and child (his patient) together. Nothing more,” he says.

Dr Joshi says that with increased awareness among public and appropriate policies in place, Simarouba based sustainable, rural industries like furniture, beverages, cosmetics (juice is an excellent skin conditioner) like soaps, skin creams, vermicomposting, biofuels, edible oil can flourish, improving the quality of life for the people, in both, rural and urban areas.

Take care of Mother Simarouba and she is sure to bless you with her abundance, he says.

(Published 23 September 2013, 14:13 IST)

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