Aloe has a very long history of use. The sap was used medicinally by the Greeks and Romans, who obtained it from the island of Socotra. The Greek physician Dioscorides recorded the use of the leaves to treat wounds in the first century AD.
Aloe had reached England by the 10th century, where it appears to have been one of the drugs recommended to Alfred the Great by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. In the early part of the 17th century, the records of the East India Company show payments for aloe being made to the King of Socotra, who held a monopoly on the production of drugs from the Socotrine aloe.
It is not known whether the Socotrine aloe obtained in Greek and Roman times was from wild or cultivated populations. Today, however, African aloe (both Socotrine and Cape) is collected from wild plants, while in the West Indies, the plants are laid out in plantations like cabbages.
To prepare Aloe vera for market, the leaves are cut near the base of 24-36 year old plants. The resulting latex is collected and concentrated to the consistency of thick honey. A true concentrate produces a clear, translucent gel, which can be applied fresh, or it can be commercially converted into a more expensive ointment.
The gel can also be fermented to produce a tonic wine, to which honey and spices are added. In India, this is used to make a drink called kurmara or asava to treat anaemia and digestive and liver disorders.
The gel can also be inhaled in steam, and the powdered leaves can be used as a laxative. There is a danger that the huge tonnages of gel now sold in the developed world will mean that aloe is regarded as a cure-all for any ailment.
Everything here on our planet undergoes perpetual change. Some changes are periodic in nature. For example, the seasons. If one wants to see the variety of seasons, then India is the place where one can experience so many seasons.
From biting cold to burning hot, from spring season to autumn and of course the torrid rains. Not only the periodic change of seasons, even in one country at a given point of time, one can experience different weathers.
These days, the winter have given way to autumn here in Bombay. Different flora are experiencing different changes. A few days ago, the Peepal tree was copiously shedding its leaves. The wind helped it to do away with the older brittle opaque leaves. It was as if the clothes of a person have become very old and he is shedding those to wear the new ones.
After a fortnight, the tree became almost naked. Its branches were looking as if some person has become very gaunt due to a long illness.
But, the new leaves were just hiding to burst open. Very beautiful reddish color translucent leaves have sprouted. Their spear like shapes are opening up and birds have begun to chirp again in its boughs.
Within a few days, it will be covered with thick copper color foliage. The leaves shine when they rustle in the gusts of the wind. The sad falling of the leaves, about which the saint Kabir had said that they will now be blown away by the air, far away from their parent, never to meet it again.
They were manufactured by the tree from nutrients it sucked from the earth, mixed with air, and they will go back to the earth. As is said in the bible, Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”
So condemned our father Adam and mother Eve were banished to the Eden and punished into doing hard work to earn their bread, to endure pain and then die and become the very dust from which we are made.
In Hindu scriptures also, the God is likened to a pot maker who turns his wheel and molds the wet clay into the human figures. Then He breathes life into them by giving them a piece of His own life.
This is the story of eternal cycle going about on the earth.
In March spring season heralds here. The nature awakens from its hibernation of freezing cold and there is a thaw in the season. The plants and trees after shedding the old leaves adorn themselves with fresh light green leaves. Within days the skeleton branches are covered with leaves. The days are becoming longer and hot. Soon it will become very hot and unbearable.
The weather in India are not uniform and almost every 3 months weather changes. This is why the natives here are in continuous struggle with the weather. There are extremes of weather in North India. This gives India a vast variety of vegetation.
The bottlebrush trees also called Callistemon so called because their shape resembles the brush used to clean the bottles. These days the trees are laden with these flowers of red color. There is a strong contrast between the rich green leaves and these flowers which hang like garlands on the tree.
All day long different animals and birds visit these trees to lick the pollen from the flowers. First in the morning are monkeys especially their kids which can easily reach the ends of the branches where the flowers are located. They eat the nutritious pollen and then snap the flowers from the branch. After this parrots come in big groups. They chatter, make noise and lick the pollen. They are the worst and break most of the flowers and the ground beneath is littered with fresh broken flowers.
Nightingales also come. If you look closer you will find the honey bees hovering around the flowers. There is a continuous buzz. They are the gentlest and use the flowers to make honey-one of the nature’s best gift to us.
Amaltash also known as cassia fistula, sanskrit name aragvadha or chaturangula. It blooms in the summer and wherever there are clumps of trees, it seems that sky is melting into gold. Such are its yellow flowers hanging in big bunches on whole of the tree with very scanty or no leaves at all on the tree.
There are a few trees of amaltash in our colony. Usually, they flower when the summer descends on the earth in these parts of India. But this year, these trees seem to have forgotten the time. Their biological clocks which keep track of the time seem to have gone loco.
They began blooming just in the January. As I have said, they are out of sync, so they have not flowered wholeheartedly, because flowers are not as abundant as they are when they bloom in the summer. Trees have become hybrids some portions covered with leaves and some with flowers
Firstly, I thought that one or two of them might have made mistake in reckoning the time of year but all of them seem to have got some problem with their circannual rhythms. Here is a sample of tree.
Everything is changing. We are the culprits for this. No others animal species molest the nature as we do. To create, short term comforts, we disturb the equilbrium exisiting in the nature. And we pay for this dearly when nature can no longer take it any more and with one mighty heave brings back the equilbrium.
We traveled by Shatabadi Express from Delhi to Dehradun. First it was in winters and second only in June of this year. As soon as the train crosses the industries outside Delhi, the dead river called Yamuna, the green fields begin to span both sides of the train line.
Yamuna river, one of the three rivers-Ganges, Yamuna & Saraswati- forming the holiest trinity of Indian rivers is a cesspool of industrial waste, floating dead animals. Its color is almost black and it seems like a corpse. Its chemical oxygen demand (COD), a parameter to indicate the industrial waste pollution must be very high.
So with Saraswati which existed once upon a time in the North India and went underground and is which is said to be flowing underneath, becoming imaginary, Yamuna has joined it. First of these was catapulted underground by Nature and Yamuna has been killed by the humans.
Anyway let us continue with journey. So we see amidst this greenery crops like wheat in winter, sugarcane, mustard, green fodder, maize and rice according to the season. The soil of region is enriched by Ganges and Yamuna rivers. But in addition to these crops, there is a tree which is straight in shape cultivated on the peripheries of fields. There sheer number is mind boggling and some of them have become full fledged while others are in various stages of growth.
This is called agro-forestry. The trees along with crops. These trees are very fast growing and are used to make timber and cardboards. The trees are cash crops making many farmers rich.
At the time of journey, I relished and admired the results of hard work put in by the farmers and landowners. This vista continues unabated up to Haridwar. I was becoming curious where all the wood from these trees goes for processing.
We learned this in a hard way. We were returning from Chandigarh to Dehradun after a weekend by our car. We always follow the route which runs from Panchkula to Naraingarh to Kalaamb to Nahan bypass to Paonta to Dehradun. It has been raining for last two days in the region. We have some inkling of land slides after Nahan and as we reached about 10 kilometers from Nahan bypass, there was mud all over the road and road was blocked ahead due to blockage.
We returned back and from Kalaamb took the road to Yamuna Nagar to follow the old traditional route to Dehradun from Yamuna Nagar to Saharanpur and Dehradun. As soon as we crossed the timber processing units in Yamuna Nagar, we thought we taken a wrong road. But no.
There was almost no road. It was shreds of road in the craters and pools of water. There was worst kind of jam. And the car, it would completely left to God’s mercy. Its underbelly grinded against the edges of craters. The reason for all this was before us.
Coming from the opposite side were countless tractor trolleys over loaded with the poplar logs. These were so heavy that tractor’s front wheels went skywards whenever it lunged forward from the rest. What was more threatening was the precarious way these trolleys dipped to one side or the other whenever one of its tyres fell into the craters. It seemed that they will fall on us and crush us alongwith car to death.
All these were coming to Yamuna Nagar where a number of processing mills have been established. Many trolleys have turned turtle and blocked the road. Situation was such that we crossed ten kilometer hell of the road in more than 2 hours. It was not until we crossed the bridge over Yamuna that road become worthy of travel.
Incidentally, the agro-forestry was started during 1980’s by an enterprising person called Surinder Singh Hara. He owns about 180 hectares land called Hara Farms near Yamuna Nagar which he made suitable for agriculture by clearing the jungle. He produces crops which belong to this region along with turmeric, many fruits and poplar and specially cloned variety of Eucalyptus.
I think it is the duty of the Government and those who are adding extra burden on the road to contribute and make the road good. This will ease the life of persons who are driving these vehicles and labors. It will also save the fuel and maintenance of the vehicles which will ultimately go for the good of people.
These days Hibiscus shrubs are in full bloom and laden with bright red color flowers. Many people are seen plucking them for offerings before the Gods in their homes and temples. They think Gods are confined to the places where we have placed them and cannot go out and watch and appreciate their own creation themselves. I think They won’t recommend plucking the flowers.
These shrubs bear flowers almost all the year round except in the biting winter. But in summers, there is a glut of flowers on the shrubs.
Anyway, as usual I went for walk slightly late. It was seven of clock and Sun was up for sometime now. The buds of these flowers opened gloriously to welcome the sun and spread beauty all around.
Hibiscus is a genus of mallow family, Malyaceae. It is quite large, containing several hundred species that are native to warm-temperate, subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world. Member species are often noted for their showy flowers and are commonly known simply as hibiscus, or less widely known as rose mallow.
It is favorite flower of Goddess Kali and Lord Ganesha. In Assam India, the shrubs grow very large and voluminous and each tree may bear hundreds of flowers. The leaves of the plant are said to be beneficial in many diseases. Hibiscus tea is also good for health.
I took some pictures of the showy flowers and I am putting them here.
Comes April and mangoes make their appearance in Mumbai. India boasts of maximum number of cultivars and varieties of this fruit which can easily claim the title of king of fruits.
Its juice is full of sweetness and some varieties have the tinge of sour taste. In Maharasthra, Karnataka and Andhra states the mangoes have developed and green raw fruits are hanging from the branches.
Mangoes are used in innumerable ways. Raw fruits are sour and are used to make drinks which soaks the heat from the body nd cools you in the simmering heat. They are used to make chutneys.
I remember in North India invariably the chutneys is an inseparable part of the dinners in the summer. It is so tasteful that you don’t need any curry or other vegetables with the rotis.
Then raw mangoes are cut into fine pieces and dried in the sun and when they become completely dry, they are converted into powder and it makes a substitute for tomatoes.
The gardens of mangoes trees are the source of attraction for the young children who are ready to take any risks to obtain the fruit. Parrots also gorge on them.
The most cherished variety of mangoes is the Alphonso or Hapoos as it is called in Maharasthra. It is famous for its sweetness and flavors. The fruits got its name after Afonso de Albuquerque who used to bring the fruit from Latin America.
Only problem with the fruit is its short life span. It is most expensive. The taste and quality varies from North of Maharasthra coast towards South. Most exquisite variety is grown only in about 20 square miles stretch in Sindhudurg District in an area called Devgarh which is famous for beautiful beaches, forts constructed by many kings who ruled the place like Shiavji and Angres.
The mangoes are mostly exported. These are available throughout Maharashtra. The vendors will set up their shops for this fruit only and sell them in cartons and loose. Generally the rate is based per mango which is about 200 grams. One mango generally costs between 15-25 rupees. The fruits will be available only till the rains doe not commence. After this the mango season is over as far as Maharashtra.
Up in the north India, the mango season starts late and goes well into the rainy season. The Sahranpur and Malihabad belt is famous for very sweet, luscious varieties of mangoes. Among them the pride place goes to Dussheri. It is very sweet and mostly sucked with its cover acting like a shield. Many a times though, if the mango is too ripe, the cover can rupture spilling the juice on to your clothes.
More than 70% population lives in villages. In the olden days, when there were no facilities like television, radio etc, then people in the villages devised ways to entertain them. The menfolk sat under the cool shade of the trees, smoke the hookah and converse with each other.
They would talk about all the things under the Sun like their family matters which in any case were not private matters, about the condition of crops and irrigation water, untimely rains which visited to damage their crops. It was a culture in which individuality was a second priority and collective or commonality was the norm.
Women on the other hand slogged all day and night in the homes tending to hearth, rearing multitudes of children, milking the animals, and so many other things. Only time they were together was when they gathered at the village well for fetching the water in the pitchers.
There they will banter about their travails and amorous things and other scandalous things like who had run away with whom and illicit liaisons. They spent long time there. Another activity which brought them together was washing the clothes on the stones or steps of the shores of rivers, tanks and wells.
Most important of the trees where the menfolk whiled away their time was Banyan tree which almost every village had near a temple or any other religious place. Mostly elderly people sat there. The name Banyan is derived from the “Bania” which is trading community and they used to take rest under these trees while going from village to village.
Banyan is a very large tree, spreading by aerial roots which as they age eventually become additional trunks and help in sucking the nutrients and thus expanding the girth of the tree. In fact the secondary roots act like its feet and the tree can over the years walk from its original location. They have a very long life span. Older trees can reach more than 200 metres in diameter, covering an area of some hectares with a height of about 30 meters.
In contrast to its huge size, the fruits – called figs are only about 1.8 cm in diameter orange-red turning scarlet when ripe. They have hardly any stalks so grow very close to the branches. The ripe fruits are very popular with birds and monkeys and are eaten by humans in times of famine.
The tree is commonly found in south east Asia and venerated particularly by Hindus and Buddhists. It is known by many names like Banyan in English, Bahupada, Vata in Sanskrit, Bar, Bargad, bor in Hindi, Bar, bot in Bengali, Vad, vadlo, vor in Gujurati, Vada, wad, war in Marathi, Marri, peddamarri, vati in Telugu, Al, Alam in Tamil, Ala, alada mara, vata in Kannada, Alo, vatan in Malayalam.
Its botanical name is Ficus benghalensis and it belongs to the fig family Moraceae.Generally, it cohabits with another sacred tree called Pipul.
The tree features in many myths. The tree represents eternal life because it supports its expanding canopy by growing special roots from its branches. These roots hang down and act as props over an ever widening circle, reflecting the Sanskrit name bahupada, meaning ‘one with many feet’.
In Hinduism, tree represents immortality and there are many stories about it in ancient literature. In a song called the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ or ‘Song of the Lord’, Krishna uses the banyan tree as a symbol to describe the true meaning of life to the warrior hero Arjuna. Banyan is viewed by Hindus as the male plant to the closely related Peepul or bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa). It is regarded as a sin to destroy either of these trees. It is commendable for a person to plant a young banyan close to a peepul, and this is done with a ceremony similar to that of marriage. It is customary to place a piece of silver money under the roots of the young banyan.
Banyan is mentioned in the Buddhist Jataka tales. In the tale of Satyavan and Savitri, Satyavan lost his life beneath the branches of a banyan. Savitri courageously entered into a debate with Yama, the God of Death, and won his life back. In memory of this couple, in the month of Jyestha during May and June, the tree is celebrated. Married women visit a banyan and pray for the long life of their husbands.
The tree is associated with the life of the 15th century saint Kabir. A giant tree is said to have sprung from a twig he had chewed. People of all religions use its great leafy canopy to meditate or rest. It is said that the wise Markandeya saint found shelter under it during a torrential downpour.
Minor deities such as yakshas (tree spirits), Kinnaras (half-human, half-animal) and gandharvas (celestial musicians) are believed to dwell in the branches on banyan trees. Ghosts and demons are also associated with its branches. Because it is believed that many spirits are harboured in the banyan, people do not sleep under it at night.
The tree parts like stem and leaves are used to make many medicine in India.
One of the many things which I miss about Assam is the flowers of Parijat. In its blossoming season, it is treat to watch these trees and ground beneath them. It is completely covered with its fragrant flowers. The flowers are very small with white sepals and one orange colored speck in the center.
Children collect the flowers in little bamboo baskets. I asked them what they will do with so many flowers, to which they answered that these will be dried and added in cooked vegetables. The shrubs there are very healthy like all other vegetation which seems to grow literally before your eyes.
The land has been laid down in seams of very highly fertile soil. All this is the dower given by mighty Brahamputra river to Assam. The river which flows very peacefully along the mountain from Mansarovar lake towards East but becomes very virulent when it enters the plains of Assam. Sometimes, during the monsoons, the river brings so much water with it that it creates floods in all the Assam and Bangladesh. The whole of area looks like a big lake. It uproots the islands and hurls them at different places. But it is all the blessings and anger of the river. The whole area is lush green and weather is entirely different from rest of India.
The shrub is called Nyctanthes arbor tristis in botanical jargon. It grows in India, Pakistan and South East Asia. The flowers occur in clumps of two to seven in numbers. It is also called tree of sorrow because of its short life span of one night only. In Indian mythology, there is story connected to the bringing of tree branch from heaven to earth by Krishna to appease his demanding wife Satyabhama.
The story goes that once Krishna and Satyabhama were invited by Lord Indra for a lunch. After lunch, Krishna and his wife were strolling in the garden when they happened to pass by the heavenly tree. Instantly, Satyabhama took a fancy to the tree and insisted that Krishna steal a branch and take it to their home and plant it there. Krishna despite his resistance had to pluck a branch.
As he was hiding the branch in his clothes, Indra noted it and cursed not the Krishna directly but prophesied that the shrub will not bear seeds and propagate on the earth.
This does not seem to be true, otherwise how so many trees grow in different parts of world. Incidentally, I have noticed that shrub grows hardly near Mumbai. Only in one house I noticed one plant.
Another plant has been planted in our colony by a Bengali family. In Bengal, this grows in abundance and is called “Shiuli”. Here in Mumbai area, the plants’ main thrust seems to be on leaves which are wider than their brethren in Eastern India. The color of leaves is lighter in Assam than here.
I found a very beautiful link to auspicious trees. It is called Namahte.
The more I watch the nature closely and more I go through the literature, it is becoming clear how shallow is our knowledge of the world around us which the God has created.
Sometimes I become more and more confused and become awestruck when some mystery of nature becomes clear to me.
As we know that living things are related to one another at some stage or other during evolution though they must have diversified at some period of time but at least some basic properties resemble.
By the end of January and February, one can notice that Pipal trees which is very sacred tree of India, copiously shed their leaves. All day the leaves fall to the ground following zigzag trajectories. The wind forces them to float and it seems that they are reluctant to fall to the ground beneath the tree.
Whole ground beneath the tree becomes strewn with leaves. Within few days, the trees look like skeletons, completely shorn of leaves. All the other trees around them have already acquired new green leaves.
But it is matter of days. The new translucent leaves burst out of the branches and the whole tree is decorated with reddish brown leaves which seem to be very beautiful. One can notice the change which the tree undergoes and it is completely covered with lush green leaves. Then many birds are seen visiting them. They are there for eating the very small rounded green fruits. If you break this fruit with slight pressure of fingers you can see that inside is just like figs.
At the same time, there are other trees, the trunks of which are covered with similar type of fruits as that of Pipal. But these fruits are very numerous, bigger and become brown red on ripening. The ground is totally covered with these fruits and there is smell of food decomposition and formation of alcohol due to fermentation. Lots of ants roam on the tree and bore into the delicate fruits to eat the fruit inside. The fruit bear uncanny resemblance to Pipal fruits.
Otherwise, the look of both these trees is completely dissimilar. Leaves are different. While Banyan tree has cordate type of leaves, the Indian Fig has lanceolate types of leaves.
But in my mind, the picture began to became clearer that may be they were related. Internet queries revealed the truth. Both are ficus genera and are commonly called figs. The botanical name of Pipal or Banyan is Ficus religiosa and other one is Indian fig.