Cloves – A Holiday Spice and Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Botanical print of cloveThe spice that we call cloves comes from the clove tree, Syzygium aromaticum. This evergreen herbal tree is in the Myrtle (Myrtaceae) family and is native to the Molucca Islands in the Pacific Ocean. These islands were once called the Spice Islands and now are a part of Indonesia. 

The tree needs a warm, humid climate, and deep, loamy soil to grow well. It is said that it also needs to see the sea in order to thrive. It does indeed grow well near the coasts of tropical islands. The clove tree can reach a height of 26 – 40 feet and begins to flower when it is about five years old. At 20 years, it is ready to begin harvesting the cloves, which are the unopened flower buds, growing in clusters of 10 – 15 buds. The tree continues to produce cloves for more than 80 years. A tree can produce about 7 – 40 pounds of cloves a year. 

Hands holding clove flowers and leavesThe clove bud is harvested when the bud begins to turn from green to pink. The clove that we use in cooking is the stem of the flower and the round ball in the center is the unopened flower. Buds are hand-picked and dried in the sun, mostly in the fall. As they dry, the buds release a strong aroma that can be smelled from miles away. The mature fruit of the tree is called “Mother Clove” and contains a single seed. The oldest clove tree, named “Afo,” is on the island of Ternate in the Moluccas and is believed to be about 400 years old. 

Cloves drying on Pemba IslandThe History

The origin of the name “clove” comes from the Latin word for “nail” which is clavus. Cloves have been used as a culinary spice and as a medicine in many countries around the world. It was an important traditional plant in the Spice Islands. Families celebrated the birth of a child by planting a clove tree. The health of the tree was a good omen for the health of the child. 

Early Chinese writings from the 3rd century BC reveal that the spice was called “chicken-tongue spice,” and that visitors to the Han Emperor would first chew cloves so that their breath would be sweet when Clove treespeaking with the emperor. Arab traders brought cloves to the Romans in the first century AD, where Galen, the famous Greek physician, used cloves in a soothing ointment (Donkin, 2003).

Europeans did not discover the Moluccas until the 1500s, when Magellan’s circumnavigation trip brought him and his crew to these islands with their treasured spices. His ship returned to Portugal in 1522 with 53,000 pounds of cloves, representing a 2500% profit for the voyage (Donkin, 2003). Because of this discovery, Portugal controlled the spice trade until they were defeated by the Dutch in 1605.

The Dutch East India Company then controlled the trade in cloves, nutmeg, and mace from the Moluccas. In an attempt to preserve the lucrative trade in those spices, the Dutch destroyed all of the clove trees except those on the island of Ambon, which they controlled. It is said that, beginning in 1770, French missionary Pierre Poivre was able to smuggle seedlings out of the islands and began planting them in French colonies like Mauritius, thus initiating the decline of the Dutch East India’s monopoly of the spice trade. Seedlings then reached the Tanzanian islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, where until 1972, there was a law on the books that made Pack of clove cigarettessmuggling cloves from the island punishable by death (Mosely, 2020). Today, the finest cloves are said to come from Zanzibar, and they remain an important cash crop for Tanzania. Cloves are still harvested in Indonesia, but 80% of the crop is used in the manufacture of the fragrant, domestic clove cigarette called kretek and is also used as a flavoring in the preparation of betel nut quids (Sui and Lacy, 2015). 

Culinary

Throughout history, cloves have been valued as a food preservative because of its antiseptic properties. It has a strong, intense aroma and is slightly sweet and hot to taste. It is an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder, Indian garam masala, Arabic baharat, Moroccan ras el han out, Tunisian galȃt dagga, Ethiopian berbere, Mexican mole sauces, and the French quatre épices

Dried clove budsThe French stud an onion with cloves and use it when making chicken broth. Cloves are an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce and ketchups. Amaretto and some vermouths use cloves to amplify other flavors in the liquor (Stewart, 2013). Our holidays would not be as flavorful without ground cloves in pumpkin pie or on a ham that is studded with this nail-like spice or in the mulled wine or apple cider that we toast the holidays with. And of course, there is the orange that we stud with cloves during the holiday season, using it both as a decoration and as a room freshener.

Medicinal Uses

Clove, as a medicine, was used in the 3rd century BC in China. It was used as a warming herb, as a tonic and stimulant, as an antiseptic, and to treat toothaches and scorpion stings (Hancock, 2021). Introduced to India in roughly the first century AD, “cloves were used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and were used to remove bad odors from the mouth and cure it of all impurities” (Donkin, 2003). References to the medicinal applications of cloves during the Middle Ages in Europe are found in medical texts of that era. During that time period, cloves were used for stomach complaints, and the oil was used to dress open wounds.

Today, studies show that the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of cloves show promise for use in food preservation, among other uses. “Clove essential oil is traditionally used in the treatment of burns and wounds and as a pain reliever in dental care as well as treating tooth infections and toothaches” (Batiha, 2020). I have memories of my father using oil of cloves to ease a sore tooth.

Model ship made of clovesArtistic Use of Cloves

Similar to how we construct buildings with plastic Lego®s, Indonesians build intricate model boats and houses using cloves. These intricate models are a common craft item on the Moluccan island of Ambon. Some models from the 17th century are on display in the Troopeen Museum in Amsterdam and in London’s British Museum.

For more information about cloves, recipes, and a beautiful screen saver, please see The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage, https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-information/herb-of-the-month.html

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

Photo Credits: 1) Clove botanical print (public domain); 2) Clove flowers and leaves (public domain); 3) Cloves drying in the sun on Pemba Island (Creative Commons, Pemba.mpimaji); 4) Clove tree (Creative Commons, Midori); 5) Clove cigarettes (Creative Commons, Meequo); 6) Dried clove buds (Creative Commons, David Monniaux); 7) Clove ship (Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures).

References

Ambon Information Website. (2011). Accessed 10/31/21. http://www.websitesrcg.com/ambon/history/history-maluku-01.htm

Batiha, G.E. etal. (2020). Syzygium aromaticum L. (Myrtaceae): Traditional Uses, Bioactive Chemical Constituents, Pharmacological and Toxicological Activities. Biomolecules, 10(2), 202. Accessed 10/2/21.  https://doi.org/10.3390/biom10020202

The clove tree that ended the monopoly. (2017). Accessed 10/5/21. https://thetreeographer.com/2017/09/08/the-clove-tree-that-ended-a-monopoly/

Donkin, R.A. (2003). Between East and West: the Molucca and the traffic in spices up to the arrival of Europeans. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. Internet Archive. Accessed 10/17/21. https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_B4IFMnssyqgC/page/n173/mode/2up

Hancock, John. (2021). The early history of clove, nutmeg, & mace. Accessed 10/10/21. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1849/the-early-history-of-clove-nutmeg–mace/

Mosely, James Allen. (2020). The mystery of herbs and spices. Maine: Winterwood Publishing Company.

Stewart, Amy. (2013). The drunken botanist. New York: Workman Publishing.

Sui, Cindy and Anna Lacy. (2015) Asia’s deadly secret: the scourge of the betel nut. BBC News. Accessed 12/1/21. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-31921207


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She lectures on herbs and does the herb training for several Master Gardener programs. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

The Other Quince

by Matt Millage

PXL_20210402_173312198After a brief email exchange with a colleague last fall around this same time, I set off to collect some fallen treasures from the forest floor from a tree I had never collected from before. The fruit was large and aromatic, but I was unfamiliar with its culinary use. Suddenly the sweet scent of ripening flesh let me know that the bounty was close, and true to smell, the six-inch long, bright yellow fruits of the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis) were scattered beneath a tree. Much larger than its cousin, the common quince (Cydonia oblonga), which is used often in fruit production and tree grafting, the Chinese quince has a reputation for being rather astringent, and I had never thought of cooking with it. 

After informing my colleague that the harvest was complete, I inquired as to how he planned on using the crop. He explained that quince made a lavish addition to an apple pie, among other seasonal dishes. From there, I dug in further to the culinary and ethnobotanical history of the Chinese quince and was pleasantly surprised to discover the versatility and medicinal properties of this interesting plant.

A monotypic species in the Rosaceae family, this tree alone could be an ornamental addition to most temperate gardens. They grow easily in USDA hardiness zones 6a-8b and in a variety of soil types.  Standing 10’ – 20’ at maturity with exquisite exfoliating bark and wonderfully scented pink-white flowers in the spring, it adds multiple layers of interest year-round. Autumn, though, is when it gives up its true prize—the large fruits which have been used historically for medicines, as an edible for jams, jellies, pie fillings, liqueurs, candies, and eaten as a sweet meat (Facciola, 1990).

Korea, Japan, and China have used the fruits medicinally for centuries as an antitussive, and for  asthma, the common cold, sore throats, mastitis, and tuberculosis. Descriptions of these efficacies have been found dating back to the 18th century in Japan. It contains several medicinally active constituents including organic acids, plus the flavonoids rutin and quercetin (World Health Organization, 1998).  Recent research has shown that extracts of Chinese quince fruit have various biological functions, such as antibacterial, antihemolytic (Osawa et al., 1997), anti-inflammatory (Osawa et al., 1999), antitumor (Chun et al., 2012), anti-influenza (Hamauzu et al., 2005, Sawai et al., 2008, Sawai-Kuroda et al., 2013), antioxidant (Hamauzu et al., 2006, Hamauzu et al., 2010), and gastroprotective (anti-ulcerogenic) (Hamauzu et al., 2008) activities. 

Medicinal plants are often boiled to extract functional ingredients, suggesting a decoction of Chinese quince fruit may be rich in various phytochemicals. Decoctions have been used for medicinal purposes but can also be used for manufacturing processed foods, such as fruit jelly. These traditional methods offer both positive and negative effects on the medicinal properties, as some research shows that the thermal effects can have a reductive effect on the polyphenols (Hamauzu et al., 2018).  

PXL_20211020_123304152_2So, in addition to being a delicious addition to the fall harvest, it also has an increasing number of positive side effects attributed to its consumption. Which, I believe, begs the question, when are you going to add some quince to your apple pie? There are lots of fantastic recipes on the Internet, but here is one that I tried last year after my colleague piqued my interest enough to see how they taste during fall pie season. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did as it truly does add a lavishness and texture that I had never experienced before with a typical apple pie. I used the Chinese quince but am sure that the common quince could be used as an easy replacement. Even if you just keep a bowl of them on the counter for a sweet fragrance, I hope that you can find a way to enjoy the Chinese quince in your home this fall, too! 

 

Apple Quince Pie

Ingredients

  • 3 cups thinly sliced peeled quinces (about 2 medium)
  • 1 can (5-1/2 ounces) unsweetened apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 5 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples (about 5 medium)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Topping:

  • 1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  1. In a large saucepan, combine the quince and apple juice. Place cloves on a double thickness of cheesecloth; bring up corners of cloth and tie with string to form a bag. Add to the saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until quince are crisp-tender.
  2. Uncover; simmer 8-12 minutes longer or until liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Discard spice bag. Cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry. Trim to a 1/2 inch beyond edge of plate; flute edges. In a large bowl, combine the apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Gently stir in quince mixture. Spoon into the crust.
  4. For topping, in a small bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over filling.
  5. Bake at 375° for 50 – 60 minutes or until the apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Photo Credits: 1) Chinese quince flower; 2) Exfoliating bark; 3) Chinese quince hanging from branches; 3) A large, fully ripe fruit. All photos courtesy of the author.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

Chun, J.M., K.J. Nho, A.Y. Lee, et al. (2012). A methanol fraction from Chaenomeles sinensis inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma growth in vitro and in vivo. Journal of the Korean Society for Applied Biological Chemistry. 55: 345-351.

Facciola, S. (1990). Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, California: Kampong Publications.

Hamauzu, Y., T. Inno, C. Kume, M. Irie, and K. Hiramatsu. (2006). Antioxidant and antiulcerative properties of phenolics from Chinese quince, quince, and apple fruits. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 54: 765-772.

Hamauzu, Y., M. Irie, M. Kondo, and T. Fujita (2008). Antiulcerative properties of crude polyphenols and juice of apple, and Chinese quince extracts. Food Chemistry. 108: 488-495.

Hamauzu, Y., H. Kishida, and N. Yamazaki. (2018). Gastroprotective property of Pseudocydonia sinensis fruit jelly on the ethanol-induced gastric lesions in rats. Journal of Functional Foods. 48: 275-282.

Hamauzu, Y., H. Yasui, T. Inno, C. Kume and M. Omanyuda. (2005). Phenolic profile, antioxidant property, and anti-influenza viral activity of Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis Schneid.), quince (Cydonia oblonga Mill.), and apple (Malus domestica Mill.) fruits. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 53: 928-934.

NC State Extension. Pseudocydonia sinensis Fact Sheet. Accessed on Oct 5, 2021 from NC State Extension https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/pseudocydonia-sinensis/

Osawa, K., K. Miyazaki, H. Imai, and K. Takeya. (1999). Inhibitory effects of Chinese quince (Chaenomeles sinensis) on hyaluronidase and histamine release from rat mast cells (in Japanese with English summary). Natural Medicines. 53: 188-193.

Osawa, K., H. Yasuda, H. Morita, K. Takeya, and H. Itokawa.  (1997). Antibacterial and antihemolytic activity of triterpenes and β-sitosterol isolated from Chinese quince (Chaenomeles sinensis) (in Japanese with English summary). Natural Medicines. 51: 365-367.

Sawai, R., K. Kuroda, T. Shibata, R. Gomyou, K. Osawa, and K. Shimizu. 2008. Anti-influenza virus activity of Chaenomeles sinensis. Journal of Ethnopharmacology.118:108-112.

Sawai-Kuroda, R., S. Kikuchi, Y.K. Shimizu, Y. Sasaki, K. Kuroda, T. Tanaka, and T. Yamamoto, et al. 2013. A polyphenol-rich extract from Chaenomeles sinensis (Chinese quince) inhibits influenza A virus infection by preventing primary transcription in vitro. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 146: 866-872.

World Health Organization, R. O. (1998). Medicinal plants in the Republic of Korea : information on 150 commonly used medicinal plants. Manila: WHO Regional Publications: Regional Office for the Western Pacific.


Matt has worked in public gardening for a little over six years and is currently the horticulturist in the Asian Collections at the U.S. National Arboretum. He previously worked at Smithsonian Gardens in a variety of capacities. Matt is an ISA-certified arborist and an IPM manager certified with both Virginia and DC.

Not Just for Teatime: The Herbal Significance of Camellias

By Matt Millage

It never ceases to amaze me how much tea is consumed daily. An estimated 2.16 billion cups of tea are drunk every day around the world, which puts it Panda_Tea_Green_Teasecond only to water in most consumed beverages (DeWitt, 2000). I, myself, have become a tea drinker over the years, and as a plant nerd, I wanted to know more about how the tea leaves were farmed. What I ended up learning is that while tea (Camellia sinensis) is by far the most well known and widely used product of the genus Camellia, it is by no means its only contribution to the herbal marketplace.

Some of you may know the genus Camellia for the wonderful ornamental show that it puts on from fall through spring. Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua have been putting on shows in USDA hardiness zones 7-9 for decades, if not centuries, in the deeper south. These species have an even more prominent herbal significance in the Eastern Hemisphere, where they have been cultivated for millennia in their native ranges.

Four species of Camellias are most widely known, and all four have both traditional and contemporary herbal uses. C. sinensis is by far the most used globally, as it produces both green and black teas. C. japonica is most often considered an ornamental plant best known for its showy spring blooms, but in its native range of Japan, it has been used as both an anti-inflammatory and a conditioner for hair and skin. C. oleifera is the source of  tea seed oil, which is used in cooking oils, cosmetics, and lubrication. Camellia sasanquaAnd finally, C. sasanqua has a long history of being used for both tea and tea seed oil in Japan, both of which go back centuries. Let us look at each of these four species in a bit more detail to better understand their contributions to both Asia and the world.

The Chinese legend of how tea was discovered is a mainstay of Chinese folklore and history. In the year 2737 BC, the herbalist Emperor Shen Nung was awaiting his drinking water to be boiled by a servant when a few leaves from a large Camellia sinensis shrub fell into the boiling water. Known for his propensity to sample new herbs, the Emperor decided to try the brew and found that it produced “vigor of body, contentment of mind, and determination of purpose” (DeWitt, 2000). Thus, the first written account of humans enjoying the benefits of caffeine was recorded. The rest of the world would have to wait a few thousand years for tea to find its way west, but after its discovery by European traders in the 18th century, it would quickly become one of the most popular drinks on the globe. Most tea-harvest-at-charlestontea production is now centered mainly in the Eastern Hemisphere, however some tea is produced in America. Several states in the U.S. have small tea growers, but most American tea is grown in South Carolina, primarily at the 127-acre Charleston Tea Plantation—arguably one of the most historic tea plantations in the country.  

Camellia japonica seeds, when pressed, produce an oil referred to in Japanese as tsubaki-abura, widely used for hair and skin care. It is very rich in oleic acid, which helps keep skin and hair moisturized. It was said to be geisha_retro_vintage_japanese_asia-1335041.jpg!dused by the geisha to remove make-up and act as an antioxidant. C. japonica is famous for its anti-inflammatory activity in the field of medicine and ethnobotany. It is reported as a bioactive plant in folk medicine of South Korea, Japan, and China. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of the leaves are already reported, and this plant is proved to be a source of triterpenes, flavonoids, tannin, and fatty acids having antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities. The seeds are also used as a traditional medicine in folk remedies for the treatment of bleeding and inflammation (Majumder, 2020).

Before the discovery of whale oil, Camellia sasanqua seed oil was used to fuel lanterns in both Japan and Korea. In fact, it was used for lighting homes, lubrication of machines, cooking oil, and cosmetics. Its use as a tea leaf persists today, with some regions of Japan and Korea preferring it to the traditional teas made from C. sinensis. Due to the difficulty of pressing the seeds, it has dwindled to a cottage industry in most regions, with some seeds now being used for many novelties of the souvenir trade, including dolls’ eyes (RBGSYD, 2012).

Camellia oleiferaNative to China, Camellia oleifera also produces tea seed oil. It is known as a cooking oil to hundreds of millions of people in east Asia, and is one of the most important cooking oils in southern China as it has a very high smoke point of 252 degrees Fahrenheit—perfect for deep frying. It has also been used to protect Japanese woodworking tools and cutlery from corrosion (Odate, Reprint Edition 1998). Sometimes also used in soap making, it is said to add a supple conditioner for the skin. Overall, the importance of it as a cooking oil cannot be overstated for large regions of Asia, as this remains to be C. oleifera’s most valuable contribution today.

While you may have to live in the Eastern Hemisphere of our globe to notice the many uses that the genus Camellia offers on a daily basis, you now hopefully have a better understanding of the many herbal benefits that it has offered humanity over the centuries. Next time you sit down to steep a cup of tea, maybe offer up a toast to the shrub that makes it all happen: the Camellia.

References

DeWitt, P. (2000, March 8). Harvard.edu. Retrieved from A Brief History of Tea: Rise and Fall of the Tea Importation Act: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/8852211/Dewitt,_Patricia.pdf

Majumder, S. G. (2020, August 27). Bulletin of The National Research Centre. Retrieved from Springer Open Corporation Website: https://bnrc.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s42269-020-00397-7#citeas

Odate, T. (Reprint Edition 1998). “Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use” page 174. Tokyo: Linden Publishing.

Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. (2012, February 4). Internet Archive- The Wayback Machine. Retrieved from Royal Botanic Garden Sydney NSW AU: https://web.archive.org/web/20120204064125/http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome_to_bgt/tomah/garden_features/blooming_calendar/Camellias

Photo Credits: 1) Green tea (Creative Commons); 2) Camellia sasanqua (Matt Millage); 3) Tea harvesting on Charleston, SC, tea plantation (tripadvisor.be); 4) Geisha (Creative Commons); 5) Camellia oleifera (Matt Millage).

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Matt MillageMatt has worked in public gardening for a little over six years and is currently the horticulturist in the Asian Collections at the U.S. National Arboretum. He previously worked at Smithsonian Gardens in a variety of capacities. Matt is an ISA-certified arborist and an IPM manager certified with both Virginia and DC.

Tamarind – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

The tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica) is one of many tropical herbal trees. Its leaves, bark, wood, roots, and fruits have many uses. The tamarind tree Tamarindus indicais also an evergreen, long-lived landscape tree, reaching a height of 40 to 60 feet tall and a width of up to 25 feet wide. Its pinnate leaves close up at night. The branches droop to the ground, making it a graceful shade tree. A mature tree can produce up to 350-500 pounds of fruit each year. It is native to tropical Africa and is in the Fabaceae family. 

One of the earliest documented uses of tamarind was found in the Ganges Valley of India, where wood charcoal dating back to 1300 BCE was discovered. Tamarind was mentioned in ancient Indian scriptures as early as 1200 BCE. Arab physicians were reported to be the first to use the fruit pulp as medicine. It was the Arabs who named the tamarind, calling it “tamara hindi” or Indian date. It is thought that the Arabs were responsible for the spread of the tamarind through the Persian Gulf region and Egypt. There is documented use of tamarind in Egypt in 400 BCE. The tamarind was brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the 1600s. A tamarind tree was planted in Hawaii in 1797.

Tamarind-based drinksThe tamarind tree grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 10-11 and therefore, is not commonly seen in the continental United States, except in southern Florida. It produces a showy light brown, bean-like fruit, which can be left on the tree for up to six months after maturing. The sweet-sour pulp that surrounds the seeds is rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine, and riboflavin and is a good source of niacin. The pulp is widely used in Mexico to make thirst-quenching juice drinks and even beer. It is also very popular in fruit candies. The fruit is used in Indian cuisines in curries, chutneys, meat sauces, and in a pickle dish called tamarind fish. Southeast Asians combine the pulp with chiles and use it for marinating chicken and fish before grilling. They also use it to flavor sauces, soups, and noodle dishes. Chefs in the United States are beginning to experiment with the sweet-sour flavor of tamarind pulp. Did you know that tamarind is a major ingredient in Lea & Perrins® Worcestershire Sauce? Tamarind CandyThe fruit pods are long-lasting and can be found in some grocery stores, especially those serving Hispanic, Indian, and Southeast Asian populations. 

All parts of this ancient tree have been used in traditional medicines in Africa and Asia and have a long list of maladies that they have treated. According to Purdue’s Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department (https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/tamarind.html), “Tamarind preparations are universally recognized as refrigerants in fevers and as laxatives and carminatives.” The ground-up seeds have been used as a poultice for boils, while the boiled leaves and flowers were used as poultices for sprains and swollen joints. The bark is astringent, tonic, and a fever reducer. An infusion of the roots has been used to treat chest complaints and leprosy. It has also been used to treat sunstroke, Datura poisoning, and alcohol intoxication. According to WebMD®, there is not sufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of tamarind to treat most of these illnesses. However, research has shown that eye drops containing tamarind seed extract do improve dry eye.

Throughout the tropical world, there are many legends and superstitions regarding the tamarind tree. Here are a few:

  • A Buddhist parable about tamarind seeds says that they are the symbol of faithfulness and forbearance. 
  • Some African tribes believe that the tree is sacred, and some Indians believe that one should not sleep under one because of the acid it “exhales” during the night.  
  • Some even believe that nothing will grow under a tamarind tree. However, Maude Grieve, in her 1931 book, A Modern Herbal, claimed that “some plants and bulbs bloomed luxuriantly under the tamarind trees in her garden in Bengal.”
  • The Burmese believe that the tree is the dwelling place of the rain god, and that the tree raises the temperature of the ground beneath it.
  • In Nyasaland, tamarind bark is soaked with corn and fed to livestock as a way of guaranteeing their return if they are lost or stolen.
  • In some Asian countries, it is believed that evil spirits inhabit the tamarind tree and building a house where it grows should be avoided.
  • In the Caribbean, old tamarind trees are believed to have spirits living in them.

The tamarind is an incredibly useful tree. The young leaves and shoots are eaten as a vegetable, and the flowers and leaves can be added to salads. The flowers are also important as a pollen source for bees. The leaves can be tamarind seed podsused as fodder for domestic animals and food for silkworms. The leaves are also used as garden mulch. 

The seeds are ground to make flour, or roasted and used as a coffee substitute or as an addition to coffee. The seeds are also processed to produce a natural pectin and food stabilizer. There are many more uses of the seeds that are too numerous to list. 

The oil produced from the tamarind is culinary grade oil and is also used in specialty varnishes, adhesives, dyeing, and tanning.

The wood of the tamarind is another example of exceptional usefulness as it is very hard and insect resistant. It makes great handles for tools and is prized for furniture and paneling. It is considered a valuable fuel source because it gives off intense heat. The branches of the tamarind are used as walking sticks. The bark contains tannins and is used in tanning hides and is also used to make twine.

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire SauceThe fruit pulp is useful as a dye fixative, or combined with sea water, it cleans silver, brass, and copper. In addition to all of these uses, school children in Africa use the seeds as learning aids in arithmetic lessons and as counters in traditional board games.

The next time you reach for a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, remember the ancient tamarind tree and its usefulness in the tropical parts of our world.

 

 

Photo Credits: 1) Tamarindus indica (JIRCAS); 2) Tamarind-based beverages; 3) Tamarind-based confections; 4) Tamarind seed pods; 5) Lea & Perrins® Worcestershire sauce (Photos 2 – 5, courtesy of the author).

References

Ebifa-Othieno, Esther, et al. “Knowledge, attitudes and practices in tamarind use and conservation in Eastern Uganda. Journal of Ethnobiology & Ethnomedicine. Vol. 13. Jan. 2017. Available from Ebscohost. Accessed 10/16/20. 

El-Siddiq, K., et al. Tamarind, Tamarindus indica. England, Southhampton Centre for Underutilized Crops, 2006. Available from Google Scholar. Accessed 10/18/20.

Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal. Harcourt, Brace, & Company. 1931.

History of tamarind.  Available from https://www.world-foodhistory.com/2011/07/history-of-tamarind.html.  Accessed 10/16/20.

Missouri Botanical Garden. Plant Finder. Available at http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx. Accessed 10/16/20.

Tamarind. Purdue University Horticulture and Landscape Department. Available from https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/tamarind.html. Accessed 10/18/20.

Tamarind. WebMD.  Available from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-819/tamarind. Accessed 10/18/20

Tamarind tree. Available from https://www.permaculturenews.org/2009/02/20/tamarind-tree/. Accessed 10/16/20.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.