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IF WE are to believe K K Seth's declamations on Prosopis chilensis , it is a perfect Dracula of a weed, devilishly draining an
already gasping Rann of Kutch of life-giving water (see Down
to Earth, August 31, 1994). But actual facts point in quite a different direction. There is no doubt that Prosopis chilensis, or
Prosopisjulifora, is a weed, but certainly not of the villainous
variety which many experts make it out to be.
The much-maligned weed is a legume belonging to the
Mimosaceae family. In the plant kingdom, legumes are the
friends of the earth; they combat desertification and remain
evergreen even in the worst kind of degraded soils. Of course,
if there are no checks on its growth, it becomes a potential
Although an objcct of intense dislike the world over
because of its invasive and water-guzzling tendencies, the
weed is, ironically enough, endowed with an endearing name.
It is popularly known as the honey mesquite, which denotes a
syrupy-sweet concentrate of honey. The tree is without equal
in its lush and exuberantly green foliage, with strong and stubby thorns.
More to the point, the honey mesquite can hardly
be harmful. In fact, given its wide variety of usage as fuel,
fodder, a shelter belt and green manure, it is definitely an
Investigations carried out at the Oil Technological
Research Institute (o,rju), Anantpur, have established that the
fruits (pods) collected from mature honey mesquite trees
show a remarkably high content of edible sugars, fibre and
proteins. The seed has an oil content of 3-4 per cent, which
could be recovered by the solvent extraction process. If economics so permit, this oil could be refined, bleached and
deodorised to produce an edible grade oil ofa potentially good
Again, a scheme to collect the innumerable pods litit
the ground in the dry season cc@uld provide employn
opportunities to the rural poor. The seeds collected in
fashion should be harnessed for the recovery of fatty oil
proteins. Interestingly, the onset of the honey mesquite
has brought about a dramatic ena,to the mill bush, or I
tree spurge (Euphoria tirucalli), another xerophyte, natn
India, and wildly available all over the arid and semiregions. Now this xerophyte has become a rarity.
It is not correct to state that'the pods of the
mesquite are harmful and can kill 'animals. These pods
variety of functions. The spongy walls of the ripened
highly nutritious, a fair source of digestible proteins
important as livestock feed. The pods are also used as a
food by the villagers, but after the removal of the seed
coarser portions. They are ground into a meal and made
cakes, or used in the preparation of an alcoholic beverapt
seeds of the honey mesquite are ground to a fine powder
used in the preparation of bread. Its foliage can also be um
livestock feed, both fresh and as hay. Gum recovered
pods is used as an emulsifying agent in foods.
The timber of this remarkable plant is used in ham
building and turnery and also for fenceposts. A pro
manufacturing hardboard sheets has also been invente&
wood, roots and bark contain tannins and provide scC"
multiple applications in industry.
Perhaps the only drawback of the honey mesquite pia
the attraction it has for mosquitoes. The tree prov co
lent sanctuary, and with its spread, the mosquito menaw
reached daunting proportions. Ifthat can be taken can
I would say that the so-called "weed" has been unnecesm
given a bad name.
G Azeemoddin is a director at the Oil Technological Rese