COVID-19: Coming from a tree in my backyard, meals and pickle

The bark and fruits of Lasoda tree possess various medicinal properties and its bark is used to treat fresh wounds

By Chandra Prakash Kala
Published: Tuesday 07 July 2020

The nationwide lockdown imposed to curb the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread has disrupted the normal. A rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and lack of treatment have left people with the basics — washing hands and wearing masks.

In addition to following a plethora of dos and don’ts, several people are washing purchased items and keeping them in isolation before finally using them.

Washing vegetables and fruits before use is pretty normal. Amid the pandemic, people are being extra cautious while cleaning them. Soon after purchase, they soak them in either salt-mixed water or water having few drops of vinegar. Some even spray a solution of water and vinegar (1:3 ratio) on them before rinsing them.

Yet, several people have been reluctant to buy vegetables from outside fearing it may carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus. I was one of them.

Fortunately, our colony at Vanika in Bhopal is quite spacious and green. Several plants have grown in the colony thanks to the natural dispersers — birds or bats — over the years.  Lasoda is one such species, which is flourishing on its own in my backyard without any outside intervention.

In April last year, I saw my house help, who hails from Chhattisgarh, collect young leaves and mild twigs of Lasoda. She had said she would make a vegetable out of it.

Another April day this year, gazing at the green leaves of this plant, I noticed some small, rounded fruits hanging from the tree. By mid-May, the fruits had grown. I picked a few of them to make a dish. While picking, I ate the fruit. It was sticky.

I boiled them all for about 8-10 minutes. After draining the water, I removed the stalks and seeds. I fried them mildly in edible oil and cooked it for three-four minutes in very little along with some general spices such as red chilies, coriander and turmeric powder.

I then added salt and a teaspoonful of dried mango powder.  It was delicious and I have been cooking this vegetable every alternate day since then.

Lasoda fruits are a great source of income as well; they are sold seasonally in the local market for Rs 100 a kilogram.

The half-ripened fruits of Lasoda are also used for making pickle. So, another day, I collected a basketful of these fruits intact with their short stalks and washed them in the running tap water.

Here how one can go about it:

  • Boil the water in a pan and soak the fruits in it for three-four minutes.
  • After draining water, spread the fruits on a tray for drying for a day.
  • Mix fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, fennel, onion seeds, cumin seeds, coriander powder, red chilies powder and salt thoroughly in a bowl.
  • Heat the mustard oil in a separate pan and keep it for cooling. Mix spices with the dried Lasoda fruits. Dip it into mustard oil.
  • Within 12 days, the Lasoda pickle is ready to eat.

Lasoda is a multi-purpose species. Its tree in my backyard is young and its trunk quite flexible, causing the tree to droop over my backyard. The trunk flexibility makes its leaves easily accessible for herbivores during summer season.

It provides a strong wood, traditionally used for making agricultural tools and handles.

I was once informed by a woman at Deokho village in Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve in Madhya Pradesh that the fibrous bark of Lasoda is used by local women for making ropes.

The Lasoda tree in my backyard grows in a deep and moist black loamy soil. Being a deciduous tree, it sheds leaves during winter onset.

Botanically, it is called as Cordia dichotoma G Forst. It bears broad leaves having ovate or elliptic-oblong shapes with acute or acuminate apex. The leaf base remains rounded or cordate with entire or undulate leaf margins. It bears small, short-stalked white / light pink flowers.

When young, its green fruits are conical; they turn yellow and soft with viscid pulp at maturity. The seeds, which are ovoid, remain embedded in thick pulp. The bark of its stem is gray-brown. The young tree in my backyard has smooth bark and will gradually develop fissures with age.

Lasoda can grow up to 8-10 metres in height. The tree in my backyard begins to flower in March and possesses fruits in April, which then begin to ripe in the last week of May.

Once ripened, the fruits are consumed by birds and human beings. Studies reveal that bark and fruits of this plant possess various medicinal properties. Besides improving general body strength, the decoction of its bark is used to treat fresh wounds, diarrhea and worms in intestine.

Locally, it is also applied to treat blisters in mouth. The juice prepared of its fruits provides relieve from inflammation, besides helping in treatment of respiratory disorders, including asthma. The vegetable of its half-ripened fruits helps cure indigestion.

The leaf poultice is applied to treat migraine and inflammation. This shows that each plant part of Lasoda is used traditionally by indigenous communities.   

Historically, Lasoda has been used to make ayurvedic medicines under the Sanskrit name, Shlesmataka. It is one of the 16 plants used in making an ayurvedic formulation Gojihwadi Kashaya, which is used to treat respiratory diseases such as cough, bronchitis and asthma.

Besides, it is used to make Cofnil plus syrup that is used in reducing allergy and cough. Its bark is bitter in taste and has astringent properties, which is known to reduce bile and phlegm-related disorders.

The bark is collected during autumn by stripping a part of the stem longitudinally, and then chopping the collected bark into fragments, before drying it under the sun. Generally, the fully dried bark is crushed to powder before use as medicine.

Though Lasoda is not yet listed as threatened species, its population is fragmentary. The young tree in my backyard has been infected with pathogens and insects, and many leaves have developed galls that show the irritation of Lasoda to such intruders.

Being a multipurpose species there are anthropogenic pressures on its populations in wild. The branches of Lasoda are lopped while collecting its leaves for fodder. Naturally, it is regenerated by seeds, but they are infected with seed borers that have adverse effects on its natural regeneration.

Further, the seedlings and saplings are palatable and browsed by herbivores. Besides seeds, it may be propagated by shoot and root cuttings; such techniques may also be used for its large scale plantation.

The ex-situ conservation practices may not only help maintain its population in nature, but also provide livelihood needs of the communities and delicious foods.

Chandra Prakash Kala is faculty member at the Ecosystem and Environment Management Division of the Indian Institute of Forest Management in Bhopal

Views expressed are the author's own and don't necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth


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