Tamarind

Tamarindus indica (Fabaceae)

Characteristics

Long-lived tree, up to 18 m. Crown with dense foliage. Grows well in full sun. It prefers clay, loam, sand and acidic soil types, with a high resistance to drought and aerosol salt (wind-borne salt as found in coastal areas). Leaves evergreen, alternate, pinnately lobed. Red and yellow flowers, 2.5 cm wide. Fruit is called a “pod”, 12-15 cm long, with hard, brown shell. The fruit has a fleshy, juicy, acidic, edible pulp.

Distribution

Native to tropical Africa, but has been cultivated for so long on the Indian subcontinent that it is sometimes reported to be native there. It reached South Asia likely through human transportation and cultivation several thousand years BC. It is widely distributed throughout the tropical belt, from Africa to South Asia, Australia and Oceania. In the 16th century, it was introduced to Mexico and to a lesser degree to South America, by Spanish and Portuguese colonists.

Natural Medical Properties

The bark is astringent and tonic and its ash may be given internally as a digestive. Incorporated into lotions or poultices, the bark may be used to relives sores, ulcers, boils and rashes. It may also be administered as a decoction against asthma and amenorrhea and as a febrifuge.
Leaf extracts exhibit anti-oxidant activity in the liver, and are a common ingredient in cardiac and blood sugar reducing medicines.
Young leaves may be used in fomentation for rheumatism, applied to sores and wounds, or administered as a poultice for inflammation of joints to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
A sweetened decoction of the leaves is good against throat infection, cough, fever, and even intestinal worms.
The filtered hot juice of young leaves, and a poultice of the flowers, is used for conjunctivitis.
The leaves are warmed and tied to affected areas in order to relieve swellings and pains, particularly sprains.
They are also used for bathing sores or to bathe persons suffering from measles or allergies.
The leaves and flowers are used to make a sweetened tea that is drunk by children as a remedy for measles.
They were also used in a preparation which was drunk in early Guyana as a malaria remedy.
A decoction of the flower buds is used as a remedy for children’s bedwetting and urinary complaints.
The fruit is aperient and laxative.
A syrup made from the ripe fruit is drunk in order to keep the digestive organs in good condition, and also as a remedy for coughs and chest colds.
The flesh of the fruit is eaten to cure fevers and control gastric acid.
The fruit pulp may be used as a massage to treat rheumatism, as an acid refrigerant, a mild laxative and also to treat scurvy.
Powdered seeds may be given to cure dysentery and diarrhoea.

Did you know?

The tamarind tree produces pod-like fruit that contains a brown, edible pulp used in cuisines around the world. The pulp is also used in traditional medicine and as a metal polish. The tree’s wood can be used for woodworking and tamarind seed oil can be extracted from the seeds.

Further reading:

Literature

World Flora Online
WorldChecklist of Selected Plant Families
A working list of all plant species