Healing showers of gold

Dr Anjana Kannankara

The magnificent golden shower trees are seen in full bloom during summer with a spectacular display of the clusters of delicate flowers glowing in the hot sun. The majestic bright yellow flowers splendidly cascading down the trees give a splash of nostalgia and delight to Indians anywhere around the globe. There is little doubt that the captivating golden flowers are refreshingly magnificent but how many of us are aware of the historical importance, valuable medicinal properties or culinary uses of the indigenous plant?
The Cassia fistula, commonly called ‘Amaltas’ in Hindi, Indian laburnum or the Golden Shower tree in English, is one of the most beautiful flowering trees with significant cultural relevance. The blooming flowers of the tree native to Indian subcontinent and South East Asia are an indication of the ground water level declining since it thrives in low water conditions of the soil. Not only is all the gorgeous colour a sight for sore eyes but all those blooms can be put to good use in a myriad of ways that is mostly not known to many.

History and Culture

The golden shower tree is vividly described even in the Ramayana (Kishkindha Kanda and Aranya Kanda) and the Mahabharata. According to the Ramayana, it was found growing near the Pampa Lake and the hermitage of the sage Matanga whereas in Mahabharata, it is mentioned as being found in abundance near Kushika country. The flower has been used to adorn hair by ladies right from ancient days. In the early 1920s, even when British architect Edwin Lutyens planned the architectural layout of Delhi, he made sure to plant lots of golden shower trees in and around Lutyens Delhi, thus providing the major roads with a burst of the resplendent colour during summer.

Medicinal properties

Cassia fistula has various medicinal uses. It has anti-tumour, antioxidant, anti-allergic, anti-diabetic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-pyretic, diuretic, laxative and purgative properties. It works as a digestive and anti-inflammatory agent as well. The leaves, roots, fruits and pods are used in medicine.
The long cylindrical pods of this tree too offer various health benefits. According to nutritionists, it is a detoxifier and helps remove harmful toxins and prevent digestive issues like flatulence, colic pain, belching, loss of appetite, heartburn and acidity. In addition, it cleanses blood to help keep the skin looking good. It is also known to alleviate symptoms and pain of arthritis and gout. In Indian native medicine, the golden shower tree is known as Aragvadha, which means disease killer. Its fruit pulp, considered to have the greatest medicinal value, is used as a mild laxative, against fever, arthritis, nervous system diseases, all kinds of bleeding, such as hematemesis or hemorrhages, as well as cardiac conditions and stomach problems such as acid reflux. The root is used in various skin diseases, while its leaves form an important part of many ointments. The bark of the tree has astringent properties.

Culinary uses

The flowers, young tender buds and shoots are eaten as vegetables. It can be used as a garnish in salads. When it comes to culinary uses of the flower, it can be brewed to make an excellent tea which has slimming, detoxing and purifying qualities. They can also be churned into a chutney, jam or preserve. The fresh flowers can be used for making tasty salads with a dash of sugar or salt as per requirement. What more, it can be mixed with dough or batter while making rotis or idlis which gives an entirely new look and taste to the traditional dishes.

Nutritional value

As nutritionists and researchers point out the flowers are loaded with nutrients. It is low in sodium; rich in Vitamin K, calcium and is a good source of iron and manganese.

Precautions to be taken

All parts of the plant may prove toxic if ingested without proper supervision or knowledge. It may cause nausea and dizziness. High doses may induce diarrhoea and dysentery. The herb is not recommended for children and pregnant women. So next summer, you can try and get the wonder tree’s various benefits

(The author is director, TGL Foundation, & Editor, Anthropology Today —
The International Journal)

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