VADODARA: After years of research, Godhra-based Central Horticultural Experiment Station (CHES) has developed a new variety of bael, the indigenous dry land fruit tree. The new variety named ‘Thar Neelkanth’ could be a big boon for the farmers in water-scarce regions as it won’t require a single drop of water to grow!
Have you heard about this fruit before? Probably not. Here is what you need to know:
The bael fruit has a smooth, woody shell with a green, gray, or yellow peel. It takes about 11 months to ripen on the tree and can reach the size of a large grapefruit or pomelo, and some are even larger. The shell is so hard it must be cracked with a hammer or machete. The fibrous yellow pulp is very aromatic. It has been described as tasting of marmalade and smelling of roses. The fruits can be eaten either freshly from trees or after being dried. If fresh, the juice is strained and sweetened to make a drink similar to lemonade. It can be made into sharbat (Hindi/Urdu) or Bela pana (Odia: ବେଲ ପଣା), a very popular summer drink in almost every household. The Drink is especially significant on the Odiya New Year (Pana Sankranti) which is in April. Bela Pana made in Odisha has fresh cheese, milk, water, fruit pulp, sugar, crushed black pepper, ice or bæl pana (Bengali: বেল পানা), a drink made of the pulp with water, sugar, and citron juice, mixed, left to stand a few hours, strained, and put on ice. One large bæl fruit may yield five or six liters of sharbat. If the fruit is to be dried, it is usually sliced and sun-dried. The hard leathery slices are then immersed in water. The leaves and small shoots are eaten as salad greens.
The health benefits of Bel Fruit or Wood Apple include relief from constipation, indigestion, peptic ulcer, piles,respiratory problems, diarrhea, and dysentery.It also boosts the immune system, fights off bacterial and viral infections, reduces inflammation and various inflammatory conditions, prevent cancer, increases milkproduction for nursing mothers, cures diabetes, increases ocular health, and helps prevent various sexual dysfunctions.
The Bel fruit, in actuality, is an herb with the botanical name of Limonia acidissima. Bel fruit has other names like wood apple, elephant apple and monkey fruit. In some parts of the world, this fruit is called elephant apple because it’s a favorite food of elephants, while in other areas, it gets the name wood apple because of its hard wooden shell. It is actually considered sacred by Hindus, and is widely cultivated and eaten in India.
Scientists said the new variety will help farmers even in drought-prone areas of the country generate income.
“Farmers can earn as much as Rs 1.5 lakh from one hectare by growing ‘Thar Neelkanth’. The fruit starts coming in third year and they have more sweetness and longer shelf life. The biggest benefit is that they can grow even in completely dry tracts of the country and that too without any irrigation,” Dr A K Singh, principal scientist (horticulture-fruit science) and the man behind developing this variety at CHES told TOI.
Singh said more farmers are switching over to bael because its extracts have found a huge market for their use in squash, powder, jam, pickle, ice cream, toffee, ‘murabba’ and candy among others. The research station, working under Bikaner-based Central Institute for Arid Horticulture (CIAH) had earlier developed and released ‘Goma Yashi’ and ‘Thar Divya’ varieties of bael which are highly successful. CIAH works under the aegis of New Delhi-based Indian Council of Agricultural Research.The earlier two varieties have already gained popularity in the country with 400 farmers from Gujarat and neighbouring states having adopted them. We are confident that this new variety will gain popularity as it has medicinal properties which are fast attracting farmers due to handsome returns,” said Singh.”The new variety is highly suitable in drought-prone dry land conditions and also suitable for making sherbet, powder and squash making,” he said. Bael is valued for its usage for stomach ailments and improvement in digestive system.
Bael’s medicinal properties has a unique place among 2,500 plants species used in indigenous system of medicine. “The unripe fruits are used for treating dysentery and diarrhoea,” he said.
“Similar to insulin, leaf extract have also ability to utilize external glucose in body and also lower blood urea and cholesterol. In ‘Unani’ system of medicine, juice of leaves is used as an anti-diabetic drug while bael leaf oil is used to cure recurrent cold and respiratory infection,” he added.