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Aegle marmelos, commonly known as bael (or bili or bhel), also Bengal quince, golden apple, Japanese bitter orange, stone apple or wood apple, is a species of tree native to India, Nepal, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Myanmar. It is present in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malesia as a naturalized species. The tree is considered to be sacred by Hindus. Its fruits are used in traditional medicine and as a food throughout its range.[not verified in body] The common name "wood apple" may also refer to Limonia acidissima.
- 1 Botanical information
- 2 Food uses
- 3 Chemical compounds
- 4 Aegeline and nonviral hepatitis
- 5 Religious significance
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Phylogeny and anatomy
The bark is pale brown or grayish, smooth or finely fissured and flaking, armed with long straight spines, 1.2-2.5 cm singly or in pairs, often with slimy sap oozing out from cut parts. The gum is also described as a clear, gummy sap, resembling gum arabic, which exudes from wounded branches and hangs down in long strands, becoming gradually solid. It is sweet at first taste and then irritating to the throat.
The leaf is trifoliate, alternate, each leaflet 5-14 x 2–6 cm, ovate with tapering or pointed tip and rounded base, untoothed or with shallow rounded teeth. Young leaves are pale green or pinkish, finely hairy while mature leaves are dark green and completely smooth. Each leaf has 4-12 pairs of side veins which are joined at margin. The end leaflet features a long stalk, 0.5–3 cm while side stalks are typically shorter than 0.2 cm.
The flowers are 1.5 to 2 cm, pale green or yellowish, sweetly scented, bisexual, in short drooping unbranched clusters at the end of twigs and leaf axils. They usually appear with young leaves. The calyx is flat with 4(5) small teeth. The four or five petals of 6–8 mm overlap in the bud. Many stamens have short filaments and pale brown, short style anthers. The ovary is bright green with inconspicuous disc.
The bael fruit typically has a diameter of between 5 and 12 cm. It is globose or slightly pear-shaped with a thick, hard rind and does not split upon ripening. The woody shell is smooth and green, gray until it is fully ripe when it turns yellow. Inside are 8 to 15 or 20 sections filled with aromatic orange pulp, each section with 6 (8) to 10 (15) flattened-oblong seeds each about 1 cm long, bearing woolly hairs and each enclosed in a sac of adhesive, transparent mucilage that solidifies on drying. The exact number of seeds varies in different publications.
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. Boning (2006) indicates that the flavor is "sweet, aromatic and pleasant, although tangy and slightly astringent in some varieties. It resembles a marmalade made, in part, with citrus and, in part, with tamarind." Numerous hairy seeds are encapsulated in a slimy mucilage.
Range and ecology
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Bael is a native of India, Nepal, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Myanmar. It is cultivated in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malesia. It is widely found in Indian Siva temples. It occurs in dry, open forests on hills and plains. at altitudes from sea level to around 1200m with mean annual rainfall of 570-2,000 mm. It has a reputation in India for being able to grow in places that other trees cannot. It copes with a wide range of soil conditions (pH range 5-10), is tolerant of waterlogging and has an unusually wide temperature tolerance (from -7 °C to 48 °C). It requires a pronounced dry season to give fruit.
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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, and ice. 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 bael tree contains furocoumarins, including xanthotoxol and the methyl ester of alloimperatorin, as well as flavonoids, rutin and marmesin; a number of essential oils; and, among its alkaloids, á-fargarine(=allocryptopine), O-isopentenylhalfordinol, O-methylhafordinol.
Aeglemarmelosine, molecular formula C16H15NO2 [α]27D+7.89° (c 0.20, CHCl3), has been isolated as an orange viscous oil.
Aegeline (N-[2-hydroxy-2(4-methoxyphenyl) ethyl]-3-phenyl-2-propenamide) is a known constituent of the bael leaf and consumed as a dietary supplement for a variety of purposes. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), other federal regulators, and local health officials, investigated an outbreak of 97 persons with acute nonviral hepatitis that first emerged in Hawaii. Seventy-two of these persons had reported using the dietary supplement OxyElite Pro, produced by USPlabs. FDA had previously taken action against an earlier formulation of OxyElite Pro because it contained dimethylamylamine (DMAA), a stimulant that FDA had determined to be an adulterant when included in dietary supplements and that they determined can cause high blood pressure and lead to heart attacks, seizures, psychiatric disorders, and death. USPlabs subsequently reformulated this product and another product called VERSA-1 by replacing DMAA with aegeline, without informing FDA or submitting the required safety data for a new dietary ingredient.
Doctors at the Liver Center at The Queen's Medical Center investigating the first cases in Hawai'i reported that between May and September 2013, eight previously healthy individuals presented themselves at their center suffering with drug-induced liver injury. All of these patients had been using the reformulated OxyELITE Pro, which they had purchased from a variety of sources, and which had different lot numbers and expiration dates, at doses within the manufacturer's recommendation. Three of these patients developed fulminant liver failure, two underwent urgent liver transplantation, and one died. The number of such cases would ultimately rise to 43 in Hawai'i. In January 2014, leaders from the Queen's Liver Center informed state lawmakers that they were almost certain that aegeline was the agent responsible for these cases.
On November 17, 2015, FDA announced that the U.S. Department of Justice was criminally charging USPlabs and several of its corporate affiliates and officers with eleven counts of charges related to the sale of those products. The charges surrounded an alleged conspiracy to import ingredients from China using false certificates of analysis and labeling, and lying about the ingredients' source and nature after inclusion in their products. The various defendants surrendered or were apprehended by the United States Marshals Service, and FDA and special agents from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service seized assets including investment accounts, real estate, and luxury and sports cars. This capped a yearlong sweep of potentially unsafe or tainted supplements that resulted in civil injunctions and criminal actions against 117 manufacturers and/or distributors of dietary supplements and products falsely marketed as such but containing banned or unauthorized ingredients. The research on this topic is still not conclusive though as traditional medicine sciences suggest that its alleviates High blood pressure and helps in improving heart conditions. More research is still being done.
Bael is significantly important in the ritual rites of Hindus. Bael is considered as one of the sacred trees of Hindus. Earliest evidence of religious importance of Bael appears in Shri Shuktam of Rig Veda which reveres this plant as the residence of goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth and prosperity. Bael trees can be usually seen near the Hindu temples and their home gardens. It is believed that Hindu deity Lord Shiva is fond of Bael tree and its leaves and fruit still play a main role in his worship.
Traditional Newari practices
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In the traditional practice of the Hindu and Buddhist religions by people of the Newar culture of Nepal, the bael tree is part of a fertility ritual for girls known as the Bel baha. Girls are "married" to the bael fruit; as long as the fruit is kept safe and never cracks, the girl can never become widowed, even if her human husband dies. This is seen to be protection against the social disdain suffered by widows in the Newar community.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aegle marmelos.|
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bael Fruit". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Picture Gallery of dried bael fruits
- Caldecott, Todd (2006). Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life. Elsevier/Mosby. ISBN 0-7234-3410-7. Contains a detailed monograph on Aegle marmelos (Bilwa) as well as a discussion of health benefits and usage in clinical practice.