A kaphal tree in the forest
Synonyms: Myrica esculenta, Myrica farquhariana, Myrica sapida
English name: Box myrtle
Other Indian names: kainaryamy (Andhra Pradesh); nagatenga (Assam); kaiphal, satsarila (Bengal); kariphal (Gujrat); kaphal, kaiphal (Himachal Pradesh); kaiphal (Hindi); kaphal (Jaunsar); kirishivani (Karnataka); maruta (Kerala); soh-phi (Khasi); kaphal (Kumaon); keiphang (Lushai); kayaphala (Maharashtra); kobuli, katphala (Nepal); kaiphal, kahela, kahi (Punjab) kathphala, aranya, krishnagarbha (Sanskrit); masudam (Tamilnadu).
Kaphal is a sub-temperate evergreen tree found throughout the mid-Himalayas, starting from about 1,300 metres and going up to about 2,100 metres.
The tree yields a drupaceous fruit which is one of the tastiest wild fruits of the sub-Himalayan region. This fruit tree carries a lot of commercial importance and every year its fruits worth thousands of rupees are sold in different towns of Himachal Pradesh. These fruits are very much liked by all.
A medium to large woody, evergreen, dioecious tree, 12 to 15 metres high; trunk girth, 92.5 cm; bark, light brown to black; the male and the female trees have almost similar appearance.
Leaves, almost crowded towards the end of branches, lanceolate, 9.2 cm long, 3.2 cm broad; lower surface, pale green; upper surface, dark green.
Pistillate flowers, very small, sessile, solitary and bracteate; sepals and petals, either absent or not visible; inflorescence, a catkin, 4.2 cm long, axillary, bearing about 25 flowers; only a thread-like style visible with the unaided eye.
Each staminate flower has about 12 stamens, each with a very short filament; inflorescence, a compound raceme, about 3.5 cm long.
Fruit, a globose, succulent drupe, with a bard endocarp; diameter 1.1 to 1.3 cm; weight, 670 mg; volume, 610 microlitres; the colour of fruit, Spirea. red 025/1 or carmine 21 /1; pulp as well as juice Spirea red 025/1.
Seeds, 9 mm long, 5 mm in diameter, weight 165 mg, volume 131 microlitres.
The flowering and fruiting season
The flowering season starts from the first fortnight of February and continues till the second fortnight of April.
The peak flowering season was observed to occur during the first fortnight of March. Similarly the fruiting season started from the first week of May and continued till the last week of this month under Solan conditions.
Kaphal fruits displayed for sale
Kaphal fruits being sold in town
The yield, as recorded under Solan conditions, was found to be 15.5 kg per tree. It can, however, go up to 25 kg in the case of a big tree.
Chemical composition of the fruit
The edible portion of the fruit is its pulp, which is 75.4 per cent of the whole fruit. It contains 80.6 per cent moisture. The total soluble solids content of the fruit is 19.5 per cent. The juice content of the fruit is 40 percent. The juice contains 3.68 per cent acidity, 12.65 per cent total sugars, most of them in the form of reducing sugars. The tannin content was found to be 1.05 per cent on pulp basis. The fruits are not very rich in vitamin C and contain only 4.12 mg of it per 100 ml of juice.
The mineral content of the fruit pulp, as represented by its ash, is 0.387 per cent. The fruit contains 0.97 per cent protein, 0.007 per cent phosphorus, 0.194per cent potassium, 0.039 per cent calcium, 0.013 per cent magnesium and 0.004 per cent iron on pulp basis.
The bark of kaphal is said to possess many medicinal properties. It is heating, stimulating and useful in catarrhal fever, cough and in the affections of the throat. An oil prepared from it is dropped into ears to stop earache. Bark is also reported to be acrid, bitter, pungent, and useful in disorders relating to vata and kapha, fever, asthma, urinary discharges, piles, bronchitis, throat complaints, tumours, anemia, chronic dysentery and ulcers. Its snuff is useful in headache and in curing eye diseases. The oil from the flowers is a tonic, useful in earache, diarrhea and paralysis.
The small seedy fruits of kaphal are very much liked by all for their taste and juiciness. Huge quantities of this wild fruit are picked by the villagers from the forests and sold in towns. The fruits easily sell 4 to 5 rupees a kg. Every year the fruit of this tree, worth thousands of rupees, is sold in towns. It is a good source of extra income for the villagers.
The fruits, unfortunately, are not good keepers and their shelf-life does not exceed 2-3 days. As already mentioned under chemical composition, these fruits are fairly juicy and the percentage of extractable juice is about 40 per cent. The juice has a very attractive sparkling red colour. Efforts should be made to standardize a technique for its utilization.
The major problem in the case of this fruit is that the harvesting period is too long and fruits from a single tree have to be harvested in many pickings. However, this is the only cost involved in the case of this fruit, the numerous trees bearing which are growing wild in the forests. This cost can, therefore, be overlooked.
Kaphal is a tall and spreading evergreen tree. It should be very useful in avenue plantation in the hills. Besides providing shade and ornamental look, it will. also yield fruit.
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