Elephant apple is an evergreen large shrub readily available in Assam, North East India. It is found in Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka too. The scientific name of the elephant apple is Dillenia indica L (Family Dilleniaceae). The English name elephant apple came from the fact that it is quite popular among wild elephants.
Elephant apple, locally known as ‘outenga’ in Assam is the most favourite fruit of the Assamese cuisines. It is an integral ingredient of grandma’s recipe. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. It is normally used to make fish curry, chutneys and pickles.
Elephant apple is loaded with a variety of health benefiting medicinal properties. The leaf, bark and fruit of the plant are used in the traditional system of medicine.
Medicinal uses of the plant are mentioned in ancient texts like Yajurveda, Charka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Rajanighantu, Matsya Purana, Agni Purana, and Flora of China.
In recent years, numerous research works have proven its uses beyond traditional folklore one and confirmed many of the health benefits of this versatile plant.
In this article, we will discuss the health benefits of elephant apple with reference to traditional use in folklore medicine as well as in modern science.
First, let’s check out other common names of elephant apples in different native languages of India.
Common Names of Elephant Apple
- Sanskrit: Korbhatta
- Assamese: Outenga
- Hindi: Chalta, Karambel
- Bengali: Chalta
- Oriya: Qu, Uvu
- Gujarati: Karambel
- Kannada: Betta kanijala
- Marathi: Mota karmal
- Malayalam: Chalita, Punna
- Manipuri: Heigri
- Tamil and Telugu: Uva.
- Nepali: Paanca phal, Panca kule, Ram phal, Thulo tatri
Traditional uses of Elephant Apple in Folklore Medicine
Elephant apple is widely used as folk medicine by various tribes of North East including Assam.
- Barks and leaves of elephant apple are used as a laxative and astringent
- Fruit juice mixed with sugar and water is consumed as a cooling drink
- Fruits help to relieve abdominal pain
- A small piece of Leaf is consumed in the treatment of dysentery
- The plant is aphrodisiac and promotes virility
- The fruit is used to removes bile, phlegm, fetid and flatulence
- The fruit juice is used as cardiotonic
- Ripe fruit is appetising and beneficial in colic associated with mucous
- Decoction of the plant is used as a universal antidote for poison
- Fruit helps to tone up the nervous system and remove fatigue
- In the tribal areas of Mizoram, juices from leaves bark and fruits are combined and given orally for the treatment of cancer and diarrhoea
- Bark paste is used to treat joint pain
- Fruit is kept under the bed for the prevention of smallpox in Assam
- Some tribal of Assam apply mucilage on wounds and burns
- The root is used as prophylactic for cholera
- Roots are one of the main ingredients of a paste used in the treatment of burning sensation in the chest
- Its bark is used therapeutically to treat the infection of the mouth
- The jelly-like content inside the fruit is used to treat dandruff and falling hairs
- Pulp of the fruit can be used as hair shampoo
Health Benefits of Elephant Apple According to Modern Science
Modern scientific studies reveal numerous health benefits of the Elephant apple. The plant is a rich source of triterpenoids, flavonoids, tannins, vitamins and minerals.
Studies confirm that major triterpenoid compounds betulin, and betullinic acid is mainly responsible for a wide range of health benefiting activities.
These compounds show activities like anti-HIV, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-malarial, analgesic, anti-diabetic, anti-oxidant, anti-diarrhoeal, wound healing and hair waving activity as well.
Here are a few of those health benefits that elephant apples are known to offer.
1. Lowers Blood Sugar
Blood sugar or Diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic disorder that is associated with other complications like kidney failure, liver dysfunction, heart attack, stroke, vision loss, and nerve damage.
Thus, diabetes care requires addressing many other health issues, beyond blood sugar control.
The less explored elephant apple has promising effects in lowering your blood sugar levels and other related complications.
Several studies confirm the anti-diabetic activities of elephant apples. It is beneficial in the management of diabetes and other diabetes-associated complications like hyperlipidemia, diabetic neuropathy, and nephropathy.
2. Lower Blood Pressure
Elephant apple is a rich source of potassium and is one of the best alternatives to bananas for lowering your blood pressure levels. In addition, it is naturally low in cholesterol.
If you are tired of eating bananas just to control your blood pressure, consume a small portion of this exotic fruit regularly with meals. It will lower your blood pressure and help regulate heartbeat, thereby promoting heart health and serving as a cardiotonic.
3. Increase Immunity and Fight Against Infection
Elephant apple is a rich source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Vitamin C is considered one of the powerful antioxidants present in elephant apples.
Antioxidants protect you from various health issues and are very much essential for maintaining a strong immune system. It helps in lowering the risk of many fatal and life-threatening diseases like cancer, heart disorders and other chronic ailments.
If you are susceptible to have flu, cold or any other type of infection, then regular use of vitamin C-rich fruits like elephant apples may benefit you. Consume it frequently making curries or juice.
4. Control Ageing
Being a rich source of antioxidants like flavonoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E, elephant apple is extremely beneficial to keep your skin looking healthy and youthful. These compounds fight off free radicals that speed up skin ageing.
Furthermore, they facilitate collagen synthesis to maintain the elasticity of the skin. Collagen is a type of protein that helps to make your skin firm and prevent wrinkles naturally.
5. Increase Energy Level
Elephant apple is loaded with calories, vitamin B-complex, iron, proteins and healthy fats. It ensures high energy levels to maintain good metabolism. Vitamin B-complex is vital for keeping your brain and nerve cells in excellent condition.
Besides, a host of phytonutrients like sterol, saponin, and tannins present in the fruit help to improve your memory, boost mood, and relieve anxiety and depression.
If you get tired easily and feel weak, then consuming fruit juice can help you in making you more energetic.
Furthermore, if you are suffering from severe weakness and poor immunity due to iron-deficient anaemia, consume elephant apple on a regular basis.
6. Protects Kidney
Elephant apple contains a substantial amount of phenolics and vitamin C, which are powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants in simple terms are your body’s detoxifiers.
These compounds neutralize the harmful activities of free radicals produced by your body and prevent cell damage. They convert toxins of your body into harmless waste products which are naturally excreted from the body.
A ripe elephant apple juice is an excellent detox drink to cleanse your body from within. It helps to flush out toxins accumulated in the system and enables the smooth functioning of your kidney. This will in turn protect you from renal diseases.
7. Cure Stomach Related Problems
Tannin-containing stuff is fairly beneficial for loose bowel symptoms like diarrhoea, dysentery and stomach pain as well.
Elephant Apple barks extracts have a beneficial effect in controlling diarrhoea and other stomach issues. This natural product extract fills in as a preventive prescription for cholera and many more.
Extract of elephant apple leaves has considerable antidiarrheal activity. Diarrhoea can happen to everyone from children to adults. Make a decoction of the leaves or barks with water, and consume it to reduce the symptoms.
8. Good for Eye Health
Elephant apple is a rich source of vitamin A, which is essential to keep your eyes healthy. There are a number of eye issues that can be cured by a diet rich in vitamin A.
Regular use of elephant apples is quite beneficial for taking good care of your eyes.
Side Effects of Elephant apple
Elephant apple is likely safe and no side effect is known or reported if consume in low quantity (100gms per day). But excessive consumption may cause indigestion induced mild diarrhoea.
However, the safety of consuming elephant apples by pregnant women and lactating mothers is not well-established.
Culinary Uses of Elephant Apple
- Fruits are sour in taste
- Fleshy sepals enclosing the fruit are eaten raw or cooked
- You can add a few pieces in Dal and Curries to flavour it
- The fruit pulp is used to make jelly, jam, curries (particularly fish curries) and drinks
- Sepals of the flowers are used for preparing Syrup
- Unripe fruits are cooked for making chutney and pickle in Thailand
- Young fruits are sliced and added to sweet and sour soup called Kang som
- Sour fruit is consumed by people living in the mountains of southern Yunnan and adjacent Guangxi
- Unripe fruits are used to make curries due to their sour taste and ripe fruits are used for making pickles in most parts of Assam
Scientific studies support the traditional claims of several health benefits of elephant apple. It has promising effects in treating several acute and chronic diseases with negligible side effects. Hence, elephant apple can be suggested as an exceptional natural low-cost food supplement. However, further evaluation needs to be carried out to explore the hitherto unknown effects and medicinal applications of the plants, for the welfare of mankind.