The revival in popularity of traditional medicine has brought back the spotlight on many indigenous plants used for centuries in our country. One such plant is Kokum or Garcinia indica. Also known as Malabar Tamarind, it is said to be an antibiotic with no side effects. It grows along the western coast and the north-eastern part of India, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The fruit of the kokum tree is used for making a cooling drink and the peel of the fruit is used as a souring agent. Oil extracted from the seeds is used in the cosmetics, confectionary and medicine industries.
Kokum is well known and widely used in the western and southern parts of the country. While it is easily available in these areas the fresh fruit is not found in other parts of the country. It is tart in taste with a sweet aroma. It is usually not eaten raw. Other than in traditional medicine, the fruit is used in cooking and as a spice. The juice is used to make a drink popular in the areas where it is grown and used. Kokum is now becoming known in the areas where it is not normally grown and its benefits are being realised by people everywhere.
Kokum has many health and medicinal benefits. The fruit has been used as natural remedies for sores, arthritis, ear infection and much more. It is said to be extremely effective as an agent of weight loss. It has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties which are made use of for treating various disorders. Kokum butter is also an important ingredient used in the cosmetic industry.
Some of the uses of kokum are as follows:
1. As an anti-oxidant: The kokum fruit is a rich source of vitamin C which is a strong anti-oxidant. The antioxidant action of vitamin C helps to neutralise the free radicals in our bodies which form due to ongoing biochemical reactions or due to polluting factors in the environment. These free radicals are unstable and attack the healthy cells in the body and oxidise them. In the long-term, this causes the organs in the body to breakdown. By neutralising these free radicals, anti-oxidants help the cells in the body to stay healthy for longer and in turn prevent the organs of the body from degenerating. This delays the ageing process and helps us stay younger for longer.
2. As a digestive aid: The kokum fruit is low in sugar and calories and high in fibre. It is used to provide relief from constipation. It is also useful in cases of flatulence, stomach pain, gaseous distension and is used to combat acidity and indigestion. It has been used by Ayurvedic physicians to heal stomach ulcers. It is also known to kill parasitic worms in the stomach. Dried kokum can be taken with a pinch of salt and dried ginger as a cure for indigestion.
3. As a weight loss agent: The juice of the kokum fruit contains a compound called HCA (hydroxyl citric acid). This compound is the main ingredient that makes kokum so effective as a weight loss agent. HCA inhibits the conversion of carbohydrates into fats. Then, it suppresses the activity of the enzymes that synthesise fatty acids and transform sugars into triglycerides and lipids. This ensures that fat production in the body is reduced. In addition, it also acts as an appetite suppressant further aiding weight loss.
4. As an anti-allergic: Kokum has been traditionally used as a treatment for rashes and sores. As kokum combats hyperacidity in the body, it prevents sores that occur due to acidity. It contains a compound called garcinol which is anti-allergic in nature. Hence, kokum in the diet reduces chances of an allergic reaction to food in some people. Kokum extract is applied topically to allergic rashes on the skin and is quite effective in providing relief.
5. As a coolant: The juice of kokum is used to make a cooling drink or sherbet which is usually sold in the concentrated form. It is a lovely purplish red in colour and looks very attractive. In the hot and humid months of summer, it counteracts the heat and prevents dehydration. It is also very good for people suffering from heatstroke. The nutrients present make it a very healthy drink as well. In addition to vitamin C, it contains a good amount of the B vitamins like thiamine, niacin and folates. Minerals like potassium, magnesium and manganese, which perform important functions in the body, are present in good amounts in the juice of kokum.