However, merely on the merit of an exceptionally endowed healer of a variety of ailments and bringing relief and succour to mankind, Ber deserves celebration.
Apart from being tasty, Ber fruits offer an effective herbal remedy for a wide range of ailments. In Ayurveda, the Ber plant parts are used for treating bleeding disorders, excessive thirst, and bronchial asthma. The dried fruits are considered to purify the blood, improve digestion, and offer relief from constipation. They are used to treat chronic fatigue, diarrhoea and anaemia. Ber fruits have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce swelling in the joints.
Eating Ber fruit is also considered to be good for diabetes, and Charaka has placed the Ber tree among the group of plants that is a tonic for the heart.
Ripe Ber fruits help in quick healing of wounds, decrease swelling and bring back normal texture of the skin. Ber fruit powder with honey is applied on the face in the form of a face mask to attain a glowing skin, help manage skin infections, and promote healing of wounds (it should be rinsed off after four to five minutes).
Dried Ber fruits are good for maintaining bone density. Ber fruit powder is very useful for reducing the burning sensation and swelling of piles. Charaka Samhita, one of the principal contributors to Ayurveda, recommends a Ber decoction sitz bath for treating haemorrhoids.
Ber fruit powder and its leaves help to control hair fall. When applied on the scalp, it also promotes new hair growth and removes dryness.
Ber fruits, including the seeds, are considered to have sedative qualities and they are natural sleep inducers. They also provide relief from anxiety and cure hysteria. The fruits and seeds are also used to treat vomiting, flatulence, nausea, leprosy, and ulcers.
A paste made from Ber leaves is applied externally to relieve burning sensations and fever. The leaf paste is also used to treat boils and abscesses. Ber leaves are also a part of Panchamla Thailam oil, used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Ber bark is used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, gingivitis and boils, and a decoction of Ber bark is used to treat bloating and abdominal distention. Ber roots are also used in case of fever, wounds, ulcers, etc.
What Does Science Reveal About the Ber Tree?
Ber tree and its fruits have been a subject of extensive scientific investigation. Ber fruits are very rich in vitamin C (188 to 544 mg per 100 gm pulp), B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin). They also have a high Vitamin P (bioflavonoid) content (354 to 888 mg per 100 gm pulp). The fruits are also filled with minerals like potassium, phosphorus, manganese, iron, and zinc. The presence of a diverse group of secondary metabolites found in the Ber tree makes it a remarkable medicinal plant.
The Pharmaceutical Biology, a research Journal reported in a paper in 2009 that extracts and fraction of the Ber plant have shown appreciable results in decreasing serum glucose level and other complications associated with diabetes. Several researchers have supported the inclusion of Ber plant parts in traditional anti-diabetic preparations. And according to a study published in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences in 2015, the fruit pulp can prevent diabetic neuropathy.
The sedative, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycaemic, antibacterial and antifungal activities of Ber are confirmed by an article published in 1996 in Phytochemistry- a specialised journal of repute. The seed contains several medicinally active compounds, corroborating the traditional use of Ber plant parts in the treatment of palpitations, insomnia, nervous exhaustion, night sweats, and excessive perspiration. A study published in Pharmacognosy Reviews in 2015 attributes even anti-cancer properties to Ber fruits.
The reddish wood of Ber is strong and durable, used in making agricultural implements, axe handles, toys etc. The Ber tree is a good source of wood fuel, and high-grade charcoal. The young leaves can be cooked as a vegetable.
The leaves make for nutritious fodder, which are also used for growing tassar silk. It is a good host for the lac insect, which deposits an orange-coloured resin that is collected and processed to make shellac. Ber bark, when pounded and mashed in water, yields brown and reddish dyes.
The Ber tree is an important source of nourishment for the endangered antelopes of India, like the Indian Gazelles and Black Bucks, while its fruits are relished not only by birds but a wide range of mammals, like jackals, wild dogs, and honey badgers.
The fruits are very much liked by children. Delicacies are made from them, and a tea is made from a decoction of the fruit with cinnamon and ginger.
Coconut and Ber
Notwithstanding the fact that Ber is a treasure house of diverse application of uncommon merit and virtues, it paradoxically also represents a personality that is soft and attractive outwards but hard and unyielding in the inside.
"नारिकेल समाकारा, दृश्यन्ते खलु सज्जना:,
अन्ये बदरिकाकारा, बहिरेव मनोहरा:”
says a popular Sanskrit couplet drawing the difference between a noble soul and others.
And yet while the coconut (नारिकेल) may appear to score in comparison, the Ber, even with a tough interior, rivals in every respect any other fruit including the coconut, in its usefulness to humans.
(Uday Kumar Varma is an IAS officer. Retired as Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting)