Sunday, October 21, 2012

All About Melastoma in India

At first glance, harendong has the appearance of a beautiful purple-flowered shrub. However, this plant also holds a small, dark berry enjoyed by many. The plant also holds an esteemed position in the medicinal history of many Asian cultures. Over 50 varieties of Melastoma grow throughout the world; 22 species reside in Southeast Asia.

Origin of Harendong

Harendong is native to the temperate and tropical regions of Asia and the Pacific Islands. According to the book, “World Weeds: Natural Histories and Distribution,” the fruit’s range today extends from Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India; Southern Asia in countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam; North of Taiwan; and the Malay peninsula, Java and Sumatra. A few plants also appear in Australia and Hawaii. In Malaysia, the purple-flowered plant is so common that nurseries don’t bother selling it.

Availability of Harendong in India
Harendong grows throughout the hills and planes of Odisha, Manipur, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, and other parts of India. Northern tribes in particular utilize the plant in their traditional folk remedies.

Where to find Harendong in India
These berries are not commercially grown in India. The best bet of finding the fruit in India is keeping an eye peeled for the 5-petaled lavender flowers growing alongside roads, vacant land and near hiking trails while in the North. Because of its ornamental value, the plants also grow in several yards. Certain Indian communities have strong knowledge of the fruit, including the Naga tribe and Meitei community of Manipur, the locals in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, and the natives in Mizoram.

The plant also grows in the Simlipal Reserve Biosphere in Odisha, as well as the Dehang-Debang Biosphere in Arunachal Pradesh. Many science researchers collect specimens for study from these locations.

Harendong flowers and fruits year-round.

Checking for Ripeness in Harendong

When ripe, harendong is deep purple, blue or dark brown. The fruits peer through what looks like a flower bud, ready to be picked. A ripe harendong is quite beautiful, as the clustered black and white fruit appears while immersed in a magenta flower bud.

Taste of Harendong
Some variants of harendong are juicy, succulent, sweet, and mildly astringent; others, watery and bland. Its numerous peppery-orange seeds are crunchy and tasteless, but edible. Because the fruit is not cultivated commercially, great variability exists between plants in coloring and taste. The berry is a favorite of animals and birds in the region.

The translation of its botanical name is “black mouth.” The name is appropriate when examining the dark-stained lips, teeth and tongue of anyone who enjoys the berry.

Here’s a video of a monkey enjoying Melastoma berries:

Nutritional Value of Harendong
A nutritional analysis could not be found for this fruit—this is likely because few consume the berry in large quantities to garner attention on the matter.

Health Benefits of Melastoma
Melastoma species have a number of medicinal benefits, expressed in traditional remedies and conventional science.

Traditionally, harendong treated the following:
--When applied topically, the leaves and flowers combat hemorrhoids
--In traditional Chinese medicine, the seeds treat diarrhea, indigestion and dysentery
--The powdered leaves and shoots reduce scarring
--A paste created from mashing the leaves remedies cuts and wounds
--The shoots treat puerperal infections, diabetes and high blood pressure
--The roots treat toothaches and can be used as a mouthwash for leucorrhea
--The roots also aid healing in women post-child birth, soothe arthritis pain and, as a liquid, reduce soreness from thrush in children.
--The bark treats several types of skin diseases
--The roots and leaves lessen menstrual bleeding, PMS, and enhance fertility. Supplement companies sell dried harendong promoting these benefits, claiming that the plant is one of the most “sought after female tonic herbs from the Southeast rainforest.”

According to the book, “Ayurvedic Drugs and Their Plant Sources,” the drug, tinisah, is made of harendong. Tinisah is “one of the twenty-three drugs that constitute the Asandi gana of Vagbhata.” The drug treats a number of ailments, including skin diseases, worms, anemia, ulcers, inflammation, and leprosy. It’s ideal for “morbid kapha,” and vitiates conditions of pitta as well. 

Several studies report beneficial pharmacological activities:
--The Asian Journal of Plant Sciences published a study on the fruit’s antimicrobial benefits.
--The Malaysian Journal of Applied Biology published evidence of the plant leaf’s antiviral and cytotoxic activities
--One study published by Zeitschrift fur Naturforschung found strong antiparasitic activity
--According to a study published in the Malaysian Journal of Applied Biology, the leaf has profound anticancerous activities when tested on the cancer cells of mice and monkeys.
--The leaves exhibit strong antiplatelet and anti-inflammatory activities in the cells of rabbits, as expounded in a Pharmaceutical Biology report.
--A study published in the African Journal of Infectious diseases supports the validity of the leaves’ traditional use as a wound healer
--According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, the leaves exhibit antiulcer activity
--The Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences supports the claim of the leaf’s traditional use as an effective treatment against diarrhea

Note: According to the book, “A Guide to Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated, Scientific and Medicinal Approach,” harendong plants accumulate aluminum, an element known to cause neurotoxicity when consumed in large quantities. 

How to Open/Cut:

Peel the skin surrounding the berry, and twist. Or, pluck the fruit, skin and all, and collect for later consumption.

Harendong Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Harendong is one of the few shrubs where the leaves and bark have greater culinary application than the berries. Though the berries can be prepared in a variety of dishes, Indonesians cook the leaves and stems with starch, sugar and water to create a concoction called “grass jelly.”
--Mash and preserve the berry in jams and compotes
--Make an herbal tea by combining curry leaves with Melastoma flowers for a Chinese remedy that alleviates insomnia, boosts ‘qi’ circulation and facilitates skin repair.
--To make an acne herbal remedy, clean and dry the root, and grind it into a powder. Add a bit of water to formulate into a paste and apply on the skin as desired.
--Infuse the lavender-like essence of the leaves into soups or vegetables by adding a few leaves to any concoction requiring boiling. In Malaysia, couples give eggs to loved ones during the wedding. They often boil the eggs in a spice infusion, which sometimes includes Melastoma leaves.
--When dried and powdered, the leaves make a common spice in Malaysian cuisine called “senduduk.”

--The berries are also collected for dye-making properties

Flavor Complements:
Fruits: Blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, cranberry, bignay, pomegranate, cherry, grape, downy myrtle

Herbs, spices, and oil: lavender, mint, honey, basil, brown sugar, honey, black pepper, black tea

Random Facts:
Despite its status as an understated nutritional superstar in Asia, the US has the plant on its noxious weeds list. In fact, several states prohibit the import of Melastoma seeds. In Hawaii, the fast, aggressive growth of the shrub has caused it to replace several native flowers.

Scientific Name:
Melastoma malabathricum

Other Names:
Ronga Phutuka
Kamini, shapti (Hindi and Bengali)
Bobuchunmei, rongmei (Manipuri)
Rindha, palore (Marathi)
Palore (Malayalam)
Nekkarike (Telegu)
Ankerki, kinkerika (Kannada)
Gongoi, koroti (Oriya)
Phutuki (Assamese)
Konji (Tamil)

Straits rhododendron

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