Aegle marmelos: Wood apple tree

Family: Rutaceae
Common name: Wood apple tree Bael, Bhel, Bel, Bengal quince, Indian quince, Golden apple, Stone apple, Wood apple, Indian Bael, Bel tree, Bael tree, Holy fruit, Bilva, Sriphal, Shivadruma, Japanese bitter orange

Bael tree or wood apple tree, is a tropical fruit-bearing tree native to India and Southeast Asia, and has been cultivated for centuries for their medicinal properties and delicious fruits.

They are tough, slow-growing, medium-sized trees that can grow to a height of 10-13 meters. The crown is irregular, stem is greyish-brown and gnarly with deep fissures and knots.

The stem bears small thorns that are 2-3 cm long, green or brown in color. Cut parts of the stem exude a clear sap that is gummy, later turning solid on exposure to air.

Wood apple tree leaves are trifoliate, meaning they are divided into three leaflets, which are green and glossy, about 5-10 cm long with a smooth margin. During the spring season, the tree produces fragrant flowers that are pale green or yellowish-white in color, about 1-2 cm long. These aromatic blossoms are often used in traditional rituals and religious ceremonies.

The fruit of the Wood apple tree is a key highlight, known as the wood apple or bael fruit, it grows 8-12 cm in diameter, sometimes as large as a pomelo. The fruit is round and woody, with a hard rind that turns yellow or grey as it ripens. The outer covering of the fruit does not open by itself, and has to be cracked open with force.

Inside are 10-20 segments of soft, aromatic, and fibrous pulp that is orange or yellow in color. Each segment contains 6-10 seeds that are about 1 cm long.The pulp is both tangy and sweet, tasting of marmalade.

Fruits can be eaten raw or made into juices, sherbets, jams, puddings, candy, toffee, nectar, or even pulp powder. The pulp is mixed with othe ingredients like water, sugar, and milk to make tasty sherbets that are very much in demand. Young leaves are sometimes used in fresh salads.

Wood apple trees thrive in tropical weather with full sunlight, well-drained soil, and ocassional watering when they are young. Older trees can fend for themselves, producing abundant fruits in season, year after year.

The leaves, fruit, and bark of the Wood apple tree are all utilized in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. The fruit pulp is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, aiding in digestion and relieving constipation. It is also known for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.

The leaves and bark have been used to treat various ailments such as stomach pain, diabetes, earaches, respiratory disorders, ulcers, diarrhoea, dysentery, and skin diseases.

Propagation of Wood apple trees can be done through seeds or stem cuttings. The seeds should be collected from ripe fruits and sown in well-prepared soil. It is recommended to soak the seeds in water for a day before planting to enhance germination.

Stem cuttings can be taken from mature trees and planted in a suitable rooting medium. Provide adequate moisture and warmth for successful establishment.