Grewia asiatica: Phalsa

Family: Malvaceae
Common name: Phalsa, Falsa, Grewia, Phassa

Though Phalsa trees are commonly seen in the wild, it has many culinary as well as medicinal uses, especially in India. This shrub or small tree an grow to a height of 8-10 meters with a sparsely branched stem and long, drooping branches.

Bark is woody and greyish-white in color, the younger branches are covered with small hairs. Leaves are dark green, thick and glossy, almost rounded and serrated around the edges. Younger leaves are light yellow with a pinkish tint.

Phalsa trees bloom profusely with yellow-colored flowers having 5 large sepals, 5 smaller petals and numerous stamens. The sepals are yellow and about 1 cm long whereas the petals are orange-red and about 5 mms long.

Phalsa trees also produce small rounded fruits which are 5-10mm in diameter, initially green, later turning yellow, purple and then black when they mature. They contain a single large brown seed.

The tree is mainly cultivated for its tangy and sweet fruits which are used to make juices and sherbets. They are sold in the markets in India during summer months and is a preferred delicacy because of its cooling effect.

The tree grows well in warm, tropical climate, preferably in good sunlight and well-drained soil. It does not need fertilization or regular care. Phalsa trees can be pruned well, or even coppiced, cutting them down to a few inches above the ground, to keep them rounded and bushy.

Parts of the Phalsa plant is used in the treatment of inflammations, stomach disorders, pustules, rheumatism, fever, blood disorders, heart diseases, throat pain, urinary trouble, cuts and wounds.

The stem yields a strong fiber which is used to make ropes. It also produces a mucilaginous extract when pounded with water, which can be used to clarify sugarcane juice, to prepare ‘gur’, the brown-colored sugar substitute used in India.

Long branches of the Phalsa tree obtained after annual pruning is used to make baskets to carry fruits and vegetables. Wood of this tree is durable enough to make small tool handles, golf sticks, pestles, bows, billiard cues and shingles.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.