Tamarindus indica: Tamarind tree

Family: Fabaceae
Common name: Tamarind tree

Tamarind tree is very widely distributed in the Indian sub-continent, and is a favorite among gardeners since it’s a good-looking tree. This tall, majestic tree can reach a height of about 30 meters with a heavily branched crown that can spread up to 12 meters.

The trunk is dark-grey and rough, with fissures running along the length of it. Leaves are quite distinct, pinnately compound, each leaf containing 10-15 pairs of small leaflets. The leaves are about 15 cms long, and the leaflets about 2-3 cms long. Tamarind trees produce inconspicuous yellow flowers that with orange and red streaks.

Fruits are the distinguishing feature of Tamarind trees – long, brown bulgy pods that hang all over the tree like decorations. The pods are 8-20 cms long, containing a fleshy pulp that is initially green, later turning brown. Tender fruits are very tangy to eat, and the shell around it is very soft. They can be eaten raw or used in chutneys or relishes.

The flesh turns brown and shrinks over time, separating from the hard shell outside. When fully ripe, the shell can be pulled down in one piece leaving the long brown pulp encasing black seeds. This pulp, also called Tamarind is used extensively in Indian cooking – in sambhar, rasam, chaats, sauces, chutneys, salads, relishes etc.

Tamarind can be stored for a long time, after mixing with some salt, and is a standard in Indian kitchens. Tamarind can also be eaten raw with some salt and chilly.

There are uncertainties about the region of origin of the Tamarind tre, but the Persian name ‘Tamar-I-Hind’ means Indian date. Tamarind trees also grow in the wild in African countries. They are mostly seen in tropical and sub-tropical countries.

Tamarind trees are tolerant to drought, salinity, pollution and extreme weather conditions. Wood of the tree is quite strong and is used to make furniture, carvings and other wooden objects. It has a pale yellow sapwood and reddish brown heartwood that is durable and resistant to insects.

Traditionally, tamarind pulp has been used to clean brass, copper and bronze utensils, the acid in tamarind capable of removing the copper carbonate which is seen as greenish brown marks on copper and brass objects. Oil obtained from tamarind seeds is used in paints and varnishes.

Bark of the tree is used in treatment of rashes, sores, boils, ulcers, fever, and asthma. Young leaves are used in treatment of inflammation, joint pains, sprain and rheumatism. Juice of tender leaves help in relieving conjunctivitis. Parts of the tamarind tree are used in treatment of measles, malaria, urinary tract infections, cough, cold, acidity and dysentery.

Propagation is through seeds, layering or grafting.