Bakula – an Indian plant with interesting properties

Bakula Extract – INCI Name (proposed): Mimusops elengi

There is growing demand in the cosmetics Industry for exotic plants and fruits which have interesting beneficial properties for skin and hair care.

The latest of these is an Indian tree known as Bakula.

Bakula is one of the herbs mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic scriptures and has been used for centuries in India for medicinal purpose. In “Meghaduta”, one of the highly esteemed ancient poems by the great poet Kalidasa, there is a mention of Bakula trees.

Bakula has innumerable Indian synonyms which describe its unique properties – fragrant, sweet smelling, and fresh etc.

Bakula grows thoughout India. It is an evergreen tree, growing up to 16 metres in height. The bark is dark grey in colour with many deep fissures. The tough heavy bark is reddish grey on the outside and dark red inside. The leaves are smooth, shiny, 5 – 10 cm long and 3 – 5 cm broad, and resemble closely Jambu leaves. The flowers are white, with a yellowish tinge, about 2 cm in diameter, solitary or in bunches and fragant. The fragrance is retained even when the flowers are dried completely, and hence have ornamental uses. The fruits are ovoid, 2.5 cm long, green in colour when raw and become yellow on ripening.

The ripened fruits are sweet and astringent. There are 1 or 2 seeds per fruit, ovoid, shiny, compressed and grayish brown in colour. The plant flowers in April and fruiting occurs in June.

The botanical name of bakula is Mimusops elengi and it belongs to the family Sapotaceae. The flowers are a source of a volatile essential oil, and from the fruits and seeds phytoactives such as quercitrol, ursolic acid, glucose, a triterpene alcohol, quercetin, di-hydroquercetin and sitosterol glycoside have been isolated. An article nearly 40 years ago in the journal Phytochemistry claimed that Taraxone, taraserol, butylinic acid and spinasterol were present in the bark, and that carotene and lupeol could be extracted from the leaves, heartwood and roots of the plant.

Bakula fruits are quite astringent but sweet tasting and are said to be effective as an anti-diarrhoeal, and beneficial in the treatment of dental disorders.

The bark, flowers, fruit and seeds have great medicinal value. The plant is used both externally as well as internally. Being astringent and styptic, Bakula is a valuable aid in dental ailments such as gum disease and dental caries etc. In such conditions, the tender stems are used as tooth brushes and the bark powder is used as a gentle abrasive for cleansing the teeth. In India a popular combination of the bark powder along with powdered roots of Kantakari (Solanum xanthocarpum) and Saireyaka (Barleria prionitis), plus the leaves and skin of Almonds are burnt into ash and used to clean the and strengthen teeth.

It is also said that gargling with a solution of a mixture of the bark powder and that of Khadira (Acacia catechu) is effective in treating bleeding and swollen gums. The flowers are used for preparing a wound healing lotion and there are claims that powdered dry flowers of Bakula function as a brain tonic and can be used like snuff to relieve headaches. An extract of the flowers is reported to assist in treating heart disease.

Bakula is also said to work well as an antidiuretic and its ripe fruit has a general body tonic function.

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