Bael is the only member of the monotypic genus Aegle. It is a mid-sized, slender, aromatic, armed, gum-bearing tree growing up to 18 meters tall.
A ripe bael fruit in India
This tree is a larval foodplant for the following two Indian Swallowtail butterflies:
The Lime Butterfly: Papilio demoleus
The Common Mormon: Papilio polytes
The bael fruit has a smooth, woody shell with a green, gray, or yellow peel. It takes about 11 months to ripen on the tree and can reach the size of a large grapefruit or pomelo, and some are even larger. The shell is so hard it must be cracked with a hammer or machete. The fibrous yellow pulp is very aromatic. It has been described as tasting of marmalade and smelling of roses. Numerous hairy seeds are encapsulated in a slimy mucilage.
The fruit is eaten fresh or dried. If fresh, the juice is strained and sweetened to make a drink similar to lemonade. It can be made into sharbat (Hindi) or bel pana or Bela pana, a refreshing drink made of the pulp with water, sugar, and lime juice, mixed, left to stand a few hours, strained, and put on ice. One large bael fruit may yield five or six liters of sharbat.
If the fruit is to be dried, it is usually sliced and sun-dried. The hard leathery slices are then simmered in water.
The leaves and small shoots are eaten as salad greens.
The Tamil Siddhars call the plant koovilam and use the fragrant leaves for medicinal purposes, including dyspepsia in diabetes mellitus and sinusitis. A confection called ilakam is made of the fruit and used to treat tuberculosis and loss of appetite. It is used in Ayurveda for many purposes, especially chronic constipation.
Aegle marmelos contains alkaloids, cardiac glycosides, terpenoids, saponins, tannin, flavonoids, and steriods in the ethanolic extract of Aegle marmelos .These were responsible for its pharmacological actions in controlling various diseases namely dysentery,tuberculosis,dyspepsia in diabetes mellitus etc.
The fruit is also used in religious rituals. In Hinduism the tree is sacred. It is used in the worship of Shiva, who is said to favor the leaves. The trifoliate leaves symbolize the trident that Shiva holds in his right hand. The fruits were used in place of coconuts before large-scale rail transportation was available. The fruit is said to resemble a skull with a white, bone-like outer shell and a soft inner part, and is sometimes called seer phael (head-fruit). However, it is quite likely that, the term 'Seer Phal' has coined from the Sanskrit term 'ShreePhal, which again is a common name for this fruit. Many Hindus have bael trees in their courtyards.
In the traditional culture of Nepal, the bael tree is part of a fertility ritual for girls known as the Bel baha. Girls are "married" to the bael fruit and as long as the fruit is kept safe and never cracks the girl can never become widowed, even if her human husband dies. This was seen to be protection against the social disdain suffered by widows.
Botanical Name:Momordica charantia
Momordica charantia, called bitter melon or bitter gourd in English, is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. There are many varieties that differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.
This is a plant of the tropics, but its original native range is unknown.
This herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 meters. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4–12 cm across, with 3–7 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.
The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit's flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.
As the fruit ripens, the flesh becomes tougher, more bitter, and too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some southeast Asian salads.
When the fruit is fully ripe it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The China phenotype is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular "teeth" and ridges. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6–10 cm in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.