Suppression

Catechu

Category: Medicines - plant based

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

 

Acacia catechu (L.F.) WILLD also known as  Senegalia catechu is a deciduous, thorny tree which belongs to the family Leguminoseae-mimoseae. 

The plant is called khair  in Hindi, and kachu in Malay, hence the name was Latinized to "catechu" in Linnaean taxonomy, as the type-species from which the extracts cutch and catechu are derived. Common names for it include catechu, cachou, cutchtree, black cutch, and black catechu.

It is also called khoira, koir, kheriya baval, kher babul, kagli, cachu, kugli, kaderi and sandra in local Indian languages (Hindi, Punjabi).

 

It is grown in part for its wood, which being hard, is used for making rice pestles, hookah stems, rollers for crushing sugar cane and oilseeds, ploughs, handles for knife, daggers and swords. The wood is also used for making quality charcoal which is ‘eagerly sought by gold, silver and blacksmiths’. While the wood is smooth and lustrous, and takes good polishing, it is not used in house construction ‘because of superstition’.  The wood extracts are used for tanning and dyeing khaki.

Senegalia catechu is found in Asia, China, India and the Indian Ocean area.  Acacia catechu  grows naturally all over the Indian subcontinent in areas experiencing average rainfall.  It can be found in the whole of the Indo Gangetic plain from Assam westwards, right up to Afghanistan, from the sea coast to the Deccan Plateau and then northwards to the lower Himalayan ranges having an altitude up to about 1250 m or so.

Description

Acacia catechu is a moderate size deciduous tree with rough dark grey brown bark, which grows up to 15 m (50 ft) in height.  The diameter of its trunk is about 30 to 40 cm, and is seldom straight. Its bark is nearly 8 mm to 12 mm thick and tends to come off in small patches of irregular shape.

Acacia catechu) is generally leafless during late spring to early summer. Old leaves are shed during Jan-Feb and new ones appear during April-May. The species gets full foliage by June-July.

The leaves are compound. The rachis branching from the mid-rib has 4 to 5 round prickles. The rachis is nearly 10 to 20 cm long and bears 20 to 60 pinnae each about 3 to 4 cm long.

 The tree flowers during June to October. Its inflorescence is pale yellow to cream coloured.

 The fruit is pod shaped. It is 5 to 7 cm long and 1 to 1.5 cm wide and shining brown in colour.

 

Cultivation

Acacia catechu  grows well on all kinds of geological formations and soils, but porous alluvium consisting of sand and shingle suits it best. It grows on granite, gneiss, schist, quartzite, shale, basalt, trap, limestone conglomerate, laterite, etc. and also on black cotton soil. It grows slowly and matures to a height of about 10 meters in about 55 years.

Because of their various uses, Khair tree wood, bark and roots are in great demand. While the going price of a standing khair tree of approximately one-foot diameter was about Rs 2000 in 2010, the Katha [see below] extracted from it sold at nearly Rs 600 per kg. The bark fetches nearly Rs 20 per kg. As a consequence, the tree has always been subjected to extensive exploitation — both legal as well as illegal.

Thankfully, however, the tree regenerates quite abundantly in suitable soil and moisture conditions, growers tend to assist nature by artificially stocking vacant areas using seeds collected during winter and sown in polythene bags in spring. The transplanting of the seedling is then done during the rainy season. In its natural habitat it can be raised easily by direct sowing as well.

Medicinal uses

 

The heart wood and bark of the tree are used in traditional Ayurveda, Unani and Sidha medicine.

A wood extract, called catechu, is used in traditional medicine for sore throats and diarrhoea.

The concentrated aqueous extract, known as khayer gum or cutch, is also used.  A pale yellow mucilaginous gum exudes from the tree, yielding one of the best substitutes for true gum arabic. Its wood contains catechin, catechutanic acid and tannin. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine for ‘rasayana’ (rejuvenation treatments).

The tree actually has a great deal more uses only hinted at in the terms used by the traditional healing community such as “anthelminthic, anti-inflammatory, anti-diuretic, anti-pruritic, etc”. 

The antiparasitic properties are quite extensive and it has considerable value as a chelation agent.  It also appears to have antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activity:

Haryana online – flora
The bark and roots of khair are used in treating sore mouth, body pains, gravel, bronchial asthma and indigestion. The bark is especially useful as astringent, and a cure in cough, diarrhoea and indigestion, cancer, piles, sore throat, ulceration, eczema and certain forms of leprosy.

Katha is a white substance found in Khair wood. It is obtained by boiling small chips of the heart wood in specially designed earthen pitchers and allowing the concentrate to cool and crystallize. Katha is not only used as a remedy for body pain but also in medicines for other human ailments.

 

Related observations