What is Mahua?
Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) is an Indian tropical tree found largely in the central and north Indian plains and forests.
It is commonly known as oil-nut, madhūka, madkam, mahuwa, Butter Tree, mahua, mahwa, mohulo, Iluppai or vippa chettu.
It is a fast-growing tree that grows to approximately 20 meters in height, possesses evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage, and belongs to the family Sapotaceae.
It is adaptable to arid environments, being a prominent tree in tropical mixed deciduous forests in India in the states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
What is Mahua used for?
Mahua tree is cultivated in warm and humid regions for its oleaginous seeds (producing between 20 and 200 kg of seeds annually per tree, depending on maturity), flowers and wood.
The fat (solid at ambient temperature) is used for the care of the skin, to manufacture soap or detergents, and as a vegetable butter.
It can also be used as a fuel oil. The seed cakes obtained after extraction of oil constitute very good fertiliser.
Several parts of the tree, including the bark, are used for their medicinal properties. It is considered holy by many tribal communities because of its usefulness.
Mahua oil has emollient properties and is used in skin disease, rheumatism and headache. It is also a laxative and considered useful in habitual constipation, piles and haemorrhoids and as an emetic. Native tribes also used it as an illuminant and hair fixer.
The leaves of Madhuca indica (= M. longifolia) are fed on by the moth Antheraea paphia, which produces tassar silk, a form of wild silk of commercial importance in India.
Leaves, flowers and fruits are also lopped to feed goats and sheep.
Can we eat Mahua?
When there is no cane sugar available, the flowers of M. longifolia can be used, as they are very sweet.
The mahua flower is edible and is a food item for tribals. They also use it to make syrup for medicinal purposes.
Mahua flowers are rich in total sugars, out of which reducing sugar are present in high amount. The flowers are also fermented to produce the alcoholic drink mahua, a country liquor.
Tribals of Surguja and Bastar in Chhattisgarh and peoples of Western Orissa, Santhals of Santhal Paraganas (Jharkhand), Koya tribals of North-East Andhra Pradesh, Bhil tribals in western Madhya Pradesh and tribals of North Maharashtra consider the tree and the mahua drink as part of their cultural heritage.
Mahua is an essential drink for tribal men and women during celebrations.
Wine prepared from Madhūka flowers (Madhuca longifolia) finds mention in several Hindu and Buddhist literature works.
Mahula fruit is an essential food of Western Odisha people. The tree has a great cultural significance. There are many varieties of food prepared with its fruits and flowers. Also, Western Odisha people used to pray to this tree during festivals.
In many parts of Bihar, such as villages in the district of Siwan, the flowers of mahua tree are sun-dried; these sun-dried flowers are ground to flour and used to make various kinds of breads.