On Sunday we left the city, drove into tiger inhabited jungle, got lost for a while, then found the botanical garden we were searching for. A beautiful farm forty kilometers from Nagpur, full of flowers, plants, vegetables and herbs with medicinal properties. A group of us went (including my mother-in-law, husband and Alfonso) to see the plants, have lunch produced by the garden and learn about some of the hundreds of species which grow there. Alfonso probably had the most fabulous time of all. He was allowed to run around, play with our friend’s children (who luckily love him as much as he loves them) and hide from the resident kitten!
The medicinal properties of plants is of particular interest to me as this was the subject of my master’s thesis (pharmacognosy). The study of natural products was my favourite module during my pharmacy degree, the tour was in Marathi so I spent my time soaking up nature and reading the information the plants were (thankfully) labeled with.
The plant I found most interesting was Bixa orellana, the sindoor tree! I’ve written about sindoor several times, probably to excess, but the red powder plays a huge role in Hindu ceremonies, symbolism and general auspiciousness. So, to see a sindoor type substance spring from Indian soil was, in my opinion, beautiful! Holding the small pods of ruby red seeds, I saw a flash of sapphire blue as a spectacular bird flew from one tree to another. I sometimes forget how stunning the colours of nature are, I need to get lost in the jungle more often!
I discovered the colour from the pulp which covers the seeds is a really effective dye (used commercially as a food colourant, along with several medicinal uses), as even after scrubbing with soap and water, I still had my graffiti on my hands! I guess it could also be used as mehendi (henna)!
Some brands of commercial sindoor still containing toxic elements such as mercury and lead, so using the pulp from the sindoor tree seems like a natural and safer alternative (I also created a sindoor recipe a couple of years ago using turmeric and calcium hydroxide)!
I wonder if I can grow a sindoor tree on my terrace?