You just have to go and touch it, to make sure it’s real. Because the fruit of the Calabash tree is strangely perfect, plastic looking, iridescent green and grows in such a quirky way. In a country known to put plastic mangoes high in the city trees to impress the Chinese tourists, touching it for a reality check is probably a fair response.
And so it was. It was only because I noticed the tourists touch the fruit and photograph themselves with it, that I really saw it again with new eyes, while I sat beneath it enjoying my morning coffee today. A Calabash tree.
“ต้นไม้น้ำเต้า. Only grow for look nice. And shade. Cannot eat“, the Thai gardener politely informed me, as he stood back to allow the tourists a non-photo-bombed selfie experience.
Maybe I was feeling overtired and just a tad contrary, but something in the way that he said that, made me instantly doubt him. So instead of working over coffee, I spent an intriguing 30 minutes sitting under a Calabash tree, consulting the search engines and learning about its natural medicine.
In the Philippines, it’s commonly called the Miracle Fruit. Or just Cujete. Botanically, Crescentia cujete. And it is in the Philippines that the clinical studies have begun, to follow and to explore what their traditional medicine has always known: that it is a powerful anti-cancer agent.
“In laboratory experiments, the researchers analyzed the effects of calabash extracts (fruit and leaf extracts) …. The extracts have successfully halted the formation of new blood vessels… compared to the control samples. With these findings, researchers claimed that calabash extract has the ability to prevent blood vessel growth and development and could be used to help prevent the spread of cancer cells in the human body. Researchers also believe that calabash tree could be a natural resource that can be used in the development of cheaper and locally available anti-cancer treatments.” Source.
The raw fruit and seeds ARE toxic if consumed, as is. They contain a form of cyanide. One of the traditional uses of Calabash is to induce abortion, but clearly you want to be very clear about the dosage. Do not try this one at home!!
In the West Africa, Indonesia, across the Caribbean, in the Philippines and in parts of Asia like Vietnam, the fruit pulp is boiled and a juice extracted which is considered a powerful natural medicine. It’s an industrial-level purgative, laxative and detox agent, as well as a diuretic. To be used with extreme care. The boiled juice is diluted and used for respiratory congestion and to treat pneumonia, for stomach-digestive problems, and to assist and ease child birth. Poultices of the bark and boiled fruit pulp are commonly used for tropical ulcers and toothache-infection.
The fruit of the Calabash tree literally requires a SAW to open it – the shell is literally wooden, not unlike a coconut, only harder. Consequently the Calabash tree is often grown simply for the shells, which are used to make dishes, ladles and musical instruments throughout all the equatorial countries,including Colombia, West Africa and The Caribbean, Hawaii, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The timber of the Calabash tree is highly prized for its durability, and commonly used for axe handles, instruments and fine furniture.
On my internet travels over coffee, I found a stunning website called Plants For A Future – and incredible database of over 7,000 trees and plants that will help sustain us in a changing world. And yes, as a magnificent natural medicine tree which is GORGEOUS, shady, easy to grow, and even leaves you with pretty & durable bowls, the Calabash tree is featured there. I love that this website also has great information about growing conditions.
I felt both vindicated and incredibly enriched as I paid for my coffee and left. Yes, I will be seeking out a Calabash tree or two for my Thai garden in due course. And no, we should never assume something is “only ornamental” because we have not yet investigated or learned about its uses in other cultures.
I continue to be fascinated by my Thai natural world with its global influences, and enjoy sharing that with you. BlissednBlessed.