Mahua (Illupai) or Butter tree is a boon to mankind. There is no other Indian tree or plant given as much importance for tribal India like Mahua. The tree is often referred to as the “Tree of Life of Tribal India”.
Central Tribal India has been using the herb in different forms for culinary, domestic, cultural, and medicinal applications. The flowers, seeds, roots, leaves, stems, and bark of the plant are used in various forms like food, fodder, fuel, therapeutic oil for body pain, and many more. It has been used to develop numerous fermented and non-fermented food products.
Madhuca longifolia is the botanical name of the Mahua tree, which is a fast-growing tree that reaches a maximum of 12 to 15 meters.
It blooms from March to April which are small and fleshy in pale white to yellow color. The flowers are used to make the most famous Mahua wine which is one of the popular drinks of Central India.
Most people know Mahua because of the delicious wine prepared from its flowers only. People who tasted it claim that it can beat classic Italian grape wine in the international market. But not only its flowers, but the fruits and seed oil are also used in a range of applications.
Mahua is loaded with many active compounds that offer therapeutic and medicinal values. It can be taken as medicine for seasonal flu, fever, and epilepsy. In Ayurveda medicine, it has been included as a universal formula.
Vernacular Names of Mahua
- Bengali: Banmahuva, Mahuha, Mohwa
- English: Butternut tree, Bassia, Indian butter tree, Moatree, Moah tree
- Gujarat: Mahuda
- Hindi: Jangli moha, Moha, mohua, madhuca, mahwa, mahua, mowa, moa
- Kannada: Madhuka, Errape, Hippegida
- Malayalam: Iluppa, Eluppa
- Marathi: Mohda
- Oriya: Mahula
- Punjabi: Maua, Mahua
- Sanskrit: Madhuka
- Siddha: Leluppai
- Tamil: Illupai, Elupa, Illupe, Illupi, Katillipi, Katiluppai, Kattu Iluppai
- Telugu: Ippi, ippa puvvu
- Urdu: Mahuva
About Mahua Tree
- Scientific Name: Madhuca longifolia
- Family: Sapotaceae
- Common Names: Mahuwa, Mahua, Mahwa, Mohulo, Iluppai or ippa
- Parts Used: Bark, seeds, and flowers
- Native: India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Myanmar.
- Geographical distribution: It is widely distributed across Central and Northern India.
- Annual temperature requirement: 2-46℃
- Annual rainfall requirement: 550-1500 mm
- Annual humidity requirement: 40-90%
Mahua tree is also known as Butternut, Moah, Moatree, Mowra butter tree, and Moatree.
It is a medium to large size tropical tree that has multiple purposes and grows in arid regions. It is one of the primary trees of tropical deciduous tree forests of the Indian States such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
The tree is mainly harvested for seeds to make oils and flowers to make food.
Macroscopy of Mahua (Madhuca longifolia)
|Tree||Size||Medium to large|
|Height||16 to 20 meters|
|Condition||Tropical and subtropical|
|Color||Yellowish-gray to dark brown|
|Size||11-15 cm long, 5-8 cm wide|
|Shape||Lanceolate to ovate|
|Color||Dull or pale white|
|Bloom||March – April|
|Size||2-6 cm long|
|Color||Green (young), Pink (ripe)|
|Seeds||Numbers||1 to 4|
|Color||Brown to black|
Nutrition Facts of Mahua
Mahua flowers have been used as a cooling agent, tonic, demulcent, and for many treatments.
The mahua leaves are expectorant and cure Cushing’s disease and chronic bronchitis.
Mahua seeds are a rich source of healthy fats which increases the economic benefits of seeds.
The percentages of fatty acids, oil contents, and bio-diesel traits of the Mahua tree are as follows.
|Kernel oil||52.5 %|
|Palmitic acid||18 %|
|Stearic acid||25.5 %|
|Oleic acid||40 %|
|Linoleic acid||12 %|
|O/L ratio||3 %|
|Total saturated fatty acid||45.5 %|
|Total unsaturated fatty acid||53 %|
|Saturation ratio||0.885 %|
|Saponification value||200 %|
|Iodine value||60 %|
|Cetane number||59.5 %|
Composition of Mahua flower
The high amount of sugar (sucrose, glucose, fructose, arabinose, a few amounts of maltose and rhamnose) in the mahua flowers makes them a sweetener and edible flowers. The therapeutic applications offered by mahua are because of the presence of powerful phytochemicals.
Annual production of mahua flowers: 45000 Million tonnes
Nutrition values of mahua flowers are as follows:
- Moisture – 73.6-79.82 (%, d.b.)
- pH – 4.6
- Starch – 0.94 (g/100 g)
- Ash – 1.5 (%)
- Total sugars – 47.35-54.06 (g/100 g)
- Total Inverts – 54.24 (%)
- Cane sugars – 3.43 (%)
- Reducing sugars – 36.3-50.62 (g/100 g)
- Proteins – 6.05-6.37 (%)
- Fats – 1.6 (%)
- Fibers – 10.8 (%)
- Calcium – 45 (mg/100 g)
- Phosphorus – 22 (mg/100 g)
- Carotene – 307 (μg/100 g)
- Vitamin-C – 40 (mg/100 g)
Medicinal Properties of Mahua Flowers
- Antibacterial activity
- Antihelmenthic activity
- Antioxidant activity
- Anti-cancer activity
- Analgesic activity
- Hepatoprotective activity
Here are the study remarks of some medicinal properties of Mahua flowers.
|Antibacterial||Aqueous and methanolic||Effective against Bacillus subtilis and Klebsiella pneumonia.|
|Anthelmintic||Methanolic and ethanolic||Fights against Indian earthworms.|
|Analgesic||Aqueous and alcoholic||Shows analgesic effect.|
|Antioxidant||–||Flower extract increases, antioxidant power increases.|
|Anticancer||–||Floral extract increases, cytotoxic effect increases.|
|Hepatoprotective||Methanolic||Increases serum level of proteins and albumins.|
Medicinal uses of Mahua flowers
Below are the remarks of the medicinal uses of mahua flowers based on medical studies.
|Flower juice||Tonic||It has high protein.|
|Skin diseases||It treats skin itching.|
|Eye diseases||It cures eye problems.|
|Raktapitta||It stops bleeding.|
|Headache||It is used as a nasal drop.|
|Flower powder||Diarrhea and Colitis||It acts as an astringent.|
|Raw flowers||Lactation||It acts as a galactagogue.|
|Roasted flowers||Cough and Bronchitis||–|
|Flower with milk||Impotence and General debility||–|
|Flowers with ghee||Piles||It acts as a cooling agent.|
Composition of Mahua Seeds
The seeds are used to produce butter, thereby the tree got another name Butter tree. The mahua seeds yield 35 to 47% of oil.
The industrial applications and nutritional values of Madhuca longifolia seeds have been tested in a study.
Below are the nutrition values of Mahua seeds per 100 grams.
- Total fats – 50-31%
- Proteins – 16.9%
- Carbohydrates – 22%
- Total fiber – 3.2%
Health Benefits of Mahua
The mahua trees are a treasure to mankind with all medicinal properties that can cure a wide range of diseases. The extract prepared from mahua flowers works against bronchitis, heart diseases, tonsillitis, polyuria, leucorrhea, and menorrhagia.
The tree bark is used for treating chronic bronchitis, diabetes, bleeding, rheumatism, and so on.
The plant leaves are great medicine for hemorrhoids and rheumatism.
The roots of the plant have effective results against diarrhea, inflammation, and fever.
Stomach ulcers otherwise called Gastric ulcers are one type of open sore that affects the inner lining of the intestines and creates inflammation.
The mucous lining in the stomach is disrupted due to gastric juices which cause ulcers. The mucus lining on the stomach protects the stomach from an overproduction of digestive juices.
Mahua has anti-ulcer properties and works effectively by providing better relief from symptoms of peptic ulcers.
The properties prevent histamine secretion which is a compound that manages acid production in the intestines. It reduces irritation and treats ulcers.
Mahua acts as a demulcent so it acts as a protective layer above the mucous membrane of the stomach and protects from harmful acid effects.
The mahua bark has anti-microbial properties with active compounds called Triterphenoid saponins.
Mahua is effective against tonsillitis and it helps to strengthen gums. The tribals of Central India use a liquid extract of mahua bark with water for gargling which gives quick relief to spongy and bleeding gums. They use the same preparation for inflammatory symptoms like pharyngitis and acute tonsillitis.
Heart diseases or Cardiovascular disease is the reason for most deaths in the world. The pharmacological actions of mahua seeds help in promoting heart health and maintaining a healthy body condition.
Modern studies have proved that monounsaturated fatty acids present in mahua seeds, especially oleic acid, helps to reduce the bad cholesterol levels (LDL) which is the main cause of coronary heart disease.
The distilled juice of mahua flowers with milk provides better relief from chronic bronchitis. It is an inflammatory condition that affects airways and bronchial tubes that disrupt air passage to the lungs. It creates symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortening of breath because of mucus production.
Mahua acts as an expectorant to minimize the thickness of mucus production.
Epilepsy is a disorder where a patient is affected with Seizures or fits because of abnormal brain activity. Indian tribe people still use mahua as a natural treatment to fits.
The methanolic extract of mahua leaves induced GABA release which is a neurotransmitter that regulates neuronal activity in epilepsy patients.
The mahua flower extract or juice is being used for skin conditions. The oleate properties of the flower treat itching.
The leaves with sesame oil are heated and applied over affected skin to get better relief from eczema.
The anti-inflammatory activity in mahua with the presence of flavonoids and saponins plays an important role in wound healing.
Fever is a reaction of the body to infection that causes weakness and fatigue. The mahua bark has crude methanolic extract with analgesic, antipyretic, and anti-inflammatory properties that treat fever symptoms like pain and inflammation.
Diabetes is a health condition caused due to increased glucose levels in the body, medically called hyperglycemia. It leads to organ failure if untreated.
Animal studies show mahua bark extract has antidiabetic activity in experiments on animal models. The study revealed that bark extract of mahua can help to reduce the circulation of glucose in the body with the right dose.
The cholesterol levels in the body can lead to high glucose levels in the blood and insulin deficiency. An evidence-based study shows that madhuca extract can effectively reduce cholesterol levels.
Worm infections are the most common infections in the world. These infections cause intestinal disorders and risks of anemia. It is important to treat them at the beginning.
Mahua is great medicine for parasitic infections.
The ethanolic and methanolic extracts of Madhuca longifolia have shown their anti-helminthic effects on worms.
Liver is an important organ in the body that is responsible for digestion and detoxification. Mahua acts as a hepatoprotective agent and protects the liver from harmful chemicals like ALT and SGOT in the blood.
The antioxidants present in mahua help with liver cell damage in hepatitis.
Benefits of Mahua Oil (Illupai Oil)
The oil extracted from mahua seeds is highly beneficial.
Skin health – Mahua oil is a chemical-free skincare product that provides glowing skin. Massaging with mahua oil will treat acne or blemishes and give clear, soft, and radiant skin.
Insect bites – Tribal communities of India use the oil for quick relief from the pain of insect bites. It treats rashes and redness caused by insect bites.
Laxative – Mahua is a great laxative. Consuming it in any form at night before bed will absorb water from the stomach and improve digestion. The seeds also have laxative properties. It reduces stiffness in stools and helps in smooth pass through.
Joint pain – The anti-inflammatory activity in mahua prevents entry of foreign particles to the body thus preventing infection and pain. It restricts COX enzymes that alleviate the pain. So massaging mahua oil on the affected areas will provide instant relief from joint pain.
Mosquito repellent – Tribal people of Odisha burn mahua oil to repel mosquitos. It is a natural remedy that doesn’t cause any problem to the lungs, unlike harmful chemical repellents.
Hair health – MAhua oil promotes hair growth. Mix a few drops of rosemary oil and mahua oil. Apply it to the scalp and massage gently. Wash off the hair after an hour. DO this once a week to get better results.
Domestic and economical uses of Mahua
Madhuca seeds are highly used to extract oil and butter. In some of the pharmacies and cosmetics, mahua butter is replacing cocoa butter as cooking oil to make chocolates.
The ground or flour obtained from mahua seeds is used as a substitute for cereal grains to prepare rotis (tortilla).
The seeds are rich in fats so they can be used as a biofuel.
In the presence of high sugars, mahua flowers are used as sweeteners in Indian desserts. The flowers are also used for producing cheap liquor and feed for cattle to increase milk production.
Other Common Uses of Mahua
Fodder – The leaves, flowers, and fruits of trees are fed to sheep and goats. The seed cake prepared from mahua is given to cattle.
Timber – The wood is strong, hard, and durable. The reddish-brown color of the wood gives a fine finish. It can be used for door and window frames, naves, house construction, and felloes of cartwheels.
Erosion control – The superficial root system of mahua is very large and spread that can hold soil and prevent erosion.
Shelter – The crown of a tree is wide and spread that provides shade and shelter to animals.
Soil improver – The seed cake prepared from mahua is used as fertilizer.
How to consume Mahua
- Boil dried mahua flowers with milk. A dose of 40-50 ml of this mixture treats weakness in nerves and diseases associated with the neuromuscular system.
- A dose of 30-40 ml of bark decoction of mahua treats diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
- The mahua flower juice in a dose of 20-25ml treats hiccups, dry cough, and hypertension.
- Boil mahua flowers with milk and sugar. A dose of 40-50 ml of this mixture increases sperm count, treats premature ejaculation, and increases breast milk secretion.
- The cold-infusion prepared using mahua bark or flowers in a dose of 30-40 ml treats fever, burning sensation in the body.
- Cold infusion of flowers or milk boiled with flowers cures general debility.
- The internal consumption of decoction of tree bark and topical application of seed oil treat rheumatism.
- The mahua bark decoction treats diabetes.
- The mahua leaves coated with sesame oil are covered over eczema to treat affected areas.
- The dose of 4 ml of liquid bark extract with 300 ml water is used to gargle to treat gum problems.
- The mahua seed oil (Illupai oil) is highly used to massage to get relief from pain.
- Mix mahua stem bark powder and gular latex. Take 5 grams of this mixture twice a day with warm water to treat respiratory problems.
- Mix dried mahua flower with honey and ghee. Consume the mixture as a tonic which gives energy.
How to make popular Kolaiya ki sabzi (Mahua Sabzi)
It is a popular vegetable dish in Central Indian states, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh. The mahua fruits are used in the recipe.
- Mahua fruits – 500 g (peeled, chopped)
- Gram flour/Besan – 50 g
- Onion – 1-medium sized (chopped)
- Tomato – 1-medium sized (chopped)
- Ginger – One teaspoon (crushed)
- Garlic – One teaspoon (paste)
- Green chilies – 2
- Asafetida/Hing – 1/4 teaspoon
- Cumin seeds – 1/2 teaspoon
- Coriander powder – 2 teaspoons
- Turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon
- Red chili powder – 1 teaspoon
- Mustard oil – 1 tablespoon
- Salt – For taste
How to prepare:
- Take a pan and add 3 teaspoons of oil.
- Heat the oil and add cumin seeds and asafoetida.
- Add chopped onion, green chilies, ginger, and garlic paste.
- Saute the ingredients until it becomes golden to brown.
- Now, add chopped tomatoes and fry the mixture till the vegetables become softened.
- Add coriander, turmeric, and chili powder.
- Stir well for a minute so the vegetables blend with masala powders.
- Add mahua fruits and mix well.
- Cover the pan and cook for 15 more minutes on a low flame with constant stirring in between.
- Add ghee or butter to flavor (optional).
- Enjoy it with roti, rice, or hot tea.
Side effects of Mahua
Not only mahua but any herb or medicine can also cause side effects when taken in inappropriate doses or without any medical supervision.
Before taking any medicine, you should consult your healthcare provider to ensure you are safe or eligible to have it.
The possible side effects of mahua are as follows:
Mahua naturally has a hypoglycemic activity which means it can reduce sugar levels in the blood. So, if you are taking anti-diabetic medicine, mahua may interact with it. If you are taking medicine for low blood sugar levels, mahua is not recommended until your doctor says yes to it.
Animal studies have shown that mahua has immunosuppressive properties. So if you are suffering from autoimmune disease or taking drugs for the disease, avoid mahua.
The benefits of the mahua tree and its parts are immense. The flowers and seed oil are the most used parts of the tree. The therapeutic properties of mahua oil (Illupai oil) and natural sugars in flowers offer many medicinal benefits and have domestic uses.
Not only for medicinal purposes, but the mahua tree also has domestic, culinary, agricultural, and economical uses.
Though there are not enough human studies to prove many of the benefits of the mahua, tribal India still uses this herbal in their households and they are evidencing its benefits daily.