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What Is Gmelina Arborea?

By Vasanth S.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Gmelina arborea is the scientific name of a deciduous tree also commonly known as either Beechwood or white teak. It is native to India and parts of Southeast Asia, and its dense, thick wood is used to make furniture, boats, and musical instruments. It is also popular as firewood in part because of how slow it is to burn. Perhaps the best known use of this tree, though, is as an alternative medicine. Its leaves, bark, and roots are frequently used in tonics and tinctures to cure a wide variety of ailments, and the fruit contains very high concentrations of helpful antioxidants. This plant has a lot of significance to traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and is respected by many Eastern health practitioners as a broad remedy for moderate pain and inflammation.

Plant Basics

This tree is classified within the Verbenaceae plant family and features a light gray bark and reddish flowers that give way to bittersweet fruits. It grows throughout the Southeastern swath of the Asian continent, though it tends to most prominent in valleys and hillsides; its shallow roots need constant moisture, but it can’t usually tolerate pooling water or excessively damp soil. In most cases the tree is very fast growing, with shoots transforming into small trees in only a matter of months and thick, wide trunks appearing after about a year. Communities rich in these trees have traditionally made use out of almost all parts, from roots to leaves. The trees’ easy cultivation and growing use in naturopathic medicine has also led to the establishment of several commercial Gmelina arborea farms in warmer climates around the world.

Medicinal Properties of the Leaves and Roots

Gmelina arborea leaves are frequently applied externally, usually ground into a paste. This paste may be applied to the forehead to treat headaches or pressed to the skin wherever a person feels pain. Oils extracted from the leaves and shoots may be also applied to the body as a massage oil to relieve fevers. Another problem that the leaves purportedly treat is inflammation of the bladder or urinary tract. Juice pressed from the leaves is usually mixed with milk and sugar and consumed to help treat this ailment.

The roots are frequently brewed into tea or ground and ingested in order to produce a mild laxative effect. Roots are also thought to treat flatulence and increase appetite. Additionally, the roots are cited as a reliever of menstrual irregularities and are sometimes also used as a means of increasing milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. Both the leaves and the roots are sweet in taste and astringent, and can cause a dry or puckered feeling in the mouth when consumed.

Uses for the Fruit

Fruits, even when fully mature, are usually too bitter to eat on their own, though they are packed full of nutrients. They are high in tartaric acid, for instance, which is an antioxidant commonly found in wine, and also contain high levels of luteolin. Luteolin is another antioxidant that is classified as a flavonoid, which is a group of plant molecules that give color to plants. Flavonoids with antioxidant properties protect cells from the damaging effects of reactive oxygen molecules, commonly known as free radicals. Usually, flavonoids increase the effectiveness of other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, and can also reduce inflammation by interacting with the cells of the immune system. The fruits are often juiced or pressed into extracts that can be mixed with other foods or drinks for easier consumption.

Role in Ayurvedic Practices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medicinal art that focuses on wellness more generally, and practitioners have long been using parts of the Gmelina arborea plant as natural treatments. Many people consider Ayurveda to be a form of holistic medicine, but most scholars are quick to point out that Ayurvedic practices are usually much more about preventative health and overall wellbeing than they are about the cure particular ailments. Adherents usually supplement their diets with a range of herbs and natural substances as a way of finding better balance and warding off pain and illness before it sets in, and are regular participants in both sickness and health.

That said, practitioners do use this and other compounds in the treatment of specific problems. For tuberculosis, for instance, the fruits are often consumed in bulk to hasten the healing of scar tissue in the lungs, while coughing is treated with the roots. The roots are usually ground into a powder and consumed with food. Ancient Ayurvedic texts also credit the fruits with the power to cure a host of ailments including excessive thirst, sexual dysfunction, and heart disease.

Risks and Possible Side Effects

It’s often tempting for people to think that a remedy or treatment is safe simply because it comes from nature. While natural particles lack a lot of the artificiality and manipulation of treatments born in labs, they still carry risks and may not be suitable for everyone. This is particularly true of those taking other medications that might negatively interact with the compounds present in the leaves, roots, or fruit. Medical professionals usually also discourage people who have been diagnosed with serious conditions from relying wholly on naturopathic remedies without the careful oversight of a doctor or other disease expert, since the timeline for healing using natural methods is often a lot slower and conditions can get worse faster than they’re able to get better.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon307408 — On Dec 05, 2012

Typical Western attitude! It would be stupid to assume that 'studies done in the West' are the final word in everything. A couple of tests done by a researcher who learned his stuff from a book written 50 years ago does not substitute for thousands of years of knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Sure, they may not understand why it is good, but if they say it is good, then it is.

By seag47 — On Jan 12, 2012

Has anyone here ever actually eaten the fruit of the Gmelina arborea tree? The term “bittersweet” in the article makes me wonder if it is unpleasant.

I suffer from joint inflammation often, and since the fruit is supposed to be good at treating inflammation, I would love to try it. Also, cancer runs in my family, so I need all the antioxidants I can get. I think the fruit would be good for me in several ways.

However, I have an aversion to the taste of some bitter fruit. I cannot stand to eat grapefruit, even though it has wonderful health benefits. Does Gmelina arborea fruit taste anything like grapefruit?

By cloudel — On Jan 11, 2012

@Perdido – It is also used to make boxes to hold those instruments. I have a flute case made from Gmelina arborea, and I love how easy it is to carry around.

I have to carry my flute with me to band practice and to every venue I play, and I had gotten tired of my heavy case. I read about how this lightweight wood was being used to construct instrument cases, and I couldn't wait to get one.

I dropped it once, and I was amazed that it didn't break. I guess it really is quite sturdy, despite being so light. This is good for me, because I tend to drop things a lot, and I would hate to damage my flute.

By Perdido — On Jan 11, 2012

Gmelina arborea has a very wide range of purposes. Aside from the medicinal ones, I have heard of many things being made from its wood.

My cousin has an artificial limb that is made from this timber. Gmelina arborea is ideal for this kind of use, because it is really lightweight, but at the same time, it is very sturdy.

I have also read that the wood is used to make some type of musical instruments. I can see where its lightness and durability would come into play here, as well. It's always good to have instruments that can be lifted and held easily, yet they still hold up to regular use.

By burcidi — On Jan 10, 2012

@ysmina-- I think many people use Ayurveda and homeopathy in the US too. I've taken several treatments from a homeopathic doctor in the past and got really good results with no side effects. It might not be the same for everyone but I don't think of allopathy and homeopathy differently as most of medicines used in allopathy is also made with herbs and elements in nature. I think it's completely safe as long as it's prescribed by a certified practitioner.

I remember hearing about beechwood at the homeopathy center. I think the English names for gmelna arborea is beechwood or Kashmir tree. The homeopathy doctor was prescribing this as part of a herbal tea to reduce cough, fever and improve appetite. I've never used it but I certainly will if my doctor prescribes it at any point.

By wavy58 — On Jan 09, 2012

My friend has a few Gmelina arborea trees in her yard, and she uses it to treat many ailments. She has a good, moist soil, and she lives in a valley, so these are ideal growing conditions for the tree.

It is pretty cool to watch it flower, because at the time when it blooms, it has almost no leaves on it. I have taken pictures of it in the spring, and it looks so beautiful with its yellow-orange blossoms.

The blooms remind me of both irises and daylilies. They are shaped like ruffled irises, but they have the coloring of common daylilies.

By ysmina — On Jan 09, 2012

My grandmother lives in India along with the rest of my extended family and she believes firmly in Ayurveda. Just as we go to the doctor here when we are ill, she goes to her Ayurvedic doctor who prescribes whatever herb that is necessary for her ailment.

I don't know too much about Ayurveda and have never been treated with Ayurvedic methods to say that it works or not. But my grandmother and uncles take it very seriously and feel that it works.

Gmelina arborea is one of the herbs my grandmother uses often. But she calls it gambhari in Gujrati. She takes the powder for high blood pressure and when she has headaches. The amount she uses is pretty small though. I think in Ayurveda, it is believed that the less medicine is used, the more effective it becomes.

I'm glad she doesn't take too much of these herbs. There haven't been much studies done on these in the West so I think their safety is still questionable.

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