Won­der fruit

A berry and its spir­i­tual, medic­i­nal and cu­ra­tive branches


The Tur­key berry has medic­i­nal, cu­ra­tive and even spir­i­tual uses

ADRIED BERRY, fried in oil or ghee, is an in­trin­sic part of meals in south In­dia. Slightly bit­ter, the berries have a pe­cu­liar taste, which one grad­u­ally gets ac­cus­tomed to. Solanum torvum or the Tur­key berry is known by sev­eral names— bri­hati marathi marang in San­skrit, bhu­rat, bhankatiya in Hindi, sun­dakkai and chun­dakkai in Tamil.

I was in­tro­duced to the berries at a very young age. I was told by my mother, “They are such holy berries that they chant ‘Shiva Shiva’ once they reach the stom­ach. And, with such bless­ings inside you, you can achieve any­thing. It is God’s bless­ing.” What more would a child want but to eat it be­fore ten­sion-filled maths and physics ex­ams! It was only later that I learned about the medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of these hum­ble, dried berries.

Hid­den prow­ess

There is an old say­ing in Malay­alam: the jas­mine grown in one’s back­yard does not smell as good as the ones bought from the mar­ket. That’s how I felt while re­search­ing on the Solanum torvum

berries. Usu­ally, we over­look or ig­nore the medic­i­nal value of what we eat reg­u­larly. In Tamil Nadu and Ker­ala, the berries are com­monly eaten, and prob­a­bly that’s why no one has re­searched it in-depth.

The berries grow in clus­ters, and are slightly smaller in size than cher­ries. They have a nice green colour when picked for use, but are dif­fi­cult to con­sume at this stage as they taste ex­tremely bit­ter. But there are sev­eral ways to cook these fresh berries. Tra­di­tion­ally, it is dried and con­sumed in in­nu­mer­able ways.

For in­stance, to make vathal, the berries are washed thor­oughly and then crushed slightly—berries with lit­er­ally half-open mouths. They are then soaked in a so­lu­tion of sour but­ter milk, which helps re­duce the bit­ter­ness of the berries. And once again they are dried in the sun. Most south In­dian shops stock the sun-dried berries, pop­u­larly called sun­dakkai vathal (see recipes).

The berries have sev­eral cu­ra­tive pow­ers. In Sid­dha medicine—one of the five al­ter­na­tive sys­tems of medicine pro­moted by the Govern­ment of In­dia—it is used to make what is called Sun­da­vat­tral Choor­nam, which is ex­cel­lent for di­ges­tion. This prob­a­bly ex­plains the “Shiva Shiva” in the stom­ach, an in­di­rect way to make peo­ple con­sume it as it keeps stom­ach ail­ments away.

Their di­ges­tive prowesses are ex­em­pli­fied by the fact that the berries have been tra­di­tion­ally used to break a fast. A num­ber of re­li­gious-minded in­di­vid­u­als ob­serve fast on Ekadasi—the 11th day of the Lu­nar fort­night, just be­fore Amavasya, when the moon is wan­ing. Not a morsel is eaten the en­tire day.

The next day, called Dwadashi, the fast is bro­ken. Af­ter pray­ers, sun­dakkai is eaten as a part of the meal on the 12th day. It is com­pul­sory. Since peo­ple have been rig­or­ously fast­ing the ear­lier day, the di­ges­tive in­gre­di­ents of the berries help calm the empty stom­ach and re­duce acid­ity. Sun­dakkai is also ef­fec­tive in fight­ing di­a­betes, anaemia, anorexia, and can cure cold and cough.

Es­tab­lished cures

Solanum torvum is an im­por­tant mem­ber of the potato fam­ily. Its cu­ra­tive prop­er­ties have been proved in sev­eral sci­en­tific stud­ies. A phy­tophar­ma­co­log­i­cal re­view by Ashok D Agrawal and col­leagues, pub­lished in Der Phar­ma­cia Let­tre in 2010, re­veals that the fruits of Solanum torvum are used com­monly in tra­di­tional medicine for its an­tiox­i­dant, car­dio­vas­cu­lar, anti-hy­per­ten­sive and anti-platelet ag­gre­ga­tion prop­er­ties. The berries also pos­sess anti-mi­cro­bial, seda­tive and di­uretic prop­er­ties.

Solanum torvum is also added as an in­gre­di­ent in var­i­ous in­dige­nous herbal medicines. More­over, anti-can­cer com­pounds have also been found in the fruit and leaves of this plant. The pres­ence of var­i­ous po­ten­tially-im­por­tant com­pounds in the berries calls for more se­ri­ous re­search of this won­der food. @chi­tra­bal­a­sub

The author is a Delhi-based free­lance fea­tures writer. Among other things, she writes on un­usual food

Tur­key berry is tra­di­tion­ally used to break a fast. Its di­ges­tive in­gre­di­ents help calm empty stom­achs and re­duce acid­ity CHI­TRA BALASUBRAMANIAM

ISTOCK PHOTO The berries grow in clus­ters, and are slightly smaller in size than cher­ries

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