An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Madhuca longifolia

Madhuca longifolia

The Madhuca or Butter tree (Madhuca longifolia (J.Koenig ex L.) J.F.Macbr.) is an arboreal species belonging to the Sapotaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Subkingdom Tracheobionta,
Spermatophyta superdivision,
Magnoliophyta division,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Dilleniidae,
Ebenales Order,
Sapotaceae family.
Genus Madhuca,
M. longifolia species.
The terms are synonyms:
– Bassia latifolia Roxb.;
– Bassia longifolia J.Koenig ex L.;
– Bassia villosa Wall. ex G.Don;
– Illipe latifolia (Roxb.) F.Muell.;
– Illipe malabarorum Gras;
– Madhuca indica J.F.Gmel.;
– Madhuca latifolia (Roxb.) J.F.Macbr.;
– Vidoricum latifolium (Roxb.) Kuntze;
– Vidoricum longifolium (J.Koenig ex L.) Kuntze.

Etymology –
The term Madhuca comes from the Sanskrit “madhu”, which means “sweet” or “honey”. This name is attributed to the plant because of its fruit, which has a sweet taste.
The specific longifolia epithet comes from the Latin word composed of “longus”, which means “long”, and “folium”, which means “leaf”. This term is used to describe the long, narrow leaves of this plant species.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Madhuca longifolia is a tropical Indian tree found largely in the plains and forests of central, southern, northern India, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Its habitat is that of the arid environments of tropical mixed deciduous forests in India in the states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where it grows at edges of tropical and subtropical forests at altitudes up to 200 metres.
The tree is usually found scattered in the grasslands and cultivated fields of central India.

Description –
Madhuca longifolia is a fast-growing evergreen or semi-evergreen tree that can reach a height of about 20-25 meters and has a pyramidal or ovoid shape.
The bark is grey-brown and has vertical fissures and the trunk is short and can reach a diameter of 80 cm.
The leaves are large, lanceolate and oppositely arranged along the branches. They are bright dark green on top and slightly lighter on the underside.
The plant flowers in spring, producing terminal or axillary inflorescences in clusters. The flowers are pale yellow or creamy white and have a sweet, pleasant smell. Each flower consists of five fleshy petals and numerous stamens. The flowers attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.
The fruits are ovoid green berries, about 5 cm long, which ripen to a dark brown or black shade. Each fruit contains a single elliptical seed which is rich in oil. This oil, called Mahua oil, is widely used in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. The ripe fruits fall from the trees or are harvested by hand to extract the oil.

Cultivation –
Madhuca longifolia is a multipurpose tree that is very important to the local economy, providing a wide range of food, medicines and other goods. It is commonly harvested from the wild and is also often cultivated in the tropics.
The tree has occasionally been planted as an avenue tree and is often planted to provide shade.
This plant can be grown in subtropical or tropical areas, where it is found at altitudes of up to 1,200 meters.
It is able to withstand frost, grows in areas where annual daytime temperatures are between 2 and 46 °C. It grows best where the average annual rainfall is between 550 and 1,500 mm.
Furthermore, it requires a sunny position and from a pedological point of view it prefers a deep clayey or sandy loam soil with good drainage. It is also often found on shallow, clayey and calcareous soils.
The established plants are resistant to drought.
It is a long-lived tree that begins to bear fruit around 10 years.
An adult tree can produce up to 90 kg of flowers in a year and 20 to 200 kg of seeds per tree, depending on its maturity.
Coppice trees can be felled when they are dormant in the hot season and can be worked on a 25 – 30 year coppice cycle to produce an average annual increase of 3 – 5 cubic meters/Ha.
Propagation can be by seed and seeds should be sown when fresh in long pots to accommodate the long taproot. The seedlings should be ready to plant in 2-4 months, or they can be kept longer with regular root pruning. 1-year-old stumps establish more successfully than bare ones.
Seeds are produced in abundance every two to three years. They lose viability in a short time and the oleaginous fruits should be directly sown in the field as soon as seeds become available.

Customs and Traditions –
The Madhuca longifolia plant is commonly known by various names including: madhūka, madkam, mahuwa, Butter Tree, mahua, mahwa, mohulo, Iluppai, Mee or vippa chettu.
The Madhūka tree is the sacred tree of various temples in South India including Irumbai Mahaleswarar Temple, Iluppaipattu Neelakandeswarar Temple, Tirukkodimaada Senkundrur in Tiruchengode and Thiruvanathapuram. Tamil philosopher saint Valluvar is believed to have been born under an iluppai tree within the Ekambareshwarar temple in Mylapore, and thus madhūka remains the sacred tree of the Valluvar shrine built within the Ekambareshwarar temple compound.
It is considered an important plant in Indian tradition. Mahua oil is used in regional cuisine as a cooking oil and an ingredient for desserts and drinks. Even the flowers are used to make sweets, while the wood of the tree is used for various purposes, such as the construction of buildings and the production of charcoal.
This plant is grown in warm climates for its oilseeds, flowers and wood. This oil (solid at room temperature, butter) is used for skin care, to make soaps or detergents, or candles, as well as in food (a seasoning for dishes or as a substitute for cereals). It can also be used as a fuel vegetable oil. The cakes obtained after the extraction of the oil are excellent fertilizers.
The flowers are used to make an alcoholic beverage in tropical India. Different parts of the tree are used for their medicinal properties: the leaves and latex (Madhuka-sara) form a rheumatism remedy, the bark decoction cures scratching (itching) and is astringent. The boiled corolla is edible, it treats the bile, after distillation it becomes an alcohol (Madhu Madhawi or Madhvasava) and gives a fatty substance, Illipe butter (Phulwara or Phulwa). Its essences are used in the composition of bakha, composed of herbs and roots, which is prohibited by the Indian government. In many villages in India, the local economy is based on the production and harvesting of madhuca.
It serves as the currency for any commodity. This economic importance is attested by Sanskrit texts (Veda, Ayurveda).
Mahua flowers are rich in total sugars, of which reducing sugars are present in high quantities. The flowers are also fermented to produce the alcoholic beverage mahua, a country liquor. The tribals of Surguja and Bastar in Chhattisgarh and the peoples of western Orissa, the Santhals of Santhal Paraganas (Jharkhand), the Koya tribals of northeastern Andhra Pradesh, the Bhil tribals in western Madhya Pradesh and the tribals of northern Maharashtra consider the tree and the mahua drink as part of its cultural heritage. Mahua is an essential drink for tribal men and women during celebrations.
Mahua fruits are an essential food of the people of Western Odisha. The tree has great cultural significance. There are many varieties of foods prepared with its fruits and flowers. Also, people of Western Odisha used to pray to this tree during festivals. The liqueur produced by the flowers is largely colorless, opaque and not very strong.
Mahua flowers are also used to make jam, produced by tribal cooperatives in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra.
Apart from this there is another company located in Wardha district of Maharashtra, ‘Sevagram Agro Industries’ which deals with Mahua products on a large scale and exports innovative products such as seed oil and Mahua jam to Arab countries.
In many parts of Bihar, such as villages in Siwan district, the flowers of the mahua tree are dried in the sun; these sun-dried flowers are ground into flour and used to make various breads.
Locals also use mahua flowers to make wine.
The wine prepared from Madhūka flowers (Madhuca longifolia) finds mention in several works of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature. It also finds mention in the Ayurveda Samhitas which lists it among different types of wine.
Mahua oil has the following composition.
The average oil content ranges from 32.92 to 57.53%.
The refractive index is 1.452.
The fatty acid composition (acid, %): palmitic (c16:0) : 24.5, stearic (c18:0) : 22.7, oleic (c18:1) : 37.0, linoleic (c18:2) : 14.3.
Contains Carbon (C), Calcium (Ca), Nitrogen (N), Magnesium (Mg), Phosphorus (P), Sodium (Na).
A website of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India reports, “Mahua oil has emollient properties and is used in skin diseases, rheumatism and headaches. It is also a laxative and considered helpful in habitual constipation. , hemorrhoids and hemorrhoids and as an emetic. Indigenous tribes also used it as a highlighter and to fix hair.”
It has also been used to make biodiesel.
The Mahua tree is also known for its ecological importance. Its flowers provide food for bees and butterflies, contributing to biodiversity. Furthermore, the tree plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the forest ecosystem by providing shade and habitat for a variety of animal species.
The leaves are a food for the moth Antheraea paphia, which produces tasser silk, a commercially important form of wild silk in India. Leaves, flowers and fruit are also cut to feed goats and sheep.
Tamils have several uses for M. longifolia. The saying “aalai illaa oorukku iluppaip poo charkkarai” indicates when there is no cane sugar available, the flower of M. longifolia can be used, as it is very sweet. However, Tamil tradition warns that excessive use of this flower will result in an imbalance of thought and may even lead to insanity.
The alkaloids in mahua seed cake are reportedly used to kill fish in aquaculture ponds in parts of India. The cake is used to fertilize the pond, which can be drained, sun-dried, filled with water and stocked with fish fry.
In medicinal use, the flowers are considered anthelmintic, refreshing, emollient, laxative and tonic.
They are used in the treatment of coughs, colds and bronchitis and in the treatment of snake bites. They are dipped in ghee and then eaten as a remedy for hemorrhoids.
The dried flowers are used in the treatment of orchitis, being valued for their sedative effect.
The bark is astringent and emollient and is used in the treatment of leprosy.
A decoction of the bark is given to diabetic patients in Nepal.
The bark is used externally to treat itchy skin and bleeding gums.
The seed oil is used in the treatment of skin diseases.
The gummy juice is used in the treatment of rheumatism.
Other uses include agroforestry.
The tree has a large surface root system which holds the soil together and is planted on wasteland with lateritic and compacted soils in India.
The seed cake has been used as a fertilizer.
Furthermore, the residue of the seed, after the oil has been extracted, is used to free the lawns from worms.
Defatted seed kernels contain 26 to 50% saponin.
The oil from the seeds is used to treat other seeds against pest infestation.
From the seeds a low quality oil is extracted, mainly consisting of palmitic and stearic acid, it is mainly used in the production of soap and candles.
The tannin is obtained from the bark.
The heartwood is reddish brown. The wood is strong, very hard, very heavy and durable.
It needs a good finish. It is used for the construction of houses, furniture, aisles and wagon wheel frames, door and window frames.
Wood is used as fuel.

Method of Preparation –
The Madhuca longifolia plant is a very important resource in the areas of origin or where it is grown.
The fragrant fleshy flowers can be eaten raw or cooked.
They are rich in nectar and used as a sweetener and source of sugar.
They can also be dried for later use; furthermore the dried flowers can be pulverized and added to the flour.
Consumed in excessive quantities they can be intoxicating.
Both ripe and unripe fruit can be eaten. The outer covering of the fruit is eaten as a vegetable, while the fleshy cotyledons are dried and ground into a meal.
An oil extracted from the seed is used as both a substitute and adulterant for ghee butter.
The seeds are a source of illipe butter, used in the production of margarine and chocolate.
The leaves are edible.
In general, Madhuca longifolia can be used for the following preparations:
– Nutrition: Mahua flowers are used to produce an alcoholic beverage called “Mahua” or “Mahuwa”, which is very popular in central India. The flowers are collected, fermented and distilled to obtain an aromatic liqueur. In some communities, the flowers are also eaten fresh or dried as a snack.
– Mahua Oil: The seeds of M. longifolia contain an edible oil known as “Mahua oil”. The oil is extracted from the seeds by pressing and refining. It is widely used in cooking, especially in the central Indian regions, for frying and cooking various dishes. Mahua oil is also used to make margarine, soap and candles.
– Traditional Medicine: M. longifolia has a long history of use in traditional Indian medicine. Different parts of the tree, such as roots, bark, flowers, and seeds, are used to treat a variety of ailments. They are believed to have anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, expectorant and anti-diarrheal properties. However, it is important to point out that the use of herbal medicines should be done under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.
– Wood: Mahua wood is hard and strong and is used for making furniture, tool handles, scaffolding and other handicrafts.
– Fertilizer: The leaves and bark of M. longifolia can be used as organic matter for composting. They can improve soil fertility and provide nutrients to plants.
– Production of biodiesel: Mahua oil can be converted into biodiesel through the transesterification process. This biodiesel can be used as a sustainable fuel for automobiles and agricultural machinery.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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