Calophyllum Inophyllum Linn
Undi / Nagchampa (Calophyllum Inophyllum Linn) trees are normally planted along the highways, roads to stop soil erosion. Millions of trees exist all over Coastal India. If the seeds fallen along road side are collected, and oil is extracted at village level, by hand operated expellers, thousands of tons of Undi oil will be available for Lighting the Lamps in rural area. Undi oil is the best substitute for Kerosene. Since these are spread over a large area, collection of seeds for BioDiesel manufacture is not viable. (A compact plantation can support a BioDiesel plant).
Introduction: Undi is of African, Asian, Polynesian and Pacific origin. The beauty of this plant is that undi is known by people of more than one country and so we are able to make comparisons between the ways in which that plant has been used.
Botanical names: Calophyllum Inophyllum Linn (Syn. Calophyllum Bintagor Roxb.) (Guttiferae). Undi is a member of the mangosteen family. Mesua ferrea Linn has also been seen as an alternative Latin name.
Common names: Known in English as Alexandrian Laurel, Tamanu, Pannay Tree, Sweet Scented Calophyllum. The wood used to be sold as Borneo Mahagany. Bengali: Punnang. Marathi: Undi. Burmese: Pongnyet. Cutchi: Udi. Hindi: Undi, Surpan, Surpunka, Sultan Champa. Konkani: Undee-phal. Malyalam: Cherupuna, Ponnakum, Sinhalese: Domba, Dombagaha, Teldomba, Sultanchampa. Tamil:Nagam,Nameru, Pinmai,Punnagam, Punnai, Punnagum, Punnaivirai. Pinnay. Telagu: Pumagamu, Ponnvittulu, Ponnachettu. Hawaiian: Kamani.
Habitat: Bitaog (as habitat is most usually called) is found throughout the Philippines along the seashores. Undi is native to Tropical Asia and its geographical distribution area also includes Melanesia and Polynesia. Undi grows near the sea coast throughout India. In French Polynesia, the Tamanu tree is widespread on most of the islands. Undi grows primarily in the coral sands and on the sea shore, although specimens may be found in valleys. Its seeds sprout easily in muddy and saline soils. The Motu (coral reefs), which surround the volcanic islands, are covered with Tamanu trees, they are very much appreciated for their fragrant flowers and elegant foliage and are thus planted along avenues. Kamani, as Undi is also known, was brought north to Hawai from the South Pacific islands in early migrations of Polynesian settlers. Also called Alexandrian laurel, true kamaniwas probably introduced by seed, which is how Undi is propagated. This native of the Pacific and of tropical Africa, grows slowly along sandy shores and in lowland forests. Undi was cultivated in villages, near houses and also in groves away from villages. When found growing in windy areas, Undi is sometimes in a picturesque form.
Plant description: The tree is 2 to 3 meters tall, and has a thick trunk covered with a rough, black and cracked bark. Undi has elliptical, shiny and tough leaves. Its flowers, arranged in auxiliary cymes, have a sweet, lime like fragrance. The tree, which flowers twice a year, is said to attain a great age. The numerous fruits, arranged in clusters, are spherical drupes. Once ripe, their smooth, yellow epidermis discloses a thin layer of pulp, which tastes somewhat like apple. The gray, ligneous and rather soft nut contains a pale yellow kernel, which is odourless when fresh. Once chewed, Undi juice coats the mouth and emulsifies saliva, and its insipid taste becomes bitter. Kernels have a very high oil content (75%). Undi oil is obtained by cold expression and yields a refined, greenish yellow oil, similar to olive oil, with an aromatic odour and an insipid taste. Once grown, a tree produces up to 100 kg fruits and about 18 kg of oil.
Oil Processing: Unlike most vegetable oils, oil is not contained in fresh ripe fruits. Undi oil forms in the course of the nuts’ desiccation. The oil production process is as follows: ripe and non germinating seeds are slightly crushed in order to crack the shells without damaging the kernels. The latter are quickly removed, arranged in thin layers and exposed to the sun. They must not be exposed to humidity in any case. In spite of these precautions, some kernels develop moulds and must be eliminated. During the desiccation process, kernels loose weight (from a mean 7 g for fresh kernels to about 4.5 g for dry and oil-rich ones). They become brownish, develop an aromatic odour and increase their oil content. In the meantime they loose their germinative power. The transformation is completed within 2 months provided the weather has been dry enough. Kernels can then be stored for a long time. Undi / Tamanu oil and cake is available between February to April. Cake is generally used for preparing manures or bio-insecticides.
Use of the plant and its parts: The bark, seeds and leaves are used with a bitter oil coming from the seeds together with a resin and a gum. When mature, Undi has a thin leathery dark gray brownish skin which covers a bony shell that holds a partly poisonous kernel or seed surrounded by a cork-like substance. A lamp oil for light was produced from the kernel and was used at times instead of other oils. The oil is dark, green, thick and called Undi oil. Sometimes this oil is useful for massage, especially when enhanced with coconut oil or flower fragrances. The oil may have been useful in water proofing cloth and is used as a varnish. In the old days an extract from the fruit was used to make a brown dye to colour cloth. The oil can also be used to make soap.
Flowers: The fragrant flowers are used to make bouquets and wreaths and are also worn in the hair by women.
Shell: The round, thin shells are used as a receptacle for ‘bura sugar’, which is a popular confection.
Properties of Oil: In Southern India, the oil of the seeds of the plant is used specifically for treating skin diseases. Undi oil is also applied topically in cases of rheumatism. Undi oil is also used as lamp oil and for manufacture of soap. The two main active components in this oil were discovered. A totally new fatty acid, Calophyllic acid and a lactone endowed with antibiotic properties to be at the origin of the oil’s amazing cicatrizing power. The dark yellow oil extracted from the seeds, contains a poisonous resin, which has a parsley like odour. The resin is similar to myrrh and is alcohol soluble.
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