During the hiking trips in Jaipur, I have come across unusual trees & plants. I have shared these in numerous posts on this blog like Dhok tree, Thor Danda, and Sickle Bush. While Dhok is one of the most widely found trees in the Aravali hills surrounding Jaipur, there is another interesting tree that I want to share in this post. The Salai Tree. I have witnessed this tree over the last few years but could never obtain its name until a few months ago. During one of the hikes, I came across this tree with peeling bark.
This prompted me to find out more about the tree. I have seen it in different seasons, but I find it fascinating in winters when it is all bare devoid of leaves.
The scientific name of Salai is Boswellia Serrata from the Burseraceae family. The tree is also known as Indian Frankincense or olibanum.
The tree is know by following names in India Salai, Saalhe, Salaiyya, Guggal, Dhup, Kungli, Loban, Salga, Shallaki, Kundrikam, Morada & also Salai Guggul.
Climatic Conditions & Geographic distribution
Salai can grow till 1100-1200 m elevation. The tree can be discovered in the regions of the following states- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat. The reason it is found in other regions is it can grow even on flat terrain; it attains a large size on fertile soils. Salai can be found in diverse deciduous forests along with Dhau and Babool species especially in forests of Madhya Pradesh. The tree tolerates large temperature variations ranging from 0 to 45 C.
Aravali Hill Range
Based on my observations, the Salai tree can be easily observed on slopes & ridges of Aravalis in dry deciduous climate. Schist & quartzite stones form Aravali hills near Jaipur, adapts & grows considerably in such conditions. It can survive in most depleted & shallowest soil where most tree would find hard to survive. The other tree that survives in such conditions is Dhok or Anogeissus Pendula tree. The following is a picture of the Salai trees from the Aravali hill range near Jaipur.
Salai remains a moderate to large size tree. The bark is usually thin. Being one of the hardiest trees, it can survive forest fires, and animals don’t present a threat. Tenacity is one of its features. It requires no special care or excess water to endure the harsh climate like the Aravali hill range. Here is a picture of the Salai Guggul tree during the hikes in Jaipur during the monsoon season.
Salai Gum or Resin
The tree yields a yellow-green gum from the bark called Salai Guggal which has a scent when burnt. A mature tree can yield 1-1.5 kg gum per annum and represents a good substitute for imported Canada balsam. This tree is recognized for yielding a type of frankincense called the Loban, a golden-yellow, transparent fragrant resin that oozes out of the tree. Indian Olibanum is another name for this gum. During ancient times, Boswellia resins were as valuable as gold, spices, and textiles as items for trade and barter. Resin typically contains 5–9% essential oil, 65–85% alcohol-soluble gum and the rest is water-soluble. The essential oil of frankincense is extracted by the steam distillation process.
The bark is thin variable in colour & texteure. Often, it is greyish-green, ashy, or reddish peeling off in thin, papery flakes.
The leaves are like those of neem trees and are distinctive. It has 14 to 15 pairs of leaflets with a single leaflet at the end without a pair. As mentioned above, the border of Salai leaves has teeth or serrations similar to the Neem tree. The tree becomes leafless in December; new leaves appear in May-June.
The flowers of Salai grow in a bunch usually white in color. Sometimes, it can be pale pink as well. The flower appear In February-March when the branches are leafless.
The fruits are in a shape of a bladder. The color of fruit undergoes a transition from green to pink and then pale brown. They ripen & fall in May-June.
- Salai gum is used as incense because of its unique fragrance. The incense stick industry represents a notable user of incense in India as well as the rest of SE Asia.
- Salai tree is widely used in Ayurvedic formulations for treating asthma and arthritis. It proven to be as effective and, in many cases, better than drugs like Phenylbutazone and other anti-inflammatory drugs.
- It is consumed in indigenous medicine for rheumatism & nervous disease.
- It is additionally used in making ointments.
- The fiber is used in pulp & paper making and newsprint.
- The essential oil of frankincense is used in aromatherapy and Catholic Christian ceremonies have traditionally used this oil.
Traditional & Ayurvedic Treatments
- The gum resin when mixed with coconut oil is used for injuries.
- The bark is combined in treating dysentery, skin disease, and piles.
- The bark is mixed with turmeric and used for treating rheumatoid in tribal areas.
- The oil extracted from Salai is mixed with honey for treating eye disease.
- Salai powder is mixed with coconut as a pain killer.
- Salai gum is used for treating hair problems as well as bone-related conditions.
Salai tree is one of the valuable herbs in Ayurveda; it is called Gajabhakshya in Ayurveda. The Salai Guggul resin is consumed primarily for the treatment of arthritis and asthma. However, it is also used in treating blood disease, dysentery, mouth sores, sore throat, hair loss, jaundice, hemorrhoids, and bronchitis, to name a few. Modern medicine and pharmacology studies have concluded its use for antiarthritic, anti-inflammatory, antiatherosclerosis, and analgesic treatments.
Therefore, it is important we recognize the importance of this tree and undertake efforts to propagate & plant the Salai tree. It is one of the best-suited trees for the Aravali hill range. If you want to know more about this tree check out Pradip Krishen’s jungle trees of central India.