The bael fruit has been cultivated in India for over 4,000 years and is highly valued for its perceived medicinal qualities. The flavor of the fruit, unfortunately, leaves something to be desired, like many plants with healing properties, but all parts of the tree are used in a variety of applications, including perfumes, detergent, and furniture production. The bael fruit is an important part of Ayurvedic practice and is used to treat many digestive conditions.
Bael fruit is round and roughly the size of a baseball. The fruit starts out gray-green and turns a pale yellow when it matures. When split open, the fruit will reveal pale orange pulp separated by thick, dark orange walls. The fruit is also studded with resinous hairy seeds, enclosed in an envelope of mucilage. The odor of the fruit can be off putting to some.
The bael fruit tree grows 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters) tall and has dark green leaves with mildly serrated edges. The trunk of the bael fruit tree is covered in a pale scaly bark and spreads into dropping branches that are often spined. When injured, the tree emits a gummy sap that ultimately solidifies. The flowers are green on the outside and yellow on the inside, and they have a pleasing fragrance that is frequently used in perfume.
The bael fruit can eaten raw or cooked, and is often utilized in an unripe stage. When unripe, the fruit can be used to treat diarrhea, while the ripened fruit is a laxative. When used unripe, the fruit should be boiled and pulped. Some practitioners use the young shoots as well, for the treatment of ulcer and respiratory complaints.
When ripe, the pulp of the bael fruit can be scooped out and eaten plain, or dressed with milk and sugar to make a creamy drink. Bael fruit can also be used to make jams and jellies, which are used by those recovering from intestinal complaints. In general, the fruit is not eaten as much for its flavor as for its medical and purgative properties.
In addition, other products of the tree are used for making ornamental carvings, religious offerings, detergent, and glue. The tree is also rich in limonene oil, which is used to dress hair and scent wooden furniture. The bael fruit tree is highly versatile and useful, although unlikely to become popular outside of India due to its disagreeable flavor and scent.