Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bangkoro (Morinda citrifolia)

Two bangkoro-related memories from the 90s:

1. Seeing bottles of the expensive "miracle" fermented Tahitian Noni Juice during the Noni craze. Drinking it, thinking it tasted like a pretty bad sweetened thing, generally finding it exotic.

2. Seeing a curious fruit along the rocky Batangas coast. Climbing up the tree, jumping to get it. Trying to bite into it (too hard), chucking it in bag, forgetting about it. Regretting it-- it was completely mushy and smelled like rotten cheese. (See a similar specimen below.)

Also known as Indian mulberry, in Sanskrit it is called achuka, which means long life. We Southeast Asians seem to have passed the tree around-- here the bangkoro is also called bangkudo and bangkuru. In Malaysia, it is called bengkudu, while in Indonesia, mengkudu. The Ilokanos call it apatot, which in my view sounds like a word that could mean "smelly". In Sur, there is a town and beach named after the tree.

It is present in many tropical coasts and secondary forests. I have to say that from my perspective, this fruit has tried to avoid human food consumption by fooling us into thinking it goes straight from unripe to rotten. But in fact, the fruit is perfectly ripe when it starts to smell like some form of cheese gone bad, and the skin is soft and looking like a yellow blister that is ready to pop. Below are some unripe ones:

Believed to have been brought by Southern Indians to the Pacific Islands (have you seen how some Southern Indians look Polynesian?) about 1,500 years ago, the plant is now a superstar in the supplement subculture, having what seems to me to be endless medicinal applications.

The more interesting and less known of them:
  • If your gums are rotting, char the fruit in fire, mix with sea salt, rub on problem area.
  • Take the mush from the ripe fruit and put it over a boil to extract the pus head.
  • If you have a wound or ulcer, rub some fresh leaves to slightly call forth their juice, and plaster it on the area.
  • For congestion, fever, nausea, the leaves can be heated and applied to the chest area.
  • If you don't get your menstrual period (and are female), a decoction of the leaves can help.
  • If you still have some leftover from above, use it as a sore-throat gargle.
  • Painful first aid! For deep cuts or broken bones (particularly those sticking out of your skin), pound a bunch of leaves with salt and apply.

The bark is used to make a red or purple dye, and the roots yield one that ranges from yellow to brown. Variations, I suppose, depend on your mordants. When you're using the roots, be sure to go for the thinner ones-- beyond half an inch yields almost no dye.

During famines, people have been driven to eat the fruits (unripe and bitter or ripe and presumably with cotton up their noses). Burmese sometimes include them (unripe) in curries, and aborigines eat it raw with salt. At all times, the young leaves can be eaten as vegetables.

Pick one and you'll find that it's actually an aggregated fruit-- many in one! Recently I was able to spot one while biking around. If you want to be sure the seeds are mature enough for you, search for ripe fruits, or those that have already dried out. I recommend wrapping them in some kind of large leaf to save you the hassle of cleaning up, as they are mushy. You're lucky if you get some that are dried out enough to not be messy about.

Plant the seeds and put the tree in full sun. From observation, they prefer lowlands and can thrive in sandy or rocky soil.

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