Cassia Fistula: Golden Shower

Cassia fistula is also known as a golden shower, Indian laburnum, purging cassia or amaltaas in India. It is a summer-flowering plant found in tropical and subtropical regions. It belongs to the legume family, Fabaceae. A native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, this plant can be found from India to Thailand and Sri Lanka to Pakistan. Amaltaas grows as a medium-sized tree and is used as an ornamental plant and is quite popular for its therapeutic properties as well. Cassia fistula flower and tree are the national flower and tree of Thailand respectively. The flower is also the state flower of Kerala, India. The Latin botanical term “cassia” for the plant comes from the Greek word, “Kassia,” which means fragrant plant.

Golden Shower Tree -

The golden shower tree grows up to 66 feet tall. It is a fast-growing tree and has strong wood. The wood is so strong and durable that it was used to construct ‘Ehela Kanuwa’ at Adams Peak, Sri Lanka.  In India and abroad, one can find many exotic and native species of cassia fistula.  When not in the flowering phase, the golden tree provides shade and shelter to the passer-by. The leaves and bark have medicinal properties as well. The flowers bloom in a drooping pattern in a cluster, like a bunch of grape.

There are more than 500 species of cassia fistula around the world.

The golden tree finds mention in Hindu scriptures Ramayana and Mahabharata as well. Famous biologist and botanical artist Marianne North have depicted it very beautifully in his paintings, which are still at display at the Royal Botanic Gardens, England. Eminent Indian painter, A. Ramachandran, has created artworks involving the golden tree. One of the paintings that require a mention here is the famous Amaltas artwork by Sunita Kumar. Titled, Indian Laburnum, it is a painting of Mother Teresa praying and reading a book near the golden tree.

The aroma of the golden tree and the splash of yellow flowers make for an interesting sublime amalgam of summer milieu.

Morphology: Golden Shower Tree

The flowers of the golden shower tree are yellow in colour; the fruits are legume-type and have several seeds. The flowers grow in a pendulous raceme arrangement and have five yellow petals of same size and shape. In a pendulous pattern, the leaves are alternately arranged in a spiral manner.

The deciduous leaves are up to 24 inches long and pinnate with up to eight pair of leaflets. The fruit has a pungent odour that is noticeable from a distance. The fruit is cylindrical and has more than 80 seeds. When the pod is young, the seeds are amassed in a black pulp. The seeds are light brown in colour and glossy in texture.

Golden shower tree on indian streets

The amaltas flowers are bright yellow in colours and slight zygomorphic. They grow in a dropping raceme arrangement and usually, in a group of three. The flowers bloom in late spring and grow profusely in such an overwhelming manner that no leaves are visible at times. Dry climate, well-drained soil and direct sunlight offer the perfect climate for the tree. The flowers bloom differently in both summer and winter climate with evident changes. The leaves of cassia fistula drop as a prelude to the flowering season in May to July.

Cassia fistula can withstand some frost for a brief period but can’t sustain in cold climates for long. It is particularly vulnerable to leaf spot or mildew, especially during the growing season. The carpenter bees, butterflies and bees are responsible for its pollination. In fact, the eminent botanist Robert Scott Troup proved in the year 1911 that golden jackal plays an important part in the dispersal of the seeds. This canine species feed on the fruit and help in the pollination of the seeds.

This medium-sized tree grows with a straight trunk of up to 1 metre in diameter. The tree grows all over and in every direction and needs constant pruning. If not, the branches of the tree resemble an open crown. The bark of a young tree is grey in colour and smooth in texture. However, as the tree turns older, it becomes dark brown in the colour and the texture gains some roughness.

The leaves of golden shower plant are used as cattle fodder and are eaten by people too for their health benefits. The leaves and wood are used as timbre too. In Ayurveda, the plant is known as aravgvadha or ‘disease killer.’ This ancient Indian science deems its seeds as purgative and laxative. However, prohibits any type of self-medication. The fruit pulp is used in many digestive medicines in the herbal and homoeopath system of medicine.

Amaltas as an Emblem and Symbol

Amaltaas flower is the state flower of Kerala due to its ritual significance. Vishu festival in Kerala is an auspicious occasion and is associated with prosperity and wealth. Cassia fistula or Kanni-konna as it is locally known is the lasting symbol of the festival. The tree is depicting on the 20-rupee stamp as well.

In Thailand, the yellow flowers of Amaltaas symbolise Thai Royalty. The blooms are commonly called dok koon in the Thai language. The flowers can also be seen on the 48-cent stamp, commemorating the joint collaboration of Canadian and Thai design.

The amaltaas trees are a common sighting in the Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, where they are called ‘Ehela’ in the Sinhala language.

In Vietnam, the tree is associated with the Lao New Year. People use it to offer it to their Gods on New Year and hang them at the main entrance considering them as the ambassador of good luck and prosperity.

Nomenclature

Every region knows the golden tree or amaltas as a different name. Some of the very famous ones are cassia stick tree, pudding pipe tree, purging cassia, golden shower tree, caneficer,  Kayu raja (Indonesian), bahawa (Marathi), muồng hoàng yến (Vietnamese) and purging fistula (English). In Germany, it is known as Röhrenkassie. In France, it is called douche d’Or and in Spain, it is referred to as Guayaba cimarronacana-fístula or Canapistola.

Distribution of Cassia Fistula – Golden Shower

Golden trees are believed to have originated in South East Asia.  According to Boggan et al., 1997, the trees escaped cultivation in Guyana, French Guiana and Costa Rica and became a naturalized asset in the West Indies, Belize, Mexico, Ecuador and Micronesia. In Australia, however, it is deemed as an invasive species.

This deciduous tree is found from tropical to subtropical regions along with moist forest zones. It is quite adaptive to weather changes and acclimatizes pretty well. It is found on an altitude of 1,300 meters and on dry or shallow slopes. A rainfall of 480 to 2700 mm and temperature between 18 and 29 degrees Celsius is ideal for its growth. Calcareous and red volcanic soils are perfect that have a pH level of 5.5 to 8.7.

Re-vegetation of farming lands of Golden Shower Tree

According to Datiles et al., 2017, the plant can be beneficial in the vegetation of overgrazed land. The trees are not palatable to domestic animals and hence, can be used for the restoration of land that has been rendered useless due to overgrazing of cattle.

Negative environmental impact

In Queensland, Australia, the plant is considered to be an invasive species due to its wide distribution. The foliage remains rich in protein but is poor in fibre. Besides, the seeds of the golden tree remain viable for years and are quite tolerant to frost, shade and temperature changes. It can sustain through layering as well as cutting. Besides, it is rich in phenolic compounds and tannin.

Propagation

The propagation of golden trees is mainly done by the seeds that can stay viable for years. If you are planning to plant the tree in a container, the seeds need to be soaked in sulphuric acid. After the span of 2-3 years, the plant needs to be taken out of the container and needs to be replanted in the soil directly. The first stage of growth requires proper care and a large amount of water. The plant grows slowly initially and sheds its leaves completely once a year. The first flowering season can be seen after 10 years of planting. However, this can be countered by vegetative propagation. The seeds can take over a year to ripe and produce root suckers freely. The plant is prone to weeds and susceptible to pests.

While the plant is a legume, it doesn’t show the signature nodule characteristic of a legume and doesn’t fix the nitrogen binding capability of the soil either.

However, as you manually prepare the seeds for sowing, please take care of the following pointers:

  1. Water frequently in the summer season but only when the soil is dry. However, ensure that the soil is well-drained. The dampness in the soil can cause the roots to rot and promote fungus onslaught.
  2. Don’t use overhead watering.

Forage

The leaves of golden trees have been used by Egyptians as forage for sheep and goats. In Columbia too, the leaves were used as fodder to zebu males in the rainy season. However, during the dry season, the cattle didn’t like the leaves and didn’t consume it. In rabbits, the leaves and seed extracts caused infertility. This is why it is recommended to use the seeds as legumes and a good source of protein and only as a supplementing source.

Uses of Cassia Fistula:

The golden tree has several uses. It is used as an ornamental plant for its beautiful, bright coloured yellow flowers. Apart from its showy tendencies, the plant is used as a fodder for cattle. The bark is used for its tannin and dyestuff. The wood is sturdy and is used to make chests, drawers and furniture. The rest of the bark and twigs make for a high-quality source of charcoal and fuel. The flowers and leaves are edible.

The pharmacology of different parts of amaltas

Isn’t it beautiful how nothing in nature is useless? Everything comes with a purpose and everything has a use in the greater scheme of things? Even with the golden tree, the plant comes with a plethora of uses- ornamental, as fodder or therapeutic. Have a look.

Fruits

The fruit of the golden tree is highly recommended as a remedial measure in gout, diabetes, thoracic obstruction and rheumatism. Amaltas fruits are used in treating diabetes and reducing inflammation. The pulp of the fruit is considered to be a mild laxative and used in liver complaints too. The fruit extract is also used in eye ailments and to treat persistent cough in smokers.

Leaves

The leaves of amaltas or golden tree are a mild laxative. The paste of the leaves is used as a poultice for swelling due to insect bites, rheumatism swelling and facial paralysis. The pulp of leaves is especially beneficial for the treatment of piles, ulcers and menstrual cramps. The paste of the leaves can be applied for relief from skin conditions such as eczema, ringworms and skin breakouts.

The juice of leaves is particularly useful as a dressing for ringworms. It can be applied to get relief from swelling and itching on a wound.  The paste of leaves, bark and coconut oil can be applied to pustules and insect bites for immediate relief.  An alcohol test has shown anti-bacterial activity in the leave extract against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus along with the tendency of accelerated wound healing. The aqueous extract of the leaves is anti-fungal and is particularly effective against pathogen Microsporum ferruginous and Trichophyton spp.

Roots

The roots of the golden tree are purgative and strong astringent. They are particularly useful in heart diseases, acidity, chest pain, migraine, joint pain and blood dysentery. Some Ayurved practitioners also use their extract to treat diabetes and skin ailments. Various studies have proved its positive impact on lowering the blood sugar level up to 30 per cent.

Flowers

The flowers of the golden tree reduce swelling and provide relief in liver disorder. They are antipyretic and hence, used by the locals as a remedy for seasonal flu and malaria.

Seeds

The seeds have cysticidal and amoebicidal properties, making it a perfect countermeasure of amoebiasis.  The seeds are sweet and are laxative and carminative. The dried seeds show hypoglycaemic activity in vivo.  The powder of the seeds improves appetite in patients. The decoction of black pulp (young pods) of seeds is an effective remedy against kidney stones and tapeworms. The seeds are used by the pharmaceutical industry as gum and potential binder.

P.S.

It is strongly recommended not to use seeds without any medical supervision as it can be toxic.

Method of preparing amaltas seeds decoction

At a young age, the seeds of the golden tree are amassed in a sweet, sticky pulp. To extract the seeds from the pulp, this mass is bruised and boiled in water. Once the pulp starts disintegrating, the seeds are removed with the help of a spatula. The pulp should be boiled immediately as it tends to get sour or mouldy after getting separated from the tree.

Bark

The bark extracts have shown potential and are rich in anti-oxidant and anti-inflammation properties.  The bark is anti-dysenteric and can be used for skin ailments as well. The powder of bark has been used by tribes and locals in and around India since old times to treat cardiac diseases, syphilis, leprosy, and jaundice. The water-based extract of the roots can be applied on ringworm to reduce irritation and itching.

Anti-infertility

In a study conducted by the scientists established the impact on fertility of amaltas flowers. The aqueous extract of the flower inhibited the ovarian function and stimulated the uterine function in albino rats.

Side-effects of Amaltas (Cassia fistula)

Any herbs, concoction or pulp of a plant should be taken under the expert supervision of your medical practitioner. Each body is different and so is the reaction of each system towards a medicine. Also, moderation is the key.  The contra-indications of amaltas are listed as fever, piles, spastic constipation and colitis. We don’t take any guarantee or responsibility of any medicinal use of a plant listed here. Any information posted here is for informational purpose only. The readers are requested to use discretion and practice due to medical caution before trying any of these remedies.

Also, please note that the exact dosage and mechanism has not been studied by the experts until now.  For, some plants may show adverse impact at one dose and therapeutic effect on another. This is why it is of utmost importance to confirm a safe dosage from a medical expert.

Interesting Trivia

  • In Kerala, cassia fistula or kanni-konna is considered to be a sacred tree and is an enduring symbol of Vishu festival. However, at present, its erratic blooming season has the residents and botanists worrying. Is it the wrath of Gods or climate change? To find the root cause of its odd blooming pattern, citizens have started a science project called SeasonWatch.
  • If you are in Delhi during summers, don’t forget to drop by Amrita Sher-Gil Marg, Akbar Road, Chanakyapuri or Shanti Path. The roads are laden with a yellow carpet of amaltas flowers in May and June. It is mainly because the Brit Architect Edwin Lutyens ensured that lots of amaltas are planted in and around the Lutyens Delhi while planning its layout.
  • Since amaltas is a known detoxifier, rich in Vitamin K and calcium, the five-star hotel in Delhi serves amaltas roti, amaltas salad with quinoa and kaffir lime.
  • The amaltas flower should be washed in cold water before consumption.