Now that spring time is upon us, we are liable to spot roadside vendors selling a green and yellow berry-like fruit that is popular with both young and old. This is the inimitable Ber, which along with the Beri (not the female of the species, but the local name for the tree it grows on) are two of the most interesting members of the botanical world in my reckoning. The charisma begins with the Beri’s tongue twisting botanical identity, i.e. Ziziphus Mauritiana, and the undisputed fact that every part of this tree, from the roots to the fruit, is not without some use.The Ber is versatile in shape and looks. It can be oval, oblong or round varying in size from one to two and a half inches. The flesh is white (sometimes the colour of cream), juicy, aromatic and crisp. It is generally eaten raw, used in beverages and is purported to possess great medicinal powers. It heals when applied on cuts and ulcers; is used to combat pulmonary disorders and fevers and when consumed mixed with salt and chilli peppers is reported to relieve indigestion and acidity. In dried form, it acts as a mild laxative and its seeds, when taken with buttermilk are said to stop nausea, vomiting and abdominal pains, particularly during pregnancy. These seeds are used in poultices, stop diarrhoea and when mixed with oil, relieve rheumatic pain.
Leaves of the Beri are excellent fodder for camels, cattle and goats. When applied as poultices, they are reputed to alleviate liver disorders, asthma and fever. On a morbid note, water boiled with these leaves is used to bathe corpses before funerals in order to retard decomposition. Flowers of the Beri are rated as one of the best sources of honey and an infusion prepared from them is said to work well as an eye lotion.
Beri timber is hard, fine-grained, durable and often used to make bedsteads, boat ribs, agricultural implements, tool handles and the like. This wood produces high grade charcoal and its branches, when stacked and interwoven make excellent security perimeters because of their density and big thorns. A bitter, astringent decoction made from its bark is, reportedly, used to relieve diarrhoea, dysentery, gingivitis and its paste is applied on sores as a curative.
The Beri root is said to act as a purgative and dusted on wounds as an anti-septic. Juice made from the root bark is reputed to alleviate gout and rheumatism, but large and strong doses of both the root and the bark may produce toxic effects.
Branches of the Beri tree secured to a long pole make an effective tool to ‘capture’ paper kites during the basant festival, although the method, if not used with finesse and agility, usually results in the kite’s total destruction. I have heard it said that sleeping under a Beri promotes restful slumber, but have never tried it out because of the stories that supernatural entities and jinns prefer to make this particular tree, their habitat.
The Beri has even infiltrated Urdu vocabulary. I have (as a child) overheard senior members of my family say that the “tree’s presence in someone’s yard was sure to attract stones.” It was much later, on reaching the stone throwing age, that I understood the true meaning of this adage ending in forfeiture of precious bachelorhood for many of the stone throwers - including yours truly. Such is the versatility of the Ber that I was not surprised, when a close friend told me that he farms the stuff and makes a very decent profit by exporting his harvest to the Gulf region.
My admiration for this amazing gift of nature shows no sign of flagging, as other varieties of fruit slowly get out of reach forcing the ‘Poor Man’s Apple’ to adorn more and more tables in increasing frequency across the country.