Botanical: Bauhinia variegata | Hindi: कचनार | Marathi: कांचन | English: Orchid tree
AboutThe Orchid tree, or Kachnar (Bauhinia variegata), is a deciduous tree with distinctive butterfly-shaped leaves and showy, orchid-like flowers. Native to South Asia, it grows up to 12 meters in height, featuring a spreading crown and greenish-brown bark. The term Kachnar in Sanskrit means ‘a beautiful glowing lady’, makes for an apt name for such a beautiful tree. It is often planted therefore in gardens and parks and is a sight to behold when in bloom. The characteristic two-lobed leaves earned the tree its Latin name Bauhinia. It is also called as the Camel’s foot tree because of the shape of it’s leaves.
Medicinal Uses: Kachnar has several traditional medicinal uses. The anti-helmintic, astringent, anti-leprotic, and anti-microbial properties of Kanchnar make it an effective Ayurvedic medicine.
- Kachnar is blessed with profuse anti-diabetic and anti-hyperglycemic plant compounds. These control insulin mechanism in the body, as well as bring down rising blood glucose levels.
- Kachnar finds application in treating Hypothyroidism.
- Kanchnar guggul is a classical Ayurvedic polyherbal medicine that has Kachanar as main ingredient. It helps in treating various ailments like skin diseases, wounds, edema, dysentery, and ulcers.
- Kachnar helps to reduce toothache when applied on the affected area due to its Kashaya (astringent) and Sita (cold) nature. It also prevents bacterial growth that causes toothache and bad odour from the mouth.
- Research shows that the leaves have anti-ulcer properties and properties to protect the liver, kidney and also have antibacterial activity. Indians use the decoction of the leaves to allay headaches in malarial fever.
- In south India, Sikkim, Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, the leaves are used to treat jaundice and to cure wounds and tumour in the stomach.
Culture and Tradition: In some cultures, Kachnar is symbolic of love and is associated with festivals. Its flowers are used in traditional ceremonies and decorations. The tree holds cultural significance in art, literature, and religious symbolism.
- Kids find it’s two lobed leaves very interesting and use it as a prop to represent a book in their games.
- The plant is sacred to Hindus and worshiped during the Dushehra festival. The white flowers of kachnar are used to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge.
- Its leaves, shoots and pods are used as fodder for livestock as the leaves contain 10-16 per cent protein, and that’s why they are relished by animals.
- The kachnar flower is depicted on the flag and coins of Hong Kong.
Environmental Impact: The tree belongs to the legume family and lives in a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria, which helps fix atmospheric nitrogen and improves soil fertility. Orchid trees offer high value to pollinators. It is the host plant for the long-tailed skipper butterfly and the flower nectar attracts many other pollinators including other butterflies, bees and birds. It is larval host plant for Chilades pandava – Plains Cupid.
Food & Culinary usage: Kachnar flowers are occasionally used in traditional recipes. They add a mild, slightly tangy flavor and are included in dishes like salads, stir-fries, or pickles in certain culinary traditions. Tribal communities in Jharkhand, however, will not miss it as they consume every part of this multipurpose tree. The flowers, fruits and leaves are edible and are an important source of nutrition. The leaves are a perennial source of food, unlike other flowers and fruits that provide nutritional support only for a short period.
- The young leaves can be prepared as a curry or fried, or they can be simply boiled with a little bit of salt, and is a good accompaniment with rice.
- The Munda tribal community cooks the dry leaves in many ways: Rehydrating it with hot water and then making a chutney along with chilli garlic or dry fish or dry shrimps or bamboo shoots; or, they cook it with cooked rice water along with spices and sauté it.
- The leaf powder can be incorporated in idli and kachori too. Others have incorporated the fresh leaves into soup, chila and utthapam. This enhances the nutritional value of the dishes.
- Young Kachnar buds are used to make “Kachnar ki kali ki sabji” in North India and Nepal. The buds are also pickled.
Anandvan Trivia QuizQuestion 1: Why am I so important to food security of many tribals?
Answer: The Kachnar tree (Bauhinia variegata) is important to the food security of many tribals in India due to its edible and nutritional components. The tender leaves, flowers, and young pods of the Kachnar tree are utilized as food sources. Tribal communities in Jharkhand consume every part of this multipurpose tree. In fact, the leaves are a perennial source of food. The tree’s contribution to local diets enhances nutritional diversity and serves as a valuable supplement, particularly in regions where access to a variety of food items is limited specially in dry season.