Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)
The tamarind (also known as Tamon) is a medium to large, densely branched tree. It grows up to 25 meters (75 feet) tall. The crown of the tree has a vase-shaped outline of dense foliage. It has pinnate leaves (divided like a feather) that are bright green with 10 to 15 pairs of leaflets growing alternately on the branches. At night the leaves close up. Flowers are elongated, red and yellow (or streaked with yellow, orange, and red), five-petalled, about 1 inch wide. The fruit is 3-6 inches long, brown, hard-shelled, oval, or peanut-shaped, with fleshy pulp, and contains 1-12 seeds in each pod. Fruit flesh is reddish brown when mature. Wood is a bold red color.
Where to Find: The tamarind grows in the drier parts of Africa, Asia, and the Philippines. Although it is thought to be a native of Africa, it has been cultivated in India for so long that it looks like a native tree. It is also found in the American tropics, the West Indies, Central America, and tropical South America. It favors full sun in clay or sandy acidic soils.
Edible Parts: The pulp surrounding the seeds is rich in vitamin C and is an important survival food. When immature (hard and green) it may be too sour for some people but when mature it is sweet and sour. You can make a pleasantly acid drink by mixing the pulp with water and sugar or honey and letting the mixture mature for several days. Suck the pulp to relieve thirst. Cook the young, unripe fruits or seedpods with meat. Use the young leaves in soup. Seeds should be cooked by roasting them above a fire or in ashes. Another way is to remove the seed coat and soak the seeds in salted water and grated coconut for 24 hours, then cook them. You can peel the tamarind bark and chew it.
Pulp tastes sweet and sour and is high in sugar, vitamin B, and calcium.
Other Uses: Fresh leaves can be used to treat stomach disorders and jaundice and as a skin cleanser. The fruit pulp can be used to polish brass furniture.