It’s a tree that hit headlines when in May last year, MPs across parties protested against a fertility drug marketed by Baba Ram Dev’s Patanjali.
The bone of contention was the name of the drug, Putrajeeva Beej, which the Baba clarified was derived from the tree’s botanical name, ‘Putranjiva roxburghii’, and nothing else.
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Apparently, it was suggestive of helping in giving birth to a son, according to media reports. It did stir a storm, but if one visits the blog of Rajesh Kocchar, there’s a very interesting piece by Kochhar and Ramesh Kapoor on the same.
In the blog, Twisting Traditions — The Curious Case of a Seedy Medicine, they pen how the term ‘Putrajeevak Beej’ is misleading and the correct usage would have been Putrajeevi Vriksh ke Beej (seeds of a tree called the Putrajeevi)’.
They further highlight how the species is a tree inducted into modern botany by British naturalist William Roxburgh. Roxburgh in 1826 recorded that in Madras, parents bought the seeds, strung them, and put them ‘round the necks of their children, to preserve them in health’. While Kochhar has been professor of pharmaceutical heritage at the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, Mohali, Kapoor has published original research on the Ayurvedic system of medicine.
Turn the pages of the Tree Directory of Chandigarh, and the Putranjiva, or Jeevan Putra, Jivputrak also translates into and is known as Child life tree. It is popular by other names like Lucky Bean tree, Indian amulet plant and Wild Olive. The writers of the directory too mention how the nuts from the tree are strung up in rosaries and tied around children’s necks to ward off diseases (even evil forces) and around women’s to prevent abortion. The seeds, in Ayurveda, are used for treating female infertility.
From the Euphorbiaceae family (Spurge family), the Putranjiva is a native of the Indo-Malaysian region and grows on alluvial soil along rivers, swamps, or evergreen forests. It prefers moist areas; the drier it is, the more stunted the growth will be. Right now, the tree is green with leaves drooping down, the flowering and fruiting takes place from March to August. As the name and history suggests, it has medicinal use — the leaves are analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory and used to treat fever, catarrh, sterility, and allergic red pimples. Crushed leaves are even applied to swollen throat of animals and used as fodder. One can spot them in Chandigarh Botanical Garden, Butterfly Park, Sectors 15, 21, 47 and some fairly young ones in Sector 23.