Spiny Sapindus

Names of Spiny Sapindus, Past and Present

Filipino: kalayo (lit. 'fire') / buli-buli / malasaging-puti (compound word, lit. 'like a banana', and 'white')
English: rusty sapindus
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Erioglossum rubiginosum (Roxb.) Blume

Spiny Sapindus - Botany And History

The rusty sapindus is a highly obscure medicinal plant that grows chiefly in high to medium altitudes and is commonly found in several parts of the Philippines, India, Java, Indo-China, Malaysia, Thailand, and even in the tropical areas of Australia and the high altitudes of Tibet and Nepal. [1]

Erroneously thought to be endemic to the Philippines, it is a very uncanny small tree with unique characteristics that make it stand out among other plants. For one, it is a very hairy plant, with its branches, leaves, and even its bark profusely covered with tiny hairs. It possesses highly fragrant white flowers that, when in bloom, are arranged upright and resemble in the whole a shaggy mane. It is also known for its yellow, orange, and purple (all colours may be found on one bunch, dictating the fruit's degree of ripeness) sweet-sour fruit strongly resembling a berry, which, like all of its plant parts, is also covered in tiny hairs. Long considered a medicinal plant in the Asiatic countries where it thrives, the spiny sapindus is also (on occasion) harvested for its fruits. Despite being a very hardy plant, not much is known of its medicinal use outside of Asia.

Spiny Sapindus - Herbal Uses

The rusty sapindus is, in all respects and purposes, usually thought of by some Filipino folkloric herbalists as a somewhat 'useless' medicinal plant, as only limited parts of the plant may be used. For tribal healers however, the leaves, roots, fruit, shoots, and even flowers of the rusty sapindus all have their own distinct medicinal uses.

The Ilocanos of Ilocos, like the Javanese, favour the shoots of the rusty sapindus as a type of vegetable which they eat when they can obtain it. The fruit of the rusty sapindus is also edible and may sometimes be used in cuisine, especially if it is pickled and eaten as a desert. Due to it's slightly off taste (an intense clashing of subtle sweetness and very noticeable tartness), it isn't a fruit that would appeal to everybody's palate, although it has been used traditionally as a treatment for coughs and sore throats. In Indo-Chinese and Malayan traditional medicine, the fruits are oftentimes pickled or fermented, and the ensuing product taken orally as a cough and cold medicine. Because of the limited areas where this small tree can grow, such remedies are employed chiefly at the places where the rusty sapindus thrives. In the Philippines, the fruit of the rusty sapindus is fermented into a type of liquor and stored usually in old, smoked bamboo poles that have been cut to size, either by itself or along with other wild, endemic berries. The resulting liquor, an acrid and intoxicating beverage is drunk by a select number of tribes who maintain the traditional practice.

Medicinally, the tribal Filipinos employed the roots of the spiny sapindus as a cure for fever. Depending on the severity of the fever, a light or strong decoction of the roots may be used, usually prepared (traditionally at least) on clay pots or bamboo poles that would be boiled over a fire, or, in the case of the latter, buried atop a blaze or still smouldering embers and dug up afterwards. [2] In the case of very high fevers and chills, a mixture of crushed roots and leaves are made into a strong decoction.

The leaves themselves are useful as an astringent and antipyretic, and these, along with the roots, can be made into a poultice or can otherwise be decocted and used as to treat allergies, fungal infections, and insect stings. When employed as a decoction instead of a poultice, it can even be used as a hair-rinse to remove lice and dandruff. [3] The practice of using the leaves and / or the roots for poultices is not only particular in Philippine folkloric medicine, as select places in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Dutch Indies also employ similar remedies using the same plant parts.

The seeds of the fruit itself, when crused and decocted can be used as a remedy for bronchitis and whooping cough, although being taken along with the fruit itself is somewhat easier a task. For individuals who find the juicy but highly astringent pulp of the fruit disgusting however, a mixture of the crushed seeds and raw sugar (extracted from sugarcane) may be employed. Due to its relative obscurity in all but select parts of Asia, the rusty sapindus remains only a tribal medicine with little to no introduction or integration into the ever-growing mainstream herbal medical pharmacopoeias of today.


[1] https://eol.org/pages/2889062/details
[2] https://www.stuartxchange.org/Kalayo.html
[3] https://findmeacure.com/2011/01/04/kalayo

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt,
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