Bakul – Flowers & Fragrance by Sampath Venkatanathan


Bakul (Mimusops elengi), champa (Michelia champaka), and parijata (Nychanthes arbotristis) are among the most beautiful and sacred of India’s many exotic flowering trees. They can be dubbed as “Trinity” of divine flowers. Countless souls throughout the ages have lived in the gentle presence of these beneficent beings that give their barks, leaves, roots, seeds, resins, and flowers for medicine, ceremony, and pleasure. So rich are their contributions to traditional societies that the ancient Rishis proclaimed these trees to be gifts from the heavenly realms, bestowed upon humanity and brought to earth by the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Endowed with religious symbolism and divine attributes, these three trees in particular are deeply entwined with the culture, lifestyle, and ancestral memories of people across the subcontinent.[1]

Bakul, champa, and parijata are all associated with various deities and are planted in and around the grounds of temples and ashrams. Bakul trees, for example, are frequently found growing at temple entrances. Following the ancient custom of marrying male and female trees, the bakul, which is considered male, is planted on the right side of the entrance, while the chalta tree (Dillenia indica), which is considered female, is planted on the left side. The deep green leafy branches of the bakuls offer luxuriant shade and cool respite from India’s blazing heat, creating a peaceful atmosphere that is conducive to meditation.

Mimusops elengi is a medium-sized evergreen tree found in tropical forests in South Asia, Southeast Asia and northern Australia. English common names include Spanish cherry, Medlar, and bullet wood. Its timber is valuable, the fruit is edible, and it is used in traditional medicine. As the trees give thick shade and flowers emit fragrance, it is a prized collection of gardens.
Its flower is the provincial flower of Yala Province, Thailand.[2]

All three of these trees offer a vast pharmacy of ethno botanical remedies, utilized for centuries for ailments ranging from sore muscles and the common cold to malaria and epilepsy. It is the fragrance of their flowers, however, which has made them so beloved and renowned. The bakul flowers are tiny, but have a potently sweet fragrance which pervades the surrounding countryside.

Bullet wood is an evergreen tree reaching a height of about 16 m (52 ft). It flowers in April, and fruiting occurs in June. Leaves are glossy, dark green, oval-shaped, 5–14 cm (2.0–5.5 in) long, and 2.5–6 cm (0.98–2.36 in) wide. Flowers are cream, hairy, and scented. Bark is thick and appears dark brownish black or grayish black in colour, with striations and a few cracks on the surface. The tree may reach up to a height of 9–18 m (30–59 ft) with about 1 m (3 ft 3 in) in circumference.
The bark, flowers, fruits, and seeds of Bakula are used in Ayurvedic medicine in which it is purported to be astringent, cooling, anthelmintic, tonic, and febrifuge. It is mainly used for dental ailments such as bleeding gums, pyorrhea, dental caries, and loose teeth.

  • The edible fruit is softly hairy becoming smooth, ovoid, bright red-orange when ripe.
  • The wood is a luxurious wood that is extremely hard, strong and tough, and rich deep red in color. The heart wood is sharply defined from the sapwood. It works easily and takes a beautiful polish. Weight is 1008 kg per cubic meter.

Because of their delicate beauty and delicious perfume, bakul, champa, and parijata are used extensively as temple offerings to please the gods and goddesses, worn and given as garlands at festivities and ceremonies, made into incense, and compounded into an endless variety of unguents and medicated oils. In perfumery, these three flowers are alchemically distilled into a base of sandalwood oil, forming the subtle natural perfumes known as attars. Beneficial for everyone, yet with a distinctly cooling nature, these floral essences are highly effective for pacifying heat conditions of both the body and the mind.

The effect of aromatic molecules on consciousness is profound and well-documented by both traditional Ayurvedic and modern scientific research. The Charak Samhita tells us that Sweet smells maintain youthfulness and vigor, and give a long life. They are rejuvenating, and increase sensual enjoyment. Mental and physical relaxation combined with heightened alertness, improved concentration, enhanced memory, regulation of the nervous system, and restoration of immunity suppressed by stress are only a few of the benefits that science now ascribes to inhaling the aromas of flowers.

The lovely evergreen Bakula tree of the Indian subcontinent, with its small shiny , thick, narrow, pointed leaves, straight trunk and spreading branches is a prized ornamental specimen because it provides a dense shade and during the months from March to July fills the night air with the delicious heady aroma of its tiny cream colored flowers. In the morning the ethereal flowers which so graciously scented their surroundings with their deep, rich, honey notes during the evening hours, fall to the ground. People living in their proximity love to collect them as they retain their odor for many days after they fall. They are offered in temples and shrines throughout the country. Because of their ability to hold their fragrance for many days the flower has a special symbolic meaning when offered to the gods and goddesses. An offering of Bakula flowers signifies the unwavering devotion of the aspirant for the object of their devotion just as the bakul flower maintains its wonderful perfume long after it has fallen from the tree. The flowers have also inspired a popular saying, “true friendship lasts like the scent of maulsari(bakul)” They are equally prized for making into tiny garlands which can be woven into the hair emitting a perfume that is a delight to the wearer and to those who come in their company.

Not much is known of the flower and its fragrance outside of India but Stephen Arctander an acknowledged master of odor description sung its praises in his classic work, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. “The essential oil of Mimusops elengi is a pale yellow, mobile liquid of very delicate, sweet and extremely tenacious floral odor, somewhat reminiscent of orange flower and tuberose, or the more well known stephanotisits florabunda (gardenia undertone). A honey like, heavy-sweet undertone, is quite persistent, and this essential oil could, if it were made regularly available, certainly find uses as a modifier of countless floral fragrances.”
Regarding solvent extraction of floral essences, the practice was adopted in modern times to compensate for the rising cost of labour and time which was required for the practice of effleurage and hot fat maceration which it replaced. Both the former and latter techniques are well documented in perfumery literature so to avoid redundancy we will go to the particular problems and solutions for solvent extraction. In the current scenario there are several important criteria for the production of high quality absolutes. Pure solvent, pure alcohol, high quality raw material and dedication to the art and craft of extraction in well designed equipment. In India, one cannot easily procure pure solvents and alcohol as extractors of essences can in the West. Hexane, though proclaimed as food quality by providers of this material in India, seldom provide the pure hexane which is required for making the finest concretes from which the absolute will be prepared. Indian extractors, must by one means or another, purify the solvent first, before using exposing flowers such as Bakul to it. Even with their best efforts Indian extractors may not be able to remove traces of impurity in the solvent. Often they may appear minute amounts but one should be aware of the fact that such things occur. What impact it has on the over all quality of the oil may be negligible, but it needs to mention this so that people seeing trace impurities in Indian absolutes may understand that such problems may be beyond the range of most extractors to fix. Also there never has been an attempt if any ISO standard created to determine what the acceptable level of both hexane and such impurities in an absolute might be. One can easily detect a high level of hexane(a couple of percentage points) in a carelessly prepared absolute as the odor of that solvent will be well pronounced detracting from the fine floral notes of the absolute. Once the concrete is prepared and the majority of solvent removed, the aromatic waxy substance needs to be washed with a high grade alcohol. Again such a product is hard to come by in its most refined form in India. Sugar cane alcohol is the type that is used in India but without special purification it is not of the same immaculate quality that is available overseas.

There is a solution to the problem. At the distillation and extraction facility of Nishant Aromas north of Bombay. At the factory site, a number of superb high fractionating columns are functioning which are used for producing isolates of essential oils for the indigenous and international flavor and fragrance industry. In a well designed fractioning column, natural isolates can be prepared of a specified purity so these same columns prove ideal for cleaning up impurities in the solvents and alcohol used in preparation of floral absolutes.3

Another technique which has shown outstanding results is extracting the hexane prepared concrete with CO2. India has now begun to establish CO2 units in several localities and even the smaller 10 litre units are more than sufficient for preparing high quality extracts from concrete. The great advantage of this technique is that the less expensive solvent extraction units can continue to function in rural areas where fresh flowers are abundantly available and the concrete prepared within a few hours of picking. The concrete can then be sent to a central CO2 extracting facility (the equipment for CO2 extraction is very costly) where the lovely floral extract can be prepared. This company has already initiated such a project with the extraction of a pure tuberose essence from tuberose concrete. This yields a product much more concentrated than the absolute with a delicate colour and a rich full odour of tuberose. Within the CO2 units themselves are fractionating columns which allow one to remove almost all traces of hexane so those who are concerned with the possible irritating qualities of the solvent can be assured of the highest quality material. The CO2 extraction of the concrete also permits one to remove as much of the alcohol soluble waxes, pigments and other inert matter which are present in the absolute. Many people think that absolutes are pure essences but this is not true. A high grade alcohol dissolves certain waxes and other materials which are not part of the aromatic profile of the plant. These non-odiferous materials may be as much 35% in the absolute depending on the raw material. It does mean that the pure extract ends up costing several times more than the absolute but it is consequently more concentrated and can be used in greater dilution. This method is adopted for preparing what we call contemporary attars. Here the CO2 extracted essence of the concrete is dissolved in pure sandalwood oil, the fixative par excellence, to make an ethereal floral perfume that represents the finest form in which the floral essence can exist.[3]

Some studies on the constituents in the extract are reported in literature :

Mimusops elengi, commonly called ‘Bakul’ is a medicinally important plant of family sapotaceae. Allparts of the tree have medicinal properties. Taking into consideration the medicinal importance of the plant, the volatile organic matter from the bark of this plant was analyzed for the first time for Thymol using GC-MS and HPTLC analysis. by Sushil S. Pimpare et al.[4]

A detailed Review on Ethnobotany, Phytochemical and Pharmacological Profile is reported by Prasad V Kadam et al [5] with a scope for future investigators .


Fruit and seed of bakula showed presence ofQuercitol, ursolic acid, dihydro quercetin,
quercetin, β – d glycosides of β sitosterol, alphaspinasterolafter Saponification . Two new
Pentacyclic triterpene acids were isolated asmimusops acid and mimusopsic acid, possessingthe novel migrated oleanane skeleton,mimusopane[ along with mimusops gene andmimugenone, Pentacyclic triterpenes3beta,6beta,19alpha,23-tetrahydroxy-urs-12-eneand 1beta-hydroxy-3beta-hexanoyllup-20 (29)-ene-23, 28-dioic acid have been isolated. Twonovel triterpenoid saponins, mimusops in andmimusops in were isolated from the seeds ofMimusops elengi and minor triterpenoidsaponin mimus in was isolated along with twoknown triterpenoid aponins, Mi-saponin A and 16alpha-hydroxy Mi-saponin A. In additiontaxifolin, alpha-spinasterol glucoside, Miglycoside1, two new triterpenoid saponinsmimusopside A and B were also isolated . SixNew saponins were isolated from the seed kernel

Bakul fruit are reported to contain moisture(79.27 %), protein (1.29%), fat (2.76 K Cal),
reducing sugar (8.9%), Non reducing sugar(6.3%), Total sugar (15.2%), Fiber (1.13%),
Vitamin C (3.27 mg / 100 gm), Mineral content(0.32%), Iron (0.59 mg / 100 gm) , Sodium (5.16mg / 100 gm) , Potassium (98.54 mg / 100gm)

Leaves, heartwood and roots

Hentriacontane, carotene and lupeol from theleaves, heartwood and roots were isolated. A newsteroidal saponin, 5 alpha-stigmast-9(11) en-3-obeta-D-glucopyranosyl (1-5)-o-beta-Dxylofuranosidewas isolated from the roots ofmimusops elengi .

Detailed published information5 describe Anthelmintic activity Anti-anxiety activity Antihyperlipidemic activity Antiulcer activity Anticonvulsant activity Anti-inflammatory, analgesic andantipyretic activities Antioxidant activity Antiurolithiatic effec tAntimicrobial effect Antibacterial effect Antifungal effect Cognitive enhancing activity Antidiabetic effect Diuretic effect and Wound healing effect

Chemical Structures of some constituents:5

Conclusion and further scope
As the pharmacologists are looking forward todevelop new drugs from natural sources,
development of modern drugs from Mimusopselengi linn can be emphasized for the control ofvarious diseases. The betulinic acids isolatedfrom the bark are proved to be Anti-HIV
constituent so that the research work on the barkfor anti-HIV effect will be possible. It is quiteevident from this review that Mimusops elengilinn is an important medicinal herb and
extensively all types of medicinal systems. It contains a number of phyto constituents, which are the key factors in the medicinal value of this plant. Almost all parts of this plan such as leaf,fruit, seed, bark and flowers are used to cure a variety of diseases. It elicits on all aspects of herband throws the attention to set the mind of the researchers to carry out the work for developing the new formulations which can ultimately beneficial for the human being.

Literature cited:

[1] Champa, Bakul, Parijata: The Sacred Flowering Trees of India…

[2] Mimusops elengi – Wikipedia


[4] International Journal of PharmTech Research
CODEN (USA): IJPRIF ISSN : 0974-4304
Vol.4, No.1, pp 250-257, Jan-Mar 2012

[5] ISSN 2278- 4136
ZDB-Number: 2668735-5
IC Journal No: 8192 Volume 1 Issue 3

Online Available at
Volume 1 Issue 3
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