Benefits Of Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) For Health

Benefits Of Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) For Health

Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata)

Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) is known as other names: Almendrillo Negro, Amburana, Coumarouna odorata, Imburana De Cheiro, Cumaru, Cumaruzeiro, Cumarú, Rumara, Sarapia, Shihuahuaco, Dipteryx odorata, Charapilla, Dutch Tonka, English Tonka, Fève Tonka, Gaïac de Cayenne, Tonka, Tonka Seed, Tonquin Bean, Torquin Bean, Yape...

Tonka bean (botanical name Dipteryx odorata) is a large tree that is indigenous to tropical America. In fact, this rainforest tree is very common in Brazil, especially in the states of Pará and Amazonas. These trees are large with a canopy and usually grow up to a height of 30 meters in the Amazon region. This tree is found growing in the tropical rainforests of Venezuela, Brazil, Columbia, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru and Suriname. These trees produce a bean or seed whose color varies from gray to black and grows up to a length of about 2 cm to 5 cm, while they are roughly 1 cm wide. Commonly, these seeds/ beans are known as Tonka beans. The cumaru trees are also felled for their timber, which is highly durable and fit for use as construction materials.

Benefits Of Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) Herb For Health
Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) Tree Picture

The Tonka bean tree is actually a legume belonging to the pea family, called Fabaceae. Even the purple or pink hued flowers of this tree have resemblance to a pea and characteristically they blossom during the period between the late spring and the end of summer. The Tonka bean flowers appear on the branch ends or their sides. These trees usually grow very slowly and have a smooth bark that is reddish-brown. The roots of the tree are basal. The fruits of the dipteryx are brown hued and enclose a sugary pulp, which is used to make jams and liquors. The tonka bean are shaped like almonds and their color varies from gray to black. The aroma of the beans is similar to that of vanilla and they are usually roasted and then pounded for preparing a coarse meal. The extracts obtained from the Tonka beans are used therapeutically as well as for flavouring other foods.

While the bark of the tonka bean tree is smooth and has a gray color, the timber is reddish. The leaves of Tonka beans are alternate as well as pinnate having three to six leaflets arranged on either sides of a common axis. The leaves are leather-like (rubbery), shiny and have a deep green color, while the flowers are rose hued. The fruits of tonka bean tree contain a single seed and the flowers are pollinated by insects.

The seeds of tonka bean tree are black colored and wrinkled, while their interior is smooth and brown hued. The aroma of the seeds reminds one of various substances, including cinnamon, almonds, vanilla and cloves.

Benefits Of Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) For Health

The pagan as well as the occult communities believes that the tonka bean possesses magical attributes and uses. A number of people practicing magical arts are of the view that crushed tonka beans infused in a tea or any herbal brew can aid in curing a number of health problems, including disorientation, depression, suicidal behaviour and confusion. They believe that it may also be used to perk up the immune system.

The fruit of the tonka bean tree (Dipteryx odorata) encloses several compounds in the sweet flavoured pulp as well as in the bean. Some of these plant chemicals include coumarin, fatty acid esters, lupeol derivatives and isoflavones. Among these, therapeutically, coumarin is the most important plant chemical. It is a very familiar phytochemical that is used to produce specific anti-coagulant prescription medications (blood thinning drugs). It is important to note that coumarin becomes a toxic substance when it is taken internally in elevated dosages.

For several years, tribes living inside the tropical rainforests in South America have been using the tonka bean tree for therapeutic purposes. A decoction prepared from the tonka bean tree bark is used for treating fevers, while the seeds of this tree are occasionally distilled in rum and used topically for treating cuts, contusions, rheumatism and snake bites. It is also used internally for treating coughs. In addition, the fermented seeds are sometimes used in the form of a shampoo and also dropped inside the ears to cure earaches as well as infections. Herbalists consider dipteryx to possess anti-asthmatic, anti-spasmodic, emmenagogue (a medicine that stimulates menstrual discharge) as well as cardio-tonic properties.

The Indian tribes in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon have also used the bark as well as the seed of Dipteryx odorata (Tonka bean or cumaru tree) since long. The bark of this tree is used to make a decoction and bathe people suffering from fever. It is said to be effective in bringing down the body temperature. In current times, herbal medicine of Brazil considers cumaru to have anti-asthmatic, anti-spasmodic, cardio-tonic and emmenagogue effects.

Benefits Of Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) Herb For Health
Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) Picture

Despite serious safety concerns, people take tonka bean as a tonic; to increase sexual desire (as an aphrodisiac); and to treat cramps, nausea, cough, spasms, tuberculosis, wasting due to chronic disease, swelling caused by a blockage in the lymph system (lymphedema), and a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis.

Some people apply tonka bean directly to the affected area for mouth ulcers, earache, and sore throat.

The odor of Tonka beans is very pleasing something similar to vanilla and is often used by the perfume industry. In addition, they are also used to make soaps and used to add essence to foods as well as tobacco. Usually, the beans are distilled or fermented in locally-brewed rum and subsequently dried in the air. This leads to the development of coumarin crystal covering the exterior of the seeds to make them look as if they are frosted.

Tonka beans have multiple uses, including as a substitute for vanilla, in the form of perfumes as well as in tobacco, prior to the practice was banned in a number of countries. In addition, the French use the beans in some of their cuisines, especially stews and desserts, and also in perfumes.

Tonka Bean (Dipteryx Odorata) Side effects and cautions

Tonka bean is unsafe. It can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, sleeplessness, and liver problems. Don’t use it if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

As mentioned earlier, the seeds of Tonka bean enclose coumarin, a chemical isolated from this rainforest tree. Normally, the seeds of this plant enclose about 1 per cent to 3 per cent coumarin, and seldom it is found that the coumarin content of the seeds is as elevated as 10 per cent. The pleasing smell of the Tonka bean seeds is attributable to coumarin, which has some utility in the perfume industry. In fact, the flavour of coumarin is bitter and when taken in large doses in the form of an infusion, it may result in liver damage as well as hemorrhage. In addition, excessive dosage of Tonka bean seed infusion may also cause cardiac paralysis. Hence, many governments have restricted the use of coumarin or Tonka seed extracts in the form of a food additive. Similar to many other plants, even the Tonka bean tree possibly makes coumarin to protect itself.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers any food containing tonka bean or tonka bean extract to be impure.