Palm tree was originally found in Africa from where it spread to India and other eastern countries.It is found in Africa, Asia, South America and Australia. At present, there are about 7 to 8 crore palm trees in India, half of which are located in the state Tamil Nadu, which celebrates this tree as its state tree!
In India, especially in the southern part, for many thousands of years, Palm tree has played a major role in agriculture and handicraft. From its root to pith to its tender leaves each part has immense use.
A Tamil poem called ‘Thalavilasam’ written byThirukudanthai Arunachalam, portrays the 801 uses of this tree, which shows how elaborately this tree has influenced ancient India!
Palm sugar was one of the important export item from India a few centuries ago when the East India Company was functioning in India.
Till, about 150 years ago, until British induced the influx of white cane sugar, palm sugar was the staple sweetener used by Indians. Because of Palm Sugar’s rich calcium, iron and vitamins, the bone strength and general health of people was good. After the change in this food habit, the Indian population fell into severe malnutrition and anemia. Today every 3rd malnutritioned child is an indian child. 3 out of 5 indian women living in village is anemic.
Drinking Palm Neera used to be the break fast of Indians during the flowering season of the tree. Looking at the nutrition it adds everyday, off the flowering season, people didn’t want to loose the advantage. So they condensed palm neera into palm sugar and started consuming everyday with hot and cold drinks like ‘paanagam’. In many places the habit of eating a bit of palm sugar before drinking water anytime, existed! (My own grandma maintained this habit everyday till she died at the age of 85 and her general health especially her bone and denture health was amazing! She didn’t loose her teeth till 80 years of age!)
Palm tree takes minimum 15 to 20 years to give benefit. There is an ancient Tamil saying which says that a person who plants palm tree is mature enough to think about the next generation, as most of the benefit will be for the next generation. Since crores of palm trees exists and existed in India this talks about the compassionate culture with which people lived here.
On special occasions, the kings of ancient Tamil kingdoms adorned themselves with particular flowers. The Cheras who ruled tamilnadu for a longer period of time, decorated themselves with flowers of Indian Palm Tree (Palmyra) (Borasess flabellifer) which is known in Tamil as ‘pondhaiI’ or ‘panam poo’.
In fact the ‘sura’ and ‘soma’ drink referred in many ancient Indian scripts are nothing but the intoxicating drink extracted from the male and female palm trees!