Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Tree of Joy

The Indian Date Palm Phoenix Sylvestris grows in all sorts of inhospitable places like this vacant plot near my home. It is a handsome tree, beloved of bees and birds.The orange-red fruits are a great attraction for parrots and mynahs. Many years ago, it was a familiar sight to see tall old Sylvesters with a clay pot tied to the top. The clay pot was to collect the sweet sap of the tree, which is fermented and made into Palm wine. The government put a ban on making palm wine in an attempt to make villagers stop drinking, but the villagers started drinking brewery wine, filling the coffers of the liquor barons. The ban is lifted now.

The unfermented juice of the tree, called Neera , is a sweet, whitish liquid, full of vitamins. The fermented juice is the Palm wine or Toddy. It is drawn from the tree by making a nick on the tree and tying a pot to it. Sap will collect in the pot, which is removed in the morning.

In Bengal, the juice is boiled to make mollasses called Patali Gur, which is a great delicacy. The mollasses is very expensive , and is used to make special sweets like Payesh.

Palmyra, a cousin of the Sylvester, has large leaves. Sacred ancient texts of Hinduism and Buddhism were written on the leaves of this tree.


  1. That's so interesting! It amazes me how people in the old days 'discovered' how to use plants and trees for food and beverages. How they found out which were poisonous and which were healthy. And of course, which made them tipsy.

  2. Interesting post, and nice pictures! It's the coconut palm which is tapped for "toddy" here, on the West Coast. Both toddy and coconut vinegar have an important place in the local cuisine.

  3. They grow in Ireland too, you should see them in the Winter all covered in show, they are such a tough plant in the full exposure of the elements, they just ignore and keep growing.

    They are just too nasty and spiky for me.

  4. Katarina, it is wonderful how the ancients discovered so much about plants.
    Shailaja, interesting to know that toddy is used in cooking.
    Barry,amazing that a tropical plant should thrive in the cold of Ireland!

  5. I have been interested in palm sugar and read about the coconut toddy and sugar they make in Thailand. How interesting, I have always thought that the date palm is used for its' fruit. I have some young pygmy date palm I wonder if it will produce any sap. I also have some palm sugar from the supermarket which was made in Thailand. How do you make the toddy? And where do you cut to collect the sap? Now Lotus leaf I am very curious so bear with me.

  6. Hi Lotusleaf, how interesting! I am glad to see your government wised up about the palm pots collecting the sweetness. The writing on the leaves is very thought provoking as well. Do you know what instrument was used, the ink etc? Thanks for sharing! :-)

  7. Islandgal: to tap the palm sap to make toddy, you should cut the flower and tie a container to the stump. Leave it for 1-2 days. It can also be done on a coconut tree, which is common in Goa.Happy wine making!
    Hi Frances!The writing on the leaves were done with a decorated steel stylus. No ink was used, but the leaf was later polished with herbal oils to deter the insects and to make the letters and drawings stand out.The leaf was also treated by experts before any writing was done on it.

  8. Loved reading all the info. Not too familiar with this tree. I've seen it but not in the vicinity so I don't know about these details. The sap looks delicious! I've tasted the Bengali dishes sweetened with this gur. Lovely!