Yellow Nicker/ Grey nicker/ Nickernut/ Bonduc nut/ Fever nut /Kantkarej or Kantikaranja in Hindi (Caesalpinia bonduc)- the ‘Nickernut’ is a large, thorny, straggling, leguminous shrub which behaves like a strong woody climber, taking support of trees. Plants generally start as a single stem arising stiffly upright from the ground that curves into a more horizontal direction after a few feet. The branches are armed with hooks and straight hard yellow prickles. Leaves are large, double compound and armed with prickles.
Racemes of small yellow flowers are produced in the leaf axils, followed by clusters of spiny, two-seeded pods.
‘Nicker’ is an old English (Dutch?) name for ‘Marble’. The prickly inflated pod has 2 glossy, marble-like, green coloured seeds that turn grey on maturity and are used for making jewelry. The sub-species that produces grey seeds is called Grey nicker and that which produces yellow seeds is called Yellow Nicker!!
The seeds yield bonducin, that is called the poor man’s quinine and is used to treat malaria and hence the name ‘Fever’ nut. Seeds yield a fatty oil that is used as a cosmetic and for treating ear discharges.
The shrub is native to the Caribbean islands and tropical beaches where it grows in dense thickets. The marble-like seeds can be seen scattered on the beaches and can easily be mistaken for bird eggs. The seeds are buoyant and tough and are dispersed over large distances by ocean currents! They are also known as ‘sea-pearls’ (Sagar Goti in Hindi!). The seed has concentric lines in relief on the seed coat and cause the nut to ‘burn’ when rubbed against clothing. Caribbean kids apply the ‘burning’ nut on the skin of unsuspecting victims to amuse themselves!!
The leaves, bark and roots of the shrub are used for preparing different Ayurvedic formulations for treating jaundice, cough, fever, cough, worms and diabetes.
In India, the shrub grows in coastal areas and on the edges of mangroves. It also grows in disturbed areas upto elevation of 850 metres. It prefers open, sunny locations.
- The Fabulous Nickernuts, Wayne’s Word Vol. 6 (No. 3) Fall 1997