Ber/ Indian jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana) is a hardy, tropical thorny evergreen bush (1.5 metre tall) or a medium sized tree (upto 12 metres tall). The tree grows rapidly and starts producing fruit within 3 years. It has high tolerance for water-logging as well as drought conditions. Its tap root develops rapidly to defy drought conditions. It has a spreading crown and the tree typically forms a dense thicket with drooping thorny branches. The leaves are 2-3 cms in length and breadth and are dark green and glossy on the upper side and pale-green/ grey-green on the lower side. Fruit (ber) is initially green and then turns yellow and finally red/brown on ripening. A ripe ‘ber’ is juicy and has a pleasant aroma. The nut inside contains two brown seeds. The fruit is eaten raw or pickled or used in beverages. It is quite nutritious and rich in vitamin C. It is second only to guava and much higher than citrus or apples. The flowers are tiny, white/yellow/greenish white and 5 petalled. The pollen is thick and heavy and is transferred from flower to flower by honey bees, insects and ants. The ber seeds spread through birds, native animals and humans who feed on the fruit.
The Ber tree is sacred in India and its parts-fruit, leaves, bark and root are used in traditional medicines.The fruits are applied on cuts and ulcers; are employed in pulmonary ailments and fevers; and, mixed with salt and chili peppers, are given in indigestion and biliousness. The dried ripe fruit is a mild laxative. The seeds are sedative and are taken, sometimes with buttermilk, to halt nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pains in pregnancy. They check diarrhea, and are poulticed on wounds. Mixed with oil, they are rubbed on rheumatic areas. The leaves are applied as poultices and are helpful in liver troubles, asthma and fever and, together with catechu, are administered when an astringent is needed, as on wounds. The bitter, astringent bark extract is taken to halt diarrhea and dysentery and relieve gingivitis. The bark paste is applied on sores. The root is purgative. A root extract is given as an anti-pyretic, taenicide and emmenagogue, and the powdered root is dusted on wounds. Juice of the root bark is said to alleviate gout and rheumatism. An infusion of the flowers serves as an eye lotion.
Ber timber is hard, strong, fine-grained, fine-textured and reddish in color. It is used for making boat ribs, agricultural implements, and furniture parts requiring strength. It is used as firewood. The thorny branches form fences to keep out wild animals. Forestry departments uses the bushes to guard saplings against grazing.The leaves are readily eaten by camels, cattle and goats and are considered nutritious.The flowers are rated as a minor source of nectar for honeybees. The honey is light and of fair flavor.
Ber is susceptible to attacks by fruit flies, leaf-eating caterpillars and parasitic vines.