Andean tree Caesalpinia spinosa is used in natural skin care products for its stabilization and emulsification properties.
Caesalpinia spinosa (Molina) Kuntze, commonly known as tara is a small leguminous tree or thorny shrub native to Peru. Caesalpinia spinosa is cultivated as a source of tannins based on a galloylated quinic acid structure. It is also grown as an ornamental plant because of its large colorful flowers and pods. Caesalpinia spinosa can be found growing throughout northern, western and southern South America, from Venezuela to Argentina. It has been introduced in drier parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa and has become naturalized in California.
Caesalpinia spinosa pods are an excellent source of environmentally friendly tannins (tara tannins) most commonly used in the manufacture of automotive and furniture leathers. This growing industry is developing around their production in Peru. Some producers have their own plantations to guarantee constant quality. Tara tannin derivatives are being proposed as antifouling against marine organisms that can growth on ship hulls. Those tannins are of the hydrolysable type. Gallic acid is the main constituent of tara tannins (53%) and can be easily isolated by alkaline hydrolysis of the plant extract. Quinic acid is also a constituent of the tara tannins.
Tara gum is a white or beige, nearly odorless powder that is produced by separating and grinding the endosperm of C. spinosaseeds. Tara gum consists of a linear main chain of (1-4)-ß-D-mannopyranose units attached by (1-6) linkages with α-D-galactopyranose units. The major component of the gum is a galactomannan polymer similar to the main components of guar and locust bean gums that are used widely in the food industry. The ratio of mannose to galactose in Tara gum is 3:1. Tara gum has been deemed safe for human consumption as a food additive.
Tara gum is used as a thickening agent and stabilizer in a number of food applications. A solution of tara gum is less viscous than a guar gum solution of the same concentration, but more viscous than a solution of locust bean gum. Generally tara gum presents a viscosity of around 5,500 cps (1% aqueous solution). Furthermore, tara gum shows an intermediate acid stability between locust bean gum and guar gum. It resists the depolymerisation effect of organic acids down to a pH of 3.5. This gum is also stable to high temperature heat treatment, up to 145°C in a continuous process plant. Blends of tara with modified and unmodified starches can be produced which have enhanced stabilization and emulsification properties, and these are used in the preparation of convenience foods, such as ice cream.
Medicinal uses in Peru include gargling infusions of the pods for inflamed tonsils or washing wounds; it is also used for fevers, colds and stomach aches. The tree can also be a source of lumber and firewood, and as a live fence. Water from boiled dried pods is also used to kill fleas and other insects. The seeds can be used to produce black dye while dark blue dye can be obtained from the roots.
A few years back, on the occasion of World Environment Day Alan Garcia, the president of Peru announced (to fight the global climate change) a national reforestation campaign to plant 180 million trees in Peru. To promote this campaign, the agricultural ministry of Peru announced a novel event of breaking the world record of tree-planting on the World Environment Day itself. The appeal encouraged volunteers from segments like students, army, police and citizens to participate in this mega event.
In Tuman district on the north coast of Peru, thousands of pits were made in the degraded area. Crates of tree-saplings were kept ready near the pits. The event was flagged off at 10.15 am on June 5, 2010 and 8,000 participants took up the race of tree-planting simultaneously. The spirited teams broke the previous record of planting 26,422 trees in an hour set up by Ireland in 2009. Peruvians finished with 27,166 trees and in just 5 minutes and 20 seconds. Interestingly other previous records were in Mexico (242 trees/min.) in 2008 and in India (176 trees/min.) in 2005. This is how people of Peru triumphed against the global climate change, what an effort! The jubilant plantation will serve as an education center for students and industries.
The tree species used for this record plantation was the Tara tree (Caesalpinia spinosa), the fond native of Peru. It is a small deciduous tree with yellow, attractive looking fragrant flowers. It does not have spines as the name suggests. The pods and the seeds are also colourful. Tara tree grows in the valleys of Andes. Surprisingly forest surrounding Pune has about 50 Tara trees.
Lima district in Peru is in the high mountains yet is devoid of water. It receives barely 1.5 cm of rain annually. The Andean glaciers which used to be the perennial source of water for Lima are drying out fast. The hardy residents of Lima traditionally know of an innovative source of little water to quench their thirst. A lot of fog rolls up the mountains in Lima from the South Pacific Ocean year round. The Tara tree of Peru not only survives in the arid habitats of Lima but is known to absorb water from the fog. Droplets of water are formed on the Tara leaves and the water drips down to the ground.
In some fog harvesting farms large funnels are placed below Tara trees to replenish the ground water. Amazingly it provides a source of drinking water in the periods of scarcity. The fog harvesting forests of Tara trees can suffice the water requirements of the denizens of Lima in future. Well, fog harvesting is only the most vital use of Tara trees. They have several economic uses. An extract produced from the pods of Tara is known as ‘Tara Powder’. It is used in leather tanning, food products, medicines, breweries and cosmetics.