Mahua is one of the most important of Indian forest trees, not because it may possess valuable timber - and it is hardly ever cut for this purpose - but because of its delicious and nutritive flowers. It is a tree of abundant growth and, to the people of Central India, it provides their most important article of food as the flowers can be stored almost indefinitely. It is large and deciduous with a thick, grey bark, vertically cracked and wrinkled. It is a fast-growing tree that grows to approximately 20 meters in height, possesses evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage, and belongs to the family Sapotaceae. Most of the leaves fall from February to April, and during that time the musky-scented flowers appear. They hang in close bunches of a dozen or so from the end of the gnarled, grey branchlets. Actually the word ‘hang’ is incorrect because, when a bunch is inverted, the flower stalks are sufficiently rigid to maintain their position. These stalks are green or pink and furry, about 5 cm. long. The plum-coloured calyx is also furry and divides into four or five lobes; within them lies the globular corolla, thick, juicy and creamy white. Through small eyelet holes at the top, the yellow anthers can be seen. The stamens are very short and adhere to the inner surface of the corolla; the pistil is a long, protruding green tongue. It is at night that the tree blooms and at dawn each short-lived flower falls to the ground. A couple of months after the flowering period the fruit opens. They are fleshy, green berries, quite large and containing from one to four shiny, brown seeds.
The mahua flower is edible and is a food item for tribals. They use it to make syrup for medicinal purposes.
Mahua flowers are rich in total sugars, out of which reducing sugar present in high amount. The flowers are also fermented to produce the alcoholic drink
mahua, a country liquor.
Tribals of Surguja and Bastar in Chhattisgarh and peoples of Western Orissa, Santhals of Santhal Parganas.
Mahula fruit is an essential food of Western Odisha people. The tree has a great cultural significance. There are many varieties of food prepared with the help of fruits and flowers. Also, Western Odisha people use to pray this tree during festivals. The liquor produced from the flowers is largely colourless, opaque and not very strong. It is inexpensive and the production is largely done in home stills.
Medicinally the tree is very valuable. The bark is used to cure leprosy and to heal wounds, the flowers are prepared to relieve coughs, biliousness and heart-trouble while the fruit is given in cases of consumption and blood diseases.
It is cultivated in warm and humid regions for its oleaginous seeds (producing between 20 and 200 kg of seeds annually per tree, depending on maturity), flowers and wood. The fat (solid at ambient temperature) is used for the care of the skin, to manufacture soap or detergents, and as a vegetable butter. It can also be used as a fuel oil. The seed cakes obtained after extraction of oil constitute very good fertilizer. The flowers are used to produce an alcoholic drink in tropical India. This drink is also known to affect the animals. Several parts of the tree, including the bark, are used for their medicinal properties.