Summer in the tropical countries such as Belize is usually heralded by a burst of pink from thousands of Cassia Grandis trees locally known as the Belize Bukut. From North to South, East to West, these bold trees put on a striking display among the otherwise uniform green that is the tropical rain forest. Many homes in Belize, especially those in the countryside have Bukut trees as shade and ornamental trees and the seeds are readily available from many seed companies worldwide. In Belize and other countries of Central America, the tree grows wild in the forest and rural areas.
Bukut fruit is reputed to cure anemia and is used as a natural herbal remedy for a variety of ailments. Medicine: In Belize the fruit pulp is used as a laxative similar to C. fistula and reported to be more powerful. The ripe pods and seeds of Cassia Grandis are also used as a laxative. A decoction of the leaves is used as a laxative and in the treatment of lumbago. Fresh juice of the leaves of the tree is is used externally in the treatment of ringworm. Timber: Cassia grandis known in other countries as Carao, is also reported to give strong multipurpose wood. Gum or resin: The seeds of Cassia grandis is a potential commercial source of gums. Seed gum is a potential binder for the pharmaceutical industry.
Many folks in Belize, especially adventurous kids, consume the ripe fruit when in season despite its somewhat unattractive smell – this is definitely an acquired taste. The fruit contains jam-like sections that surround the seeds. People who sample the fruit (you eat it by sucking on the sticky pulp of the fruit and spitting out the seeds) describe the smell as “funny” and the taste as something tangy and sweet and a mixture between chocolate and cherry.
Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern traveled to Belize in 2009 to do a segment for the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, and described his experience with this exotic fruit:
“Bukut, the stinky toe fruit… fantastic stuff. Tastes like anchovies and fish sauce mixed with molasses, interesting. It was kinda delicious; very nice to stand on top of someone’s car and yank down some big ripe pods of stinky toe fruit.”
In Latin America Cassia Grandis is better known as Carao and is used to make a popular drink. The fruit pulp and seeds are boiled for twenty minutes and the resulting decoction – a creamy brown liquid or “milk” is then chilled and served as an exotic and nutritious drink. People describe Carao Milk as having a smell like that of cheese and an intense organic aroma.
Iron Magazine recently reported that: “It’s known as Cassia Grandis and has been an effective natural remedy for anaemia. But it also has an interesting side effect in many men. It reportedly spurs spontaneous libido. Could this be due to a lowering of SHBG? At this point, it would only be speculative to say. One would think that something that cured anaemia would be high in iron but tests on Carao extract reveal almost no iron. This one is a big question mark. It could be nothing more than the impoverished people were anaemic before taking it and once cured, felt completely revitalized, yet among athletes who have tried it, the consensus is that it definitely improves endurance.”
A medium-sized tree, up to 20(-30) metres tall, semi-deciduous, young branches and inflorescence covered with rusty lanate indumentum. Leaves with 10-20 pairs of leaflets, petiole 2-3 cm long, lanate, leaflets subsessile, elliptical-oblong, 3-5 cm x 1-2 cm, subcoriaceous, rounded at both ends. Inflorescence a lateral raceme, 10-20 cm long, 20-40-flowered; flowers with sepals 5-8 mm long, petals initially red, fading to pink and later orange, the median one red with a yellow patch, stamens 10 with hirsute anthers, 3 long ones with filaments up to 30 mm and anthers 2-3 mm long, 5 short ones with filaments 7-9 mm and anthers 1-1.5 mm long, 2 reduced ones with filaments about 2 mm long. Fruit pendent, compressed, 20-40(-60) cm long, 3-5 cm in diameter, blackish, glabrous, woody, rugose; seeds 20-40 per pod, surrounded by sweetish pulp.