Uses as food: The young leaves can be
cooked and eaten, but usually only during famine. The leaves were also used
to supplement animal fodder, or mulched to fertilise crops. The seeds were
eaten in Melanesia and Polynesia and the people there called it the "food
tree". The seeds were roasted before eating. Elsewhere they are boiled.
In Java, they are roasted, shelled, then eaten with rice. They are said
to taste like soy bean. The raw seeds are toxic and may cause intoxication.
Studies show the cooked seed to be rich in oil and proteins and easily digested
by both humans and livestock.
Coral Tree, Red Sandalwood, Saga (Malay)
Children love the hard red seeds and few can resist collecting the
brightly coloured seeds usually littered under the tree.
seeds can only germinate if they are scratched (scarified),
boiled for one minute, or dipped in sulphuric acid. This suggests
that in nature, they must be eaten and go through the digestive
system of an animal before germination. The tiny flowers are
said to smell vaguely like orange blossoms.
from Wee YC
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Spreading rounded crown, grows up to
Leaves: Compound bipinnate.
Green when young, turning yellow when old.
Flowers: Tiny, yellowish,
fragrant in dense drooping rat-tail like flower heads.
Fruits: Curved hanging green
pods that turn brown, coil up and split open as they ripen
to reveal small bright red seeds.
Status in Singapore: Common
World distribution: Native
to India and southern China, but now found throughout
Classification: Family Leguminosae.
Other uses: These attractive seeds have
been used as beads in jewellery, leis and rosaries. They were also used
in ancient India for weighing gold. The seeds are curiously similar in weight.
Four seeds make up about one gramme. In fact the name "saga" is
traced to the Arabic term for "goldsmith". In India, it is believed
that a person may have as many wishes as elephants found in a saga seed.
The ground seeds can produce an oil which was used as an industrial lubricant.
The hard, reddish wood is used to make cabinets, often in place of true
sandalwood. With exposure to light, the wood it slowly turns purplish-red.
It is also valued as firewood as it burns well. The tree resprouts new branches
easily and so is not damaged by harvesting for firewood. A red dye is obtained
from the wood and used by the Brahmins to make religious markings on their
In Malaysia and Indonesia, the trees also provided shade and were planted
as "nurse trees" in coffee, clove and rubber plantations.
Traditional medicinal uses: A red powder
made from the wood is also used as an antiseptic paste. In Ancient Indian
medicine, the ground seeds are used to treat boils and inflammations. A
decoction of the leaves is used to treat gout and rheumatism. The bark was
used to wash hair.
Role in the habitat: The Saga Seed Tree
is believed to be able to fix nitrogen and thus help rejuvenate soils.
Word: About the saga seed and with a photo of the magical wishing
saga seed with 12 elephants in it!
(exporter of Suriname's medicinal plants): with drawing of leaf and
Medicinal Herb Seeds: traditional medicinal and other uses.
Ethnobotanical Dictionary on the Laboratory of Plant Cell Genetics:
traditional medicinal and other uses.
international NFT Highlights NFTA 96-01, January 1993 A quick guide
to useful nitrogen fixing trees from around the world: detailed fact
sheet on habit, habitat, distribution, uses.
Foods compiled by Robert Freedman on the Center for New Crops &
Plant Products at Purdue University: brief description.
Net on the Singapore Science Center website: fact sheet on habit,
uses particularly as food.
- Ivan Polunin,
"Plants and Flowers of Singapore", Times Editions,
1987 (p. 122: description, habitat, distribution, photo).
- Wee Yeow Chin,
"A Guide to the Wayside Trees of Singapore", Singapore
Science Centre, 1989 (p. 35: description, habitat, photo).
- E. J. H. Corner,
"Wayside Trees of Malaya: Vol I", Malayan Nature Society,
4th ed., 1997 (p. 449-50: description, habit, distribution).