People in the western Ghat region of India have long used kokum as both spice and medicine. Recent research suggests that it may have potential as an appetite suppressant, as a protector of brain health and as a cancer preventative. But this laboratory research needs to be followed up with clinical studies in humans to confirm its usefulness.
The Kokum Plant
Kokum, whose botanical name is Garcinia indica, is an ornamental fruit tree native to India. Its tiny fruit turns from red to deep purple as it ripens, and is harvested and dried in the spring. The dried rind of the fruit, used as a culinary and medicinal agent, is almost black tinged with purple, has gnarly edges and is slightly sticky, according to “Healing Spices.” It has a somewhat sour taste but a faint, slightly sweet aroma.
Kokum in Ayurveda
Ayurvedic physicians have long used kokum to treat sores, prevent infection, improve digestion, alleviate diarrhea and constipation, lessen arthritis pain, cure ear infections and heal stomach ulcers, states “Healing Spices.”
Kokum’s major active ingredient is garcinol, a substance that has antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It seems able to kill the H. pylori bacteria that cause ulcers, promote brain health by aiding the growth of neurons while stopping damage from substances that can oxidize them, and suppress production of reactive oxygen species which play a role in cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also contains hydroxycitric acid or HCA, an appetite suppressant, reports “Healing Spices.” Kokum butter, an emollient similar to shea or cocoa butter, is often used in cosmetics such as lipsticks, moisturizing creams, conditioners and soaps.
Researchers at the Institute of Science and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, India, have shown that kokum’s antioxidant activities are stronger than those of many other spices, fruits and vegetables. Their research, which involved rats, was published in “Current Science.” Researchers from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and the Patil University of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research in Pune, India, published an article in the “Journal of Hematology & Oncology” suggesting that kokum could be a useful anticancer agent. However, research in humans is still needed.
- “Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease”; Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D., and Debora Yost; 2011
- “Current Science”; Antioxidant activity of Garcinia indica (kokam) and its syrup”; Akankala Mishra, Mrninal M. Bapat, Jai C. Tilak and Thomas P.A. Devasagayam; July 10, 2006
- “Journal of Hematology & Oncology”; Emerging role of Garcinol, the antioxidant chalcone from Garcinia indica Choisy and its synthetic analogs; Subhash Padhye, Aamir Ahmad, Nikhil Oswal and Fazlul H. Sarkar; September 2, 2009
Barbara Perrin has written for publishers in medical and social sciences since 1980, reported on consumer behavior and is managing editor of the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in art/communications from Hunter College, a Master of Arts in anthropology from Goddard College and a Post-Masters Certificate in gerontology from the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging and Longevity.