Chinaberry Tree

(Melia azedarach) A small tree, originally from Afghanistan and northern India, now planted as an ornamental in all warm countries. This is the lien tree in China, the leaves of which were said to frighten dragons (Hogarth). In India, it is often associated with the pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), as the symbolic female to the male of the pipal. The two are planted together in "marriage", so that the vines of the pipal can twine round the limbs of its mate (Lincoln).

The berries were often used as beads in America (La Barre), hence the name Bead Tree (Barber & Phillips), also as rosary beads (it is Paternosterbaum in German). In India, too, they make beads. During epidemics of smallpox, etc., they are hung as a charm over doors and verandahs to keep the infection out (Pandey). But on a more practical level, there are these instructions from Alabama on how to make shoe blacking: get about half a gallon of chinaberries. Cover them with warm water, boil until tender, then rub the pulp through a sieve. Put in a clean vessel, add a small lump of goat tallow and a pint of sifted soot (R B Browne). They have been used as an insecticide, and, during the American Civil War, as a source of alcohol (Hora). Another traditional American use is to put the seeds in with dry fruit, to keep the worms out, and to keep them away from turnips and other greens (R B Browne). Flies and fleas can be driven off by using the leaves, too.

The bark is used for rheumatism in Indian domestic medicine (Codrington), and in America the roots too had their medicinal value. There is a record from the southern states of a cure for scrofula involving chinaberry roots and poke-root. They were boiled together, with a piece of bluestone in the water, and then strained off. The sores had to be salved with this mixture, and then anointed with a feather dipped in pure hog lard. This would bring the sores to a head, so that the core could be pressed out (Puckett).

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