Khadira, also called Acacia catechu or simply catechu, is a perennial tree known for its myriad uses and health benefits. 

Acacia seeds are considered to be a good source of protein. The extract obtained from the Acacia plant, called kattha, is an important ingredient of a paan. This plant is also used as fodder for animals.

Acacia catechu is traditionally used for the treatment of conditions like mouth sores, diarrhoea and dysentery, stomach problems and cough. It is also suggested to possess antihyperglycemic (reduces blood sugar levels) and antimicrobial properties. 

Some basic facts about khadira:

  • Botanical name: Acacia catechu, Senegalia catechu, Acacia sundra, Mimosa chundra 
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Common name: Black catechu, cutch tree, cachou, Khair, katha, Kachu, Krangali, balapatra, Kadirkasth
  • Sanskrit name: Raktasaar, Khadira 
  • Parts used: Bark, leaves, shoot
  • Geographical distribution: Khadira plant is widely distributed all over Asia. However, it is native to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand. The plant is found in mixed deciduous forests and in the hills and lower mountains. It grows well in dry areas, sandy soils and in river banks and watersheds.
  1. How to identify khadira (Acacia catechu)
  2. Khadira health benefits
  3. How to use khadira
  4. Side effects of khadira
Doctors for Khadira benefits and side effects

The name Acacia catechu comes from the Greek word Acacia, which translates to barb or point, while the word catechu comes from the word cutch, referring to a tannin extract obtained from the khadira tree. 

Khadira is a moderate-sized tree, about 9 to 15 m in height. The tree has a greyish-brown or dark-brown coloured bark and the young shoot is usually purple or brown. Leaves are compound and bipinnate (the leaflets are divided into even smaller leaflets), bearing about 30 pairs of leaflets each. The rachis or midriff is glandular - it contains secretory structures. The leaflets are oblong in shape and may or may not bear tiny hair on their surface. 

Khadira plant bears complex flowers, which are 5 to 10 cm in size and white to pale yellow to greenish-yellow in colour. The flowers have numerous long stamens coming out of them, which are white to yellow in colour. The flowers are surrounded by a bell-shaped calyx (green-coloured leaves present around the flower petals) and the petals are almost twice or thrice in length compared to the sepals (leaves in the calyx). 

Acacia catechu seed pods are thin, smooth, flat and dark brown in colour. Each pod bears about 5-10 shiny, greyish seeds.

The plant sheds all its leaves in the summer season. This happens in the month of Feb in Central Asia and new leaves along with flowers start to grow by the month of April. Between September and October, the seed pods grow and turn from green to red-green and brown. Seed pods dehisce by January. They are damaged by insects and the seeds dehisced by the wind.  

Kattha

Kattha is one of the major products obtained from the Acacia catechu plant. It is obtained by boiling the heartwood (dead wood in the center of the tree stem) chips of the catechu plant in water. 

Two kattha varieties are marketed in India. These are:

  • Pale catechu or kattha: Bitter and acrid product added to paan. Kattha is what gives the characteristic red colour to paan (chewing beetle) when mixed with lime. 
  • Dark catechu or cutch: By-product of kattha. It is used as a source of vegetable tanning material, an additive to the drilling mud used for oil drilling, for preserving fishing nets, mail bags and sailing rods. 

Kadira plant is highly sought after in traditional medicine for its myriad health benefits. The herb is known to be especially effective against sore throat and dermatological issues. Kadira has also been indicated to contain several active compounds including flavonoids, quercetin and tannins that provide this plant with medicinal and therapeutic properties. 

Here is all you need to know about Khadira's benefits.

Antioxidant properties of khadira

Several studies indicate the antioxidant effects of Acacia catechu plants. In a study done in Jabalpur, India, the ethyl acetate extracts of the seed pods of Acacia plant were found to have potent antioxidant properties, which were comparable to that of ascorbic acid (a natural antioxidant).

Both in vitro and in vivo (animal-based) studies done at the University of Delhi, India, suggest that the phenolic compounds present in Acacia catechu bark impart its strong antioxidant properties. In another study conducted in Thailand, the researchers found that the higher the phenolic content in catechu plants, the stronger is its antioxidant potential.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the heartwood of Acacia catechu plant has a very good free radical scavenging activity, comparable to that of ascorbic acid. 

Khadira for diarrhoea

Acacia catechu is traditionally used in the treatment of diarrhoea. A preclinical study conducted in Italy indicates that Acacia catechu extract reduces the spontaneous contractions of colon smooth muscles in a concentration-dependent manner. Compounds like epicatechin and catechin were suggested to be responsible for this effect and they did not affect the normal intestinal flora. 

An animal study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology indicated that regular administration of Acacia catechu extract may help manage diarrhoea.

In a study done in Lucknow, India, it was found that the methanol extract of the bark of Acacia catechu plant contains active flavonoids that impart potent antidiarrheal activity.

However, since no clinical studies have been conducted to assess the efficacy, dosage and safety of Acacia catechu plant in the management of diarrhoea, it is best to consult an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner, before taking this herb as a remedy for diarrhoea.

Read more: Home remedies for diarrhoea

Antimicrobial properties of khadira

The antimicrobial properties of khadira plant have been widely studied. An in vitro study done in India suggested that the methanol extract of this plant can inhibit the growth of a number of pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria including Salmonella typhi (the causative agent of typhoid fever), Escherichia coli (causes diarrhoea and dysentery) and Staphylococcus aureus (causes various skin infections). It was also found to be effective against the yeast Candida albicans.

In another study, the resin part of Acacia catechu plant was found to be effective against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus. As per the study, two biological compounds, namely quercetin and epicatechin, present in the extract are responsible for this effect.

Bark extract of Acacia catechu plants has also shown potent antimicrobial activity against a number of bacteria including E. coli, S. aureus, and Listeria (causes meningitis or encephalitis). 

Acacia catechu seed extract has been found to be effective against the two most common pathogenic fungus, Aspergillus (causes aspergillosis) and Candida albicans, and the heartwood extract of this plant has shown to be effective against some fungi including Mucor, Penicillium, Aspergillus and Candida

According to an article published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Research and Allied Sciences, Acacia catechu leaves contain a strong antioxidant and antimicrobial compound known as taxifolin, which is effective against a number of bacteria including Streptococcus aureus and Lactobacillus acidophilus. The study suggested that this compound may be helpful in the development of health products without using artificial antimicrobial agents.

Khadira for diabetes

Folk practitioners in Bangladesh claim that khoyer, a hard powder that is the leftover product obtained after boiling Acacia catechu wood in water and evaporating the brew, is an effective anti-diabetic. In a study done in hyperglycemic mice, it was found that the product does indeed help control blood sugar levels. The study concluded that the results validate the folk claim of khoyer as a potential anti-diabetic agent.

Another in vivo study indicated that Acacia catechu hardwood extract reduces blood glucose levels in both normal and diabetic mice. However, the authors of the study mentioned that more research is still needed to find the active compounds in the bark.

As per a recent study, the antidiabetic effects of Acacia catechu can be credited to the presence of flavonoids, terpenoids and glycosides in it. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research and Therapy, the hydroalcoholic extract of Acacia catechu seeds may be effective in reducing blood glucose levels.

In the absence of confirmatory evidence, it is best for diabetes patients to refrain from taking khadira in any form without first consulting their doctor.

Read more: What to eat and what not to eat in diabetes

Khadira for the immune system

Acacia catechu is traditionally believed to be an immunomodulator, meaning that it can modulate the immune response in the body. 

In a study done in Bangalore, India, the researchers found that this plant improves both the humoral and cell-mediated immunity. These are the two arms of the adaptive immune system, the one we develop gradually as we are exposed to infectious or harmful agents. 

Similar results were obtained in another study with a dose-dependent increment in antibody levels. 

Read more: How to improve immunity

Anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic properties of khadira

Inflammation is our body’s response to the entry or exposure to any harmful substance including pathogenic microbes and allergens. However, when uncontrolled, inflammation can be harmful and lead to conditions such as arthritis, asthma and IBS (inflammatory bowel disease). 

All parts of the Acacia plant have been indicated to have anti-inflammatory activity. In an animal study, exposure to Acacia catechu was seen to cause a reduction in the levels of pro-inflammatory (inflammation increasing) cytokines.

A study done in Tamil Nadu, India suggested that the seed extract of Acacia catechu plant possesses potent anti-inflammatory activity, which is even better than diclofenac, a drug used to treat inflammation. As per the study, the extract may be effective against rheumatoid arthritis.

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Acacia catechu prevents cartilage damage in osteoarthritis by inhibiting pro-inflammatory pathways.

Read more: Inflammatory diseases treatment

Anti-ulcer effects of khadira plant

Being an anti-inflammatory herb, Acacia catechu is traditionally used for the treatment of peptic ulcer symptoms and the oozing from these ulcers. 

A study done in Madhya Pradesh, India suggested that Acacia catechu contains flavonoids which are responsible for its antiulcer activity. 

In another study, the aqueous extract of Acacia catechu plant was found to promote antiulcer activity. 

An in vivo (conducted on rats) study indicated that Acacia catechu extract not only reduces inflammation and ulcers but also excess gastric acid secretions, one of the possible causes of peptic ulcers.

According to an article published in the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, the root extract of Acacia catechu plant possesses potent antiulcer properties, which increases with the dose of the extract.

Other health benefits of khadira plant

Apart from the ones mentioned above, here are some other benefits of khadira plant: 

  • A decoction prepared from Acacia catechu bark is traditionally used to treat mouth ulcers and sore throat. When mixed with milk, the decoction is used to treat cold and cough.
  • This herb is suggested to possess antipyretic (reduces fever) properties.
  • Acacia catechu bark is also used for the treatment of stomatitis and snake bites. It is also applied over wounds to prevent infections.
  • The plant is said to be beneficial for the management of various skin conditions, especially because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. 
  • The heartwood of Acacia plant is boiled and used to reduce post-childbirth pain in women. Read more: Normal delivery
  • Both in vivo and in vitro studies have shown that Acacia catechu has a dose-dependent hypotensive (reduces blood pressure) action. Read more: Good foods for high blood pressure

Khadira or Acacia catechu is traditionally used in various forms like a decoction, extract, gargles, mouthwash and powder. 

The dosage and administration of each form would vary depending on your age, health and other factors. It is best to talk to an Ayurvedic doctor to know the right dosage as per your needs and then take the herb as directed and prescribed.

Do not take any herb or herbal supplements on your own. Natural products are not always safe.

The following are some of the side effects of Acacia catechu plant:

  • There is no proof regarding the safety of khadira plants during pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you are expecting or are nursing a baby, it is best that you talk to your doctor before taking this herb in any form.
  • Most herbs have active compounds that tend to react with medications. Those with chronic health conditions or those taking medications for any conditions should refrain from taking this herb.
  • Acacia catechu is suggested to be an anti-hypertensive herb. Make sure to avoid it if you are about to undergo surgery. Read more: Good foods for high blood pressure and foods to avoid
Dr. Sunil Kilaniya

Dr. Sunil Kilaniya

Ayurveda
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Tanushri Yeole

Dr. Tanushri Yeole

Ayurveda

Dr. Verender Singh Chaudhary

Dr. Verender Singh Chaudhary

Ayurveda
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Ghanshyam Digrawal

Dr. Ghanshyam Digrawal

Ayurveda
6 Years of Experience

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