The Kadam flower grows on the tree Anthocephalus cadamba tree. This tree has been much appreciated in India since ancient times and I have encountered it several times on journeys through India both in Karnatika and Rajasthan States.
The aroma radiating from the golden globed flowers enchanted me on the first encounter and it has remain one of my favorites. Arctander describes it thus-"yellow oily liquid with a woody-floral and sweet odor with a short lived but strong minty borneol topnote. The dryout is delightfully sweet-floral reminiscent of champaca and neroli. The tenacity of the fragrance is almost incredible."
The flowers of the tree used to be distilled into sandalwood to produce the traditional attar but in recent years it has been almost impossible to come by. Fewer people are willing to go through the lengthy process for doing traditional distillation. I have tried time and again to get authentic material but was not able to do so until this year when I was able to reserve 16 ounces of Kadam Attar. It is ordered and should arrive by early July. It is the most expensive of the traditional attars at $130 an ounce but a delight for those who are intrigued by the sacred aromatic flowers of India.
I will post the prices for smaller and greater amounts than 1 ounce once it arrives.
The following extract is taken from a journal I kept regarding a visit to Rajasthan several years ago:
" Our afternoon began with a visit to the Umaid Bhavan Palace one of the largest private residences in the world. Built in the 1920's it used over 2.5 million cubic feet of marble and sandstone and contains 347 rooms. It was fun to go through but for me did not hold any of the enchantment and romance of the fort. As the temperatures had cooled down considerably Naveen suggested we visit a place which he knew had some Kadam trees. This is very important from our fragrance research viewpoint as Kadam flowers are greatly valued for the wonderful fragrance they impart to attars. Outside the city we came to a tiny village where we asked an elderly farmer if he knew how we could find the place where Naveen had heard their was Kadam trees. The farmer told us that he would be happy to guide us there himself so he got in the car and off we went on another fragrant adventure. After a few miles we left the tarred road and followed a dirt one until it ended in a small ravine at the gate of an ancient temple. Once again I felt we had entered a forgotten world where anything and everything was possible. The kind and gentle soul which had guided us to this serene spot told us that many centuries before a great sage had settled here and became absorbed in meditation. In India it is believed that nature blesses that place where meditation is being done and so, in this case, a grove of Kadam trees began to grow up around his hermitage. They became so thick that it created a canopy of foliage above the place where he was sitting. The flowers when in bloom gave off their delicious aroma from 3-6 AM the time considered most auspicious for spiritual practice. Many old Kadam trees still surrounded the temple and we wandered about in search of some that were in bloom. This is the season in which they flower but their full crop usually appears only when the monsoon rains begin. A beautiful grouping of old and gnarled trees surrounded a stone lined well and the elderly farmer told us that this was a sacred place where Sita use to do her daily ablutions when she and Rama stayed here on their way to Ayodhya from Sri Lanka. Their story is recounted in the Ramayana one of the most famous epics in India. As we walked up the ravine we found more and more Kadam trees but none seemed in bloom. We came upon a forest department nursery tucked neatly away in the ravine that served as a propagation station for neem and other trees that were known to do well in this location. Thousands of tiny saplings were growing there in the shade of mature neem and peepul trees. We asked the watchman if he knew of any Kadam trees in bloom and he directed us to spot to the side of the road upon which we had come. We were overjoyed to find several trees with both mature flowers and new buds emerging. At the time of our discovery a number of village children appeared on the scene. They were asked to collect some flowers from the higher reaches of the tree in a flash they were scrambling up the trunk and onto the limbs. Laughing and chattering merrily they nimbly collected flowers while I took pictures of them. They were delighted to render this service and we were delighted to see their absolute spontaneity, innocence and purity. Their eyes sparkled with joy and happiness and there voices were like the melodious chirping of birds. They collected a small bundle of flowers and returned to the ground with their treasure in hand. And what a treasure it was. The fragrance of Kadam is rich, mellow, and delicious. Stephen Arctander describes its fragrance as being "woody-floral and sweet odor with a short-lived, but strong minty-borneol topnote. The dryout is delightfully sweet-floral, reminiscent of champaca and neroli. The tenacity of the fragrance is almost incredible."
As we stood inhaling this intoxicating odor in the most lovely of natural surroundings, I felt such a deep gratitude and joy that I was being allowed to participate in this experience. I could not understand by what miracle I had been brought to this place, charged with a timeless innocence and purity. The ancient temple sitting in a rocky ravine, the elderly farmer who had brought us there, the children in their simplicity and sweetness, the gnarled old trees around Sita's bathing place, the peacocks perched upon rocks and trees calling in their unique voice, the fragrance of the lovely flowers, the cool breeze of evening, the sun setting in the West, all created an enchanting feeling that still lives in my heart. The beauty was so rich and deep as to be almost painful. I think there are some types of pain that are very good because it makes of think of a life that is hidden from the eye yet is very real and is part and parcel of what we really are beneath the surface of our everyday existence.
This is the Kadamba tree popularly associated with Krishna. Krishna dancing with Radha and his favorite gopis under this tree is a favorite theme of the Krishna-Radha legend and is often represented in miniature paintings. The tree is held sacred by the followers of Krishna and its flowers are offered at the temples dedicated to him in memory of his swinging from the branches and dancing under the tree with the milk-maids of Vrindivana. Krishna stole the clothes of the milk-maids while they were bathing in the river Yamuna and took them on the Kadamba tree.
We concluded our stay in this unforgettable spot with a group photograph. We placed the small bundle of flowers that had been collected in a handkerchief and took them with us. For the next three days the lovely fragrance of Kadam was to accompany us on our journey proving true Arctander's statement about its incredible tenacity. In the soft after glow of the sunset we journeyed back to town. Before we reached town the elderly farmer asked to be let down and quietly disappeared into the ancient land of which he was a part. Once again we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Navneet's home and then proceeded to the hotel to get a good rest as the next day was the beginning of our trip to Nathdwara."
From the Fragrant Harvest - Rajasthan Journals
Kadam Flower--Botanic description
Anthocephalus cadamba is a large tree with a broad crown and straight cylindrical bole. The tree: may reach a height of 45 m with trunk diameters of 100-(160) cm. The tree sometimes has small buttresses and a broad crown. The bark is gray, smooth in young trees, rough and longitudinally fissured in old trees. Leaves glossy green, opposite, simple more or less sessile to petiolate, ovate to elliptical (15-50 x 8-25 cm). Inflorescence in clusters; terminal globose heads without bracteoles, subsessile fragrant, orange or yellow flowers; Flowers bisexual, 5-merous, calyx tube funnel-shaped, corolla gamopetalous saucer-shaped with a narrow tube, the narrow lobes imbricate in bud. Stamens 5, inserted on the corolla tube, filaments short, anthers basifixed. Ovary inferior, bi-locular, sometimes 4-locular in the upper part, style exserted and a spindle-shaped stigma. Fruitlets numerous with their upper parts containing 4 hollow or solid structures. Seed trigonal or irregularly shaped. A. cadamba is closely allied to the subtribe Naucleinae (Rubiaceae) but differs from them in its placentation mode. The species is in the focus of a classification controversy based on the name of the original type specimen described by Lamarck.
from World Agroforestry
Food: The fruit and inflorescences are reportedly edible. Fodder: The fresh leaves are fed to cattle. Apiculture: The fragrant orange flowers attract pollinators. Timber: Sapwood white with a light yellow tinge becoming creamy yellow on exposure; not clearly differentiated from the heartwood. The wood has a density of 290-560 kg/cu m at 15% moisture content, a fine to medium texture; straight grain; low luster and has no characteristic odor or taste. It is easy to work with hand and machine tools, cuts cleanly, gives a very good surface and is easy to nail. However, the wood is rated as non-durable, graveyard tests in Indonesia show an average life in contact with the ground of less than 1.5 years. The timber air dries rapidly with little or no degrade. Kadamb wood is very easy to preserve using either open tank or pressure-vacuum systems. The timber is used for plywood, light construction, pulp and paper, boxes and crates, dug-out canoes, and furniture components. The wood is also used for carving in handicrafts. Kadamb yields a pulp of satisfactory brightness and performance as a handsheet. The wood can be easily impregnated with synthetic resins to increase its density and compressive strength. Kadam is becoming one of the most frequently planted trees in the tropics. Tannin or dyestuff: A yellow dye can be obtained from the root bark. Essential oil: Kadam flowers are an important raw material in the production of ‘attar’, which are Indian perfumes with sandalwood (Santalum spp.) base in which one of the essences is absorbed through hydro-distillation.
Shade or shelter: The tree is grown along avenues, roadsides and villages for shade. Reclamation: A. kadamba is suitable for reforestation programmes. Soil improver: Sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improve some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy. This reflects in increases in the level of soil organic carbon, cation exchange capacity, available plant nutrients and exchangeable bases. Ornamental: Kadam is suitable for ornamental use. Intercropping: Suitable for agroforestry practices. Other services: The tree is highly regarded religiously and culturally in India, Java and Malaysia, ‘the tree’ is sacred to the Lord Krishna. The fresh leaves are sometimes used as serviettes or plates.
from World Agroforestry
Cultural Significance of Kadam
From Many Pens...
'The Bangla month of Ashar began June 15, but only now has the rainy season truly arrived: the kadam trees have blossomed and, in the streets of Dhaka, boys are selling kadam flowers. Kadam (Anthocephalus cadamba) is traditionally believed to bring happiness and prosperity. The blooms are apricot-colored spiny balls, suitable for transportation to another galaxy, and from what we read the scent of kadam can accomplish that.
Stephen Arctander describes its fragrance as being ‘woody-floral and sweet odor with a short-lived, but strong minty-borneol topnote.' 'The dryout is delightfully sweet-floral, reminiscent of champaca and neroli,’ writes Christopher McMahon, an expert on perfume. He adds, 'The tenacity of the fragrance is almost incredible.'
Mercy, we’ve never had the pleasure.
The kadam flower marks an annual miracle in Bangladesh: 'borsha,' the monsoon season, stretching through the months of Ashar and Shrabon.
'At this time,' writes the 3rd World View, 'parched lands are inundated with almost incessant rain and crops are harvested. Borsha is the most dominating season in Bangla literature, particularly in poetry as poets feel numb (with emotions) to write verses. They consider the monsoon a season of separation from the loved one, of nostalgia and nameless longing. They often use(d) to personify Borsha as a young woman pining for her beloved.'
Kadam flowers (Anthocephalus cadamba)
In the countryside, fishermen and traders would travel on bulging waterways far from home at this time of year, leaving families behind. And, of course, flooding which the rice crop requires takes a heavy human toll. Just last year millions of people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh were left homeless. Across south Asia, 1600 people died in the monsoon floods of 2004.
Bringing relief, estrangement, prosperity, and death, the monsoon is perhaps the most dramatic season on earth. What could be its herald but a strange and powerfully fragrant flower, the kadam."
from Human Flower Project
"Kadamba (anthocephalus cadamba) is one of the sacred and mystical trees of India, often standing for wisdom and sublime love. It grows large and blossoms in the monsoon. The ball-shaped flowers have tiny white petals that point in all directions, symbolizing the infinite potential of love and wisdom. The Kadamba flower has been adopted as the symbol of iCARE's philosophy."
"Dictionary Dymock: Anthocephalus Cadamba, Rubiaceae (vol. II, pp. 169-170)
Fig.- Wild Cinchona (Eng.)
This tree is sacred to K?l? or P?rvat?, the consort of ?iva; it is the Arbor Generationis of the Maratha Kunbis, and a branch of it is brought into the house at the time of their marriage ceremonies. The tree is planted near villages and temples, and is held to be sacred. In Sanskrit it is called Kadamba or Kalamba, and has also many synonyms, such as Sisu-p?la, ’protecting children’; Hali-priya, ’dear to agriculturists,’ &c. The Kadamba blossoms at the end of the hot seasons, and its night-scented flowers, form a large, globular, lemon-colored head, from which the white clubbed stigmas project. They are compared by the Indian poets to the cheek of a maiden mantling with pleasure at the approach of her lover, and are supposed to have the power to irresistibly attracting lovers to one another. This idea is expressed in the following couplet of the Saptasatika of H?la: -”Sweet-heart, how I am bewitched by the Kadamba blossoms, all the other flowers together have not such a power. Verily Kama wields now-a-days a bow armed with the honey balls of the Kadamba.” The flowers are fabled to impregnate with honey the water, which collects in holes in the trunk of the tree. Beal, in his Catena of Buddhist scriptures from the Chinese, informs us that according to the Dirghagama Sutra, to the east of mount Sumeru rises a great king of trees called Kadamba; in girth seven yoganas, height a hundred yoganas, and in spread fifty yoganas. M. Sen?rt (Essai sur la l‚gende du Buddha) says: -”L’arbre de Bouddha sort spontan‚mnt d’un noyau de Kadamba d‚pos‚ dans le sol; en un moment, la terre se fend, une pousse paraŒt, et le g‚ant se dresse ombrageant une circonf‚rence de trois cents coud‚es. Les fruits qu’il porte troublent l’esprit des adversaires du Buddha contre lesquels les D‚vas d‚chaŒnent toutes les fureurs de la temp‚te.” (De Gubernatis.) The fruit, which is about the size of a small orange, is eaten by the natives and is considered to be tonic .
From Pandanus Database of Plants
"1613.Cadamba: kat.ampu, kat.ampam common cadamba, anthocephalus cadamba (Ta.); kat.ampu nauclea cadamba; eugenia racemosa (Ma.); kod.b sp. tree (To.); kad.amba, kad.ava, kad.aval, kad.avu, kad.aha, kad.avod.a n. cadmaba (Ka.); kad.a_mi-cet.t.u, kad.imi, (Inscr.) kad.amu id. (Te.); kan.apa ma_re id. (Ga.)(DEDR 1116). kadamba the tree nauclea cadamba (MBh.); kadambaka, kadambada, kalamba, kalambaka (Skt.); kadamba, kalambaka (Pali); kalam.ba, kayam.ba (Pkt.); kayam.bua the flower (Pkt.); kaima a partic. wild flowering tree (not n. cadamba)(Or.); kaima_ n. cadamba (H.); kem (Ma_lvi_); kal.a~b (M.); kohomba the tree azadirachta indica (Si.); kal.a~be~ mushroom (M.); cf. bhu_mi-kadamba perh. mushroom (M.)(CDIAL 2710). kadamba anthocephalus cadamba (Car. 4.20, 47, 27.114). Anthocephalus indicus = anthocephalus cadamba: kadamba (Skt.M.H.); kadam (B.); vellai-cadamba (Ta.); kadambamu (Te.); especially common in E. Ghats, Mysore and parts of Konkan (GIMP, p.7). karam dare adina cordifolia (Santali.lex.)"