Bread of the Sahara
The date palm has an age-old association with the oldest human civilisation of the world: the Mesopotamian. Excavated from the Egyptian pyramids, dates are intimately related to the history of a geographical area spreading from North Africa to South Asia, including Greece, Palestine and Rome.
Iraq is the main centre of date production in the world. Dates are not cultivated commercially in India though there is considerable scope for cultivation.
Like bananas or coconut trees, date palms find a variety of uses: the leaves for thatching and making baskets, fans, mats and ropes; the left-over leaves and fruit stalks as organic manure; branches of fruit stalks as broom-sticks; the petioles for making durable walking sticks, fishing boats etc.
The edible matter of the palm is loaded with nutrients: carotene as vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, nicotinic acid, vitamin C, tannin, pectin, sorbitol, galacturonic acid, invertase, peroxidase etc. Dates are also rich in sugars (85% of total solids). Brandy of good quality is prepared from dates apart from delicious jams and preserves. In North Africa, the date palm is tapped for its sugary sap, which is used for preparing jaggery, sugar and the fermented liquor (toddy).
Dates are demulcent, expectorant and laxative. They are used in respiratory diseases and fevers. In Yemen, they are used as a cure for memory disturbances.