The rudraksha tree is known by the scientific name Elaeocarpus ganitrus and is also listed as Elaeocarpus sphaericus. In some places it is known as the blue olive berry. It is a native plant of India, Nepal and Indonesia. The rudraksha begins to bear fruit in three to seven years after it is planted. It is easy to grow once it is established and will last for years with little maintenance. Rudraksha thrives in areas of full sun and is drought tolerant when mature. It is also cold hardy to winter temperatures of 30 degrees F for short periods of time.
Rudraksha can reach 32 to 50 feet tall. When used as a shrub it is kept at 5 to 10 feet with pruning. This subtropical evergreen broad-leaf tree has grayish-white bark with a rough texture. Its branches grow in a natural pyramid shape. The leaves are shiny on top and dull underneath. White or cream flowers bloom during April and May, followed by deep-blue fruits.
Rudraksha is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas to Southeast Asia. It is also found in Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, Guam and Hawaii. This tree is salt tolerant so the natural habitat starts on the coast and goes up to 6,560 feet in altitude. It does not grow well in areas of abundant sand or waterlogged soils.
Medicinal uses of the rudraksha tree are reported for epileptic fits, headache, asthma, hypoglycemia, hypertension, insomnia, psychoneurosis and mental diseases. The extract of the bark contains hypoglycemic properties. The fruit extract has sedative, hypotensive, spasmolytic, anticonvulsant, choleretic, bronchodilatory and cardio-stimulant properties.
Rudraksha fruit is dried and used as prayer beads by Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. The seeds start out blue and then turn brown once dried. The seeds have a natural hole in the center. Rudraksha prayer beads have been worn by Shiva worshippers since the 11th century in India. The prayer beads are used in a similar fashion as a rosary for repetitive prayer. The beads harvested from the Himalayan region are larger and heavier than beads from other areas.
The seeds of the rudraksha tree are said to have mystical and divine properties in India. The story goes that the seeds are the tear drops of the god Shiva. They are said to contain the secrets of the cosmos and counteract the effects of evil planets.