Roots, gum and resin

Tulsi is a widely revered plant amongst Hindus. It is valued for its many medicinal uses but also has religious significance. Beads are produced from tulsi roots or woody stems and made into decorative jewellery and rosaries or malas, thought to protect the body and spirit.

Roots are not commonly used in jewellery as they are often less attractive than wood and not as durable. Other examples of root jewellery in the Collection are from vanilla (Vanilla sp.) and false tulsi (Cicer arietinum). The orris root (Iris florentina) beads, ‘issue peas’, in the Collection are not for adornment but were placed into wounds to encourage pus formation.

Gums and resins are another plant part with many practical uses. Gum is often mistaken for resin but is actually a water soluble material, whereas resins are fat soluble. Gum comes from cavities in plants and is formed differently to resins which are found in more parts of plants such as pockets and epidermal cells. Gum is formed into beads and dried to make jewellery, such as the gum necklace made from donoburroo (Combretum sp.).

Lac is often mistaken for resin but actually comes from an insect (Laccifera lacca) which feeds on plants and secretes lac or shellac. Some of the main host trees include Combretum quadranglare, Butea monosperma and Ziziphus mauritiana. Cultivated trees are often inoculated to provide lac to be refined for use in plastics, adhesives and printing as well as being formed into beads for jewellery. An edible dye which is used in food and drinks is also produced from lac. Lac is produced in countries such as India, Thailand and Vietnam amongst others, with India and Thailand being the biggest producers. It is now being used for agricultural purposes to coat urea to produce slow release fertiliser.

Artefacts

EBC 46132

46132

  • Description: Tulsi root necklaces
  • Donor: Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant-Duff
  • Geographic Area: India
EBC 43222

43222

  • Description: Lac necklace
  • Donor: Dr (later Sir) George King
  • Geographic Area: India
EBC 56700

56700

  • Description: Donoburroo gum necklace
  • Donor: Dr E Clement
  • Geographic Area: Australia
EBC 29824

29824

  • Description: Orris root 'Issue peas'
  • Donor: Walter Gardiner
  • Geographic Area: Switzerland