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Wild Edible Plants of Uttarakhand Himalayas: Introduction and Health benefits

Wild edible plants have traditionally occupied an important position in socio-cultural spiritual and health arena of rural and tribal lives of India. India has one of the oldest, richest and most diverse cultural traditions associated with the use of medicinal plants in the form of a traditional system of medicine.

The diversity in wild plant species offers a variety of family diet and contributes to household food security. Today, most human plant food is based on rather limited number of crops, but it is clearly that in many parts of the world the use of wild plant is not negligible. Sometimes the nutritional value of wild plant is higher than several known common vegetables and fruits. Uttarakhand state is characterized by a rich diversity of ethnomedicinal plant as well as a rich heritage of wild edible plant system. Arora and Anjula (1996) reported the edible plant species of Uttarakhand, it is 97 in numbers including cereals and pseudocereals (08 crops), Millets and minor millets (06 crops), oilseeds (11 crops), Vegetables (28 crops), spices and condiments (10 crops) and fruits (19 crops) whereas in case of wild edible species, there are 94 plant species including wild edible fruit (67) and wild edible vegetables (27), respectively.

List of wild edible plants of Uttarakhand Himalayas

  • Robus elliptica (Hisalu/Hinsar)

  • Ficus auriculata Lour. (Timla)

  • Berberis asiatica D.C. (Kilmora)

  • Diplazium esculentum Retz. (Lingura)

  • Rhodoendron arboretum smith (Buransh)

  • Pyrus pashia Linn (Mehal)

  • Myrica ensculata sny. (Kaifal)

  • Prunus armeniaca L. (Wild apricot)

  • Embifilia officinalis (wild aonla) Wild Himalayan Strain

  • Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb. (Ghain)

  • Punica sp.( Daru)

  • Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L., Elaeagnaceae)

 

1. Rubus ellipticus (Hisalu)

Rubus ellipticus also known as Hisalu/Hinsar as well as yellow Himalayan raspberry belongs to family Rosaceous which is native to tropical and subtropical India. It is a weedy raspberry. The golden Himalayan raspberry has also been studied for potential antioxidants in its fruits. The golden Himalayan raspberry is a large shrub with stout stems that can grow to up to 4.5 meters, or about 12 feet long. Its leaves are trifoliate, elliptic, or obovate and toothed with long bristles. Its leaves can grow to up to 5 to 10 centimeters long, or about 3 - 4 inches. Its flowers are short, white, and have five petals and grow in clusters, and blooms in the Himalayas between the months of February and April. Its fruit are sweet, detachable, and highly sought after by birds and elephants. Rubus ellipticus is sweet to the taste, though it is not commonly harvested for domestic use. The fruit perishes quickly after plucking from the thorny bush. The fruit is edible medicinally have astringent, febrifuge, Kidney, miscellany, stomachic properties. The juice of the fruit is used in the treatment of fever, colic coughs and rore throat. The inner bark is used in Tibetan medicine, it is said to have sweet and sour flavor plus a heating potency. A renel tonic and antidiurectic, it is used in the treatment of weakening of senses, vaginal/seminal discharge, polyuria and mictuation during sleep. The bark from this plant is used for medical reasons in Tibetan villages, mainly as a renal tonic and an antidiuretic. Its juices can also be used to treat coughs, fevers, colic and sore throat. The plant can also be used to make a bluish-purple dye. Nepal farmers have had limited success in harvesting and fermenting the hisalu fruit to produce a fruit wine. In Sikkim, its roots are used to treat stomach pain and headaches, and its fruits are used to treat indigestion.

2. Ficus auriculata (Timul) (Moraceae)

It belongs to family Moraceae. It is commonly known as Timul. Fruits are eaten raw and cooked as a vegetable.

The plant: A low spreading tree, 10-30 ft. high with large ovate or ovate- rotund leaves and conspicuous bunches of large-sized (21/2 in diam.) fruits borne on the trunk and leafless branches. The fruits which are gusset brown or purplish in color are borne in great profusion and are edible, though somewhat insipid.

Properties and uses: They are made into curries or jam. The bark yields a coarse fibre. The leaves of the tree are lopped for fodder in Assam, Bengal and U.P. The Leave and fruit parts of Ficus auriculatais reported to have antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities.  Preliminary phytochemical screening of the plant leaf extract revealed the presence of  alkaloids,  glycosides,  flavonoids,  terpenoids, tannins and reducing sugar but saponin was found absent in the leaf of  Ficus auriculata.

3. Berberis asiaticaC (Kilmora) V. (Berberidaceae)

It belongs to family Berberidaceae. It is commonly known as Kilmora.

Distribution: Commonly occurring in the Himalayas from Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh at 600-2,700 m eastwards to Bhutan and Assam at 1,500-1,800 m and on Parasnath hills in Bihar, Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh and Mount Abu in Rajasthan.

The plant: It is a pretty shrub 1.8 to 2.4 m in height, armed with trifid spines, oblong-ovate or obovate, acute, mucronate, long-petioled leaves with aristato- dendate margin, yellow flowers in umbellate racemes and oblong-ovoid edible berries. It is also grown in hedges. The alkaloids present in the plant are: Berberine and Palmatine are present as chlorides.

Properties and uses: The fresh roots are used for curing diabetes and. The total alkaloid content in the roots is four percent and in the stems, 1.95%, of which berberine forms 2.09 and 1.29%, respectively. The stems are recommended in rheumatism. The roots are reported to possess anti-cancer activity. The berries are mildly laxative and are given to children.

4. Diplazium esculentum (Lingura) (Dryopteridaceae)

It belongs to family Dryopteridaceae. It is commonly known as Lingua.

Distribution: Throughout the Uttarakhand Himalayas

The plant: Boiled fronds are cut and fried in cooking oil with spices such as seeds of Cleome viscosa L. The rhizomes are kept in the granaries to check them from insect and pests. Young fronds are used as green vegetables and also used as a salad or cooked as vegetables.

5. Rhododendron arboreum (Burash) (Ericaceae)

 It belongs to family Ericaceae. It is commonly known as Burash.

Distribution: Temperate Himalayas from Kashmir to Bhutan, 4,000-11,000 ft., Khasia Hills, 4,000-6,000 ft., Nilgiris Pulneys, Travancore, above 5,000 ft. An evergreen, much- branched tree, up to 14 m in height and 2.4 m in girth, found in the Himalayas from Kashmir to Bhutan and in the hills of Assam and Manipur at altitudes of 1,200-4,000 m.

The plant: Green leaves are reported to contain a glucoside, ericolin (arbutin, C12H16O7). Flowers, sourish-sweet in taste, are eaten; the sub-acidic jelly or preserve is made from the petals. They are also used in diarrhea and dysentery. The pigments present in the flowers are cyaniding-3-galactoside and cyaniding-3-arabinoside. R. arboreum thrives best on moist loam without lime but can also grow on the rocky ground, provided there is sufficient soil- moisture. It is common in the Western Himalayas. The capsules open and shed their seeds chiefly during Jan- March in Western Himalayas.

Properties and uses: An evergreen, much-branched tree, upto 14 m. in height and 2.4 m. in girth. Flowers are eaten raw or made into juice to cure stomach diseases.

6. Pyrus pashia Lin (Mehal)

Pyrus pashia, the wild Himalayan pear, is a small to medium size deciduous tree of the small and oval shaped crown with ovate, finely toothed leaves, attractive white flowers with red anthers and small pear-like fruits. It is a fruit-bearing tree that is native to southern Asia. Locally, it is known by many names such as batangi (Urdu), tangi (Kashmiri), mahal mol (Hindi) and passi (Nepal).

Flowers

Flowers of Pyrus pashia, 2 to 5 cm in diameter, are of a white color that is slightly tinged with pink. They are pedicellate, ebracteate, actinomorphic, cyclic, hermaphrodite, and epigynous. Flowers borne on spurs and each spur usually bear 3 to 11 flowers. Each flower has 5 sepals and 5 petals along with 15 to 20 red colored stamens that are slightly shorter than petals. They have an inferior ovary with 3 to 5 loculed and each locule contains 2 ovules.

Fruit

Pyrus pashia is a fruit-bearing tree. Its fruit is edible and characterized as being pome. It looks like the russet apple and has an astringent but sweet taste when ripe. The early fruit is mostly of light green color but at maturity, its color turns blackish brown with numerous yellow and white dots on its skin surface. The shape of the fruit is often described as oblate, ovoid, obovoid, oval or quince. On average the fruit diameter ranges from 1 to 4 cm and the height ranges from 2 to 5 cm. Fruit of Pyrus pashia is best to eat when it is slightly decaying. It is set apart from the cultivated pears by having a grittier texture. Furthermore, the fully ripe fruit has a reasonable flavor and, when bletted, is sweet and very pleasant to eat. It requires May to December time period to mature. A mature tree yields about 45 kg of fruit per year. However, it is rarely found in local, national and international markets as it is not a major cultivated tree and also the fruit are very soft and highly perishable at maturity.

Nutrition

The nutritive contents of fruit are about 6.8% sugars, 3.7% protein, 1% ash, 0.4% pectin. It also contains a low content of Vitamin C, about 1.2 mg per 100g. The percentage contents of some of the mineral elements in the fruit are phosphorus, 0.026 percent, potassium, 0.475 percent, calcium, 0.061 percent, magnesium, 0.027 percent, and iron, 0.006 percent.

Medicinal

Locals use the juice of the ripped fruit to treat conjunctivitis by putting it in the eye of the diseased animal.  They also use this juice, about 6 teaspoons twice a day, to treat diarrhea.

7. Myricaensculata Sny.Myrica Negiis (Kaiphal)

It is a medium to large woody,  evergreen,  dioecious, subtropical tree belonging to family Myricaceae.  Commonly known as box berry or by berry in English, Kaifal in Hindi, Katphal in Sanskrit, Kaithal in Urdu is an important medicinal tree distributed in India, Nepal, China, Pakistan and  Malaya  Islands.  In  India, Myricaensculata is found in Arunachala  Pradesh,  Meghalaya,  Nagaland,  Manipur,  Mizoram.  Khasia,  Synlet,  Himachal  Pradesh,  Jaintia,  Shimla,  Bengal, Naga, and Lushai hills. The tree yields a drupaceous fruit which is one of the tastiest wild fruits of the sub-Himalayan region.  This fruit tree carries a lot of commercial importance and every year its fruits worth thousands of rupees are sold. These fruits are very much liked by all.

Traditional uses: In Ayurveda and Yunani system of medicines, this tree is utilized for its bark, flowers, fruits, and roots. In Ayurvedic system of medicine, the bark is quoted as acrid, bitter, pungent, and heating and finds its application in reducing inflammations. This tree is also utilized for its applications such as acting as a great remedy in anemia, asthma, bronchitis, cough, chronic dysentery, fever, liver complaints, nasal catarrh, piles, sores, throat complaints,  tumors,  ulcers, urinary discharges.  However, Ayurvedic Samhita mentions Myricaesculentato be harmful to the liver and spleen. In contrary to this, oil extracted from the flowers acts as a tonic and has been used usefully in earache, headache, diarrhea, and paralysis. Fruit constituents exhibit healing properties in case of different ulcers; it also finds application in retention of the placenta and bone fracture. In the present drug manufacturing industry, there is a constant rising demand for herbal drugs. Due to the high medicinal values, the leaves and bark of this medicinally important tree are imported and exported. Fruits are utilized in food industries in the Himalayas in different forms like syrups, jam, and squash. India, utilize the tree as timber, for fuelwood and as a wild edible fruit in their diet. Even the yellow color extracted from the bark is used as a Medicinal colorant. Traditionally, it was found that the bark of the tree has been used as a fish poison.

8. Wild apricot (Prunus armeniaca) (Chulu)

Wild apricot (Prunus armeniaca L.) is one of the most important fruits of mid hills and dry temperate regions of the country. In India wild-growing relatives of apricot are also known as chulu, chulli, sahara and zardalu in the local dialect found in different regions of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir states. The fruit pulp of apricot is an excellent source of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Dried fruits are particularly high in calcium and iron. Sugar content ranges from 5-35 percent solids, with the drying cultivators of Central Asia at the high end of the range and wild apricots at the lower end of the range. The major constituents of apricot fruit pulp include fiber, sugars, organic acids, carotene, niacin, minerals particularly Potassium, Sodium, Calcium, Magnesium and Iron. Besides this, the apricot stones contain 22-23 percent kernels which may be sweet or bitter depending on the type. The bitter kernels contain 40-50 percent of oil and are used for the extraction of oils. The oil of bitter kernels of apricot obtained after refining was light pale yellow in color and contained the fatty acid composition consisting of myristic acid 1.1 percent, palmitic acid 3.5 percent, stearic acid 2.0 percent and linoleic acid 20.0 percent.

9. Wild Himalayan Amla (Emblica Officinalis)

Amla is a fruit of Indian origin and grows mostly in tropical parts. It is cultivated for its fruits, which have very high vitamin C content. This ranges between 1100 and 1700 mg per 100g. No other fruit except the Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra L.) is known to have so many vitamins C. The amla fruits are always in great demand. A wild amla is a form of the superior cultivated amla. It grows wild, mostly in the forests, in the mid-hill regions of the Himalayas which have a sub temperate climate. The cultivated amla cannot be grown in all places as it is highly susceptible to frost. The Himalayan wild amla, on the other hand, is a relatively cold-hardy plant.

Some of the places where it is seen growing even experience light snowfall. This wild fruit can, therefore, be used for extending the cultivation of the tropical amla even to subtemperate regions.

The Himalayan wild amla is a small to medium-sized tree attaining a height up to 5.5m. This is a very ornamental plant, especially when the branches are laden with fruits. The fruits are 2 to 2.5 cm in diameter and weigh about 6g each. There is, however, considerable variation in the fruit size of different trees and it is possible to select clones with relatively larger fruits. The fruits of the cultivated amla are larger in size, but except for the size, there is no other difference between the fruits of the Himalayan wild amla and the cultivated amla of the Indian plains.

The wild Himalayan amla can be propagated by seed. Asexual propagation is carried out by inarching. As this wild fruit tree is very ornamental, it is also ideally suited for planting as an avenue tree.

10. Ghain (Elaeagnus umbellata)

This is a deciduous shrub growing wild in the forests at altitudes ranging between 1200 and 2100m. It attains a height up to 3.5m. The young shoots and branches of this wild plant are clothed with white scales, imparting a very attractive silvery appearance. These scales, however, disappear later with the commencement of the rains.

The ghain bears small pink fruits which are very good to eat. The fruits are offered for sale at many places. These measures 3-9 mm in length and about 5 mm in diameter. They start ripening from the middle of July and continue to do so till the middle of August. Each fruit weighs around 135 mg. The fruits of grain are a fine blend of sweet and sour and have a very good taste. Their TSS content is 14.5%. They contain 8.3% sugars and 1.5% acid. This fruit is very rich in protein, containing 4.47% of it.

This plant can be multiplied by seed. The shrub of gain is quite attractive. It is thorny too. It can therefore also be utilized for planting as a protective hedge around fields or gardens.

11. Daru (Punica)

This is a kind of pomegranate which grows wild in very large numbers in the forests and wastelands throughout the mid-Himalayan region. Sharma, after a detailed comparison of this wild plant with the cultivated pomegranate, is of the view that this wild fruit should be designated as a separate species of the genus Punica. As the acid content of the fleshy seeds of wild pomegranate is quite high (5.5%), these taste sour even though they also contain 10.1 % sugars. The juice also contains 36 mg of vitamin C per 100 ml.

The fruits of Daru are not consumed fresh like the cultivated pomegranate due to the excessive acid content. The fleshy seeds are taken out and then dried in the sun. The finished product is called anardana (anar (Hindi)=pomegranate, dana=grain). It is used in a number of ways as a souring agent for various food preparations throughout India.

Every household buys a quantity of anardana during the season for meeting its annual requirements. It is reported to have a cooling effect on the body and a mixture of anardana, sugar and aniseed (Pimpinella anisium L.), ground together, is prescribed to those who lose appetite after long fevers or after taking a large dose of allopathic medicines, particularly the antibiotics.

The rind of daru yields a fast yellow dye, which is used for dyeing cloth and also for making hair dye. The rind is also used in the tanning of leather. The rind of this wild fruit is also a commercial commodity and traded like anardana.

Daru is a deciduous tree attaining a height up to 10m depending upon the soil. The new spring growth is pigmented, and the trees look quite ornamental due to this during the spring. The flowers start appearing after about four weeks and are also very attractive. The fruits of daru are about 80 grams each and are thus much smaller than the cultivated pomegranate. There, however, exists a large variation in fruit size and quality among the wild plants which offers scope for the selection of superior clones.

New plants of daru can be raised by seed as well as by cuttings. This is a very hardy plant and can grow even on very poor soils. Daru trees can also be planted on wastelands for afforestation. This plant can also act as a very good avenue tree because of the pigmented foliage in the early growing season and a long blooming season of attractive flowers.

12. Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides, Elaeagnaceae)

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L., Elaeagnaceae) is a hardy, deciduous, dioecious, and usually spinescent shrub. Sea buckthorn (Hippophae) is a unique medicinal and It is a medium-sized or small deciduous tree or large shrub with 2.5 – 6 m in height. The main trunk has a thick and rough bark. The young branches are smooth, grey and light ash colored with needle-shaped thorns. Sea buckthorn develops an extensive root system rapidly, and is, therefore, an ideal plant for soil erosion control, land reclamation because of its ability to fix nitrogen and conserve other essential nutrients, wildlife habitat enhancement, and farm stand protection. The wide distribution of sea buckthorn is showing its habit-related variation in berry related characters such as fresh weight, chemical and sensory attributes. The plant yields various important products such as leaves, oil, juices etc with tremendous medicinal and pharmacological applications.

Sea buckthorn is mentioned in the writings of ancient Greek scholars such as Theophrastus and Dioscorides. Sea buckthorn was known as a remedy for horses, and leaves and young branches were added to fodder, to induce rapid weight gain and a shiny coat, and in fact, the generic name Hippophae means shining horse. There are reports of antidiabetic and antioxidant activity of seabuckthorn based on free radical scavenging activity, inhibition of lipid peroxidation and -cells resulting in decreased blood glucosebprotection of levels. The leaves of the plant have antioxidant and antidiabetic properties. As a relatively new cultivated crop, some important characteristics which need improvement in the future are yield, fruit size, thornlessness, fruit quality, and early maturity. Knowledge of mechanical harvesting, and crop management techniques including soil fertility, cultivation techniques, pruning, and pest, disease, and weed controls, and nitrogen-fixing ability are also needed urgently.

Postharvest Handling and Storage

Sea buckthorn berries when overripe carry a strong musky odour with rancid taste, detectable even in the field. Washing may reduce or change the odour. To avoid this problem, berries must be harvested at the correct stage, quickly transported to the processing plant, and be cooled immediately to temperatures around 4° to 6°C to retard growth of microorganisms. If the berries are to be stored more than a few days, they should be frozen, preferably by individual quick freezing techniques. The berries are thawed and processed to products as required on demand. Juice extracted by pressing or centrifugal techniques must be stored under refrigeration and requires pasteurization and freezing for long term storage. Alternatively fruit may be processed into pasteurized or sterilized finished products and stored in that form at room temperature. The shelf life even of sterilized product is limited but improved in refrigerated storage.

Conclusion

Wild edible plants play an important role in food supplements during scarcity for local inhabitants. Research says that many wild edible species of Himalayan region have various medicinal and neutraceutical properties. Neutraceuticals are currently receiving recognition as being beneficial in coronary heart diseases, obesity, diabetes, cancer etc. There is immense scope for the consumption and value addition of these crops. Industrialist and Scientist should focus on research and developments related to these crops for the benefit of Society.

 

By -- Kirti Kumari1 and Arwind Bijalwan2
1Subject Matter Specialist (Food Tech.)

2Associate Professor, College of Forestry
Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Ranichauri, Tehri Garhwal, 249199
VCSG Uttarakhand University of Horticulture and Forestry, Bharsar
Email: kumarikirti95@gmail.com


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