Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge
Vol 6(1)-January 2007 -pp 239-243

Prioritization of cultivated and wild edibles by local people in the Uttaranchal hills of Indian Himalaya

Chandra Prakash Kala

National Medicinal Plants Board, Chandralok Building, 36 Janpath, New Delhi 110001
Email:cpkala@yahoo.co.uk

Received 25 May 2006; revised 10 October 2006

The paper deals with the preferences of local communities on the cultivated and wild edible plant species in an Indian Himalayan state, Uttaranchal. The state is comprised of 13 districts, which have 5 major tribal communities (i.e. Bhotiya, Jaunsari, Boksha, Tharu and Raji). The preferences of local people on the cultivated and wild edible plant species varied across the different localities. A total 23 cultivated food crop species and 15 wild edible fruit species were prioritized as the most preferred species by the local people in the study area. Of the prioritized food crops, Triticum aestivum, Oriza sativa, Eluesine coracana, Hordium vulgare and Brassica campestris were common preferences of local people, whereas of the wild edible fruits Myrica esculenta, Berberis asiatica, Rubus ellipticus and Ficus auriculata were the common preferences of local people in Uttaranchal. The preferences for different food plants by the local people are further discussed in the changing socio-cultural and socio-economic context.

Key Words: Wild edible plants, Uttaranchal, Bhotiya, Jaunsari, Boksha, Tharu Raji

IPC Int. Cl.8: A61K36/00, A01G1/00, A01G17/00, A47G19/00, A23L1/00, A23L1/06, A23L2/02


People living in the rural areas of the Himalaya utilize a variety of biological resources for livelihoods. Animal husbandry and marginal agriculture are the major source of their economy1,2. Besides, they have distributed their production risks across the various subsistence activities such as pastoralism, handicraft, collection and sale of wild edibles and medicinal plants because of irregular agricultural practices and low agricultural yields2-4. In order to check the over-exploitation of useful plant species, they worship many ethnobotanically important species and their immediate environment. The geographical isolation has preserved the indigenous practices and knowledge of the Himalayan people related to their immediate environment, agricultural systems and use of forest resources5-6. Since cultivated and wild edibles are integrated into the culture of local people, these edible species reflect the history of such people, their traditions and the ecological and social systems7-8. The indigenous agricultural system in the Himalaya sustains a great diversity of crops and cultivars; of these many species are little known to the lowland societies9. Shifting cultivation in the eastern Himalaya (locally called as jhum) and sedentary cultivation in the western Himalaya such as baranaja are the two major agricultural practices of traditional mixed cropping systems in the Indian Himalaya. Within Uttaranchal state of Indian Himalaya, more than 100 varieties of paddy and 170 varieties of kidney beans along with many varieties of wheat, barley and pulses are known to cultivate in the baranaja system of agricultural practice10. Of 675 edibles known in the Indian Himalaya, more than 340 wild edibles have been reported exclusively in Uttaranchal state11. Despite such a rich diversity of wild edibles and agricultural crops, meager information exists on the indigenous use patterns and socio-economic status of these valuable resources12-17. Historically, the wild edibles and indigenous crops have constituted a sustainable source for subsistence in most indigenous communities. However, at present, the use of these plant species has reduced considerably resulting in the impoverished diets of local people8.  

 Although, the Himalaya sustains a great diversity of valuable natural resources, the local people may have preferences over the use and importance of both crops and wild edibles. This aspect is utmost significance and interest on account of the local people’s knowledge and preferences over plant use. Unfortunately, there is no study exists on this important aspect of ethnobiology in Uttaranchal hills of Indian Himalaya. The preferred plant species, especially the wild edibles and indigenous crops, if documented properly, might be developed as a vital source of income generation as well as nutritional requirements. Realizing the significance of local people’s traditional knowledge on the varieties of wild edibles and cultivated crops, the study was carried out in the hilly villages of Uttaranchal state. Attempts were made to quantify the preferences of local people on important species of wild edibles and cultivated crops.

 

 Uttaranchal state is well known for its rich biotic wealth and cultural mosaic of diverse nature. The state is comprised of 13 districts and lies between 28° 43¢ to 31° 8¢ N and 77° 35’ to 81° 2¢ E. Uttaranchal is bounded by Himachal Pradesh to the Northwest, by Tibet to the North, by Nepal to the East, and by Uttar Pradesh to the South (Fig. 1). The average rainfall recorded in the state is 1 to 2 cm per year. Elevation ranges from 210 m to 7,817 m over the total area of 53,485 km2. Uttaranchal covers about 12.18% of the total Indian Himalaya, and 40% of its total area falls under different forest types, some of the major vegetation types classified along the altitudinal gradient are tropical, sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine. Uttaranchal is inhabited by a population of 8479562 people, of which 78% fall under rural category18. The male female ratio in the state has increased from 936 to 964 during 1991-2001. About 20% of the state population has been classified into the categories Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes. The state has 5 major Schedule Tribe communities such as Bhotiya, Jaunsari, Boksha, Tharu and Raji. Uttaranchal is known as a Devbhumi or the land of Gods because it possesses several sacred shrines and places such as Panch Kedar, Panch Badri and Panch Prayag. Several sacred rivers originate from the lofty snow clad mountain peaks of the state, which include the Ganga, Gori-Ganga, Kali-Ganga, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi.

 Due to the geographical diversity and inaccessibility, a well-known feature of the mountainous region, Uttaranchal has remained isolated from rest of the agricultural plains of northern India, and thus, it has preserved some of the old practices, traditions and ethnic norms of various resource use patterns4,19. About 90% area of the state is hilly. Of the major tribal communities Bhotiya, Raji and Jaunsari are inhabited in the hills of Uttaranchal. Pithoragarh district obtains highest population of two major tribal communities (Bhotiya and Raji) and Chamoli district obtains Bhotiya tribal community (Table1). The literacy rate is highest in the Pauri district of Uttaranchal.

 

Methodology

 Three hill districts of Uttaranchal state, Pithoragarh, Chamoli and Pauri were studied for informant-based evaluation of cultivated and wild edibles considering that mountain people occupy a great deal of traditional knowledge on the various edible species. The local people cultivate various crop species in the hilly terrain and also gather variety of edible fruits from the wild. Structured questionnaire surveys were conducted in the villages of all three hill districts of Uttaranchal during 2004-2005. Since the local people speak Hindi, the questionnaire was developed in Hindi. Ten villages in each district were approached and minimum 10 households in each village were surveyed. An attempt was made to interview the male or female head of household surveyed, and in case of their absence the elder person of the family was interviewed. The other members of the household were often present during the interview to clarify the points made by the main respondent.

 Each respondent was asked to select and prioritize 5 important crop species and 5 important wild edible fruit species. The prioritization of species was based on the individual interpretation of each respondent. In this approach, the informants themselves had valued the importance of edible plant species. In order to verify the identity of plant species mentioned by the respondents, field visits were undertaken with the respondent and in his inability other person of his family and village. The collected plant specimens were again verified from the respondents who had mentioned the species as a preferred one. The herbarium specimen of each collected species was prepared and deposited in the Herbaria of HNB Garhwal University, Uttaranchal. The collected information was analyzed for the frequency of importance.

 

Results

 The preferences of local people on the importance of various cultivated and wild edibles varied across the various edible species and districts of Uttaranchal surveyed during the present investigations. A total of 23 important cultivated food crop species were selected by the local people of Uttaranchal, of these 14 species were selected by the local people of Chamoli, and 13 species each by the local people of Pauri and Pithoragarh districts. Five species such as Triticum aestivum, Oriza sativa, Eleusine coracana, Hordeum vulgare and Brassica campestris were common preferences of the local people in all three districts. All these 5 species were given the high preferences by the local people. Triticum aestivum was the most preferred food species for all respondents in all three districts, whereas the second most preferred species was different for different districts. Of the total cultivated food plants, 4 were exclusively preferred by the local people of Pithoragarh, 2 by Pauri and one species by the local people of Chamoli (Table 2). Among the wild edible fruit species, 15 species were selected as most preferred species by the respondents. Of these, 8 species were preferred by the local people of Pithoragarh and 11 species each by the local people of Pauri and Chamoli. Four wild edible fruit species, such as Myrica esculenta, Berberis asiatica, Rubus ellipticus and Ficus auriculata were common preferences of the local people in all three districts of Uttaranchal. However, there were differences over the degree of species preference across the districts surveyed. Myrica esculenta was the most preferred wild edible in Chamoli, Pyrus vestita in Pithoragarh and Ziziphus mauritiana in Pauri district. Of the total wild edibles assessed as preferred during the survey, Pyrus vestita and Pyracantha crenulata were selected exclusively by the local people of Pithoragarh(Table 3).

 

Discussion

 Traditionally, the local people of Uttaranchal had occupied and maintained a rich diversity of agricultural food crops and wild edibles, however, due to changing socioeconomic conditions all the known species of crops and wild edibles are not in use. Many of the cultivated food crops are either not cultivated or cultivated by a few farmers in some remote areas with limited areas. Elusine coracana, Panicum miliaceum and Echinochloa frumentacea were some of the important crops once cultivated throughout in the hilly villages of Uttaranchal, but at present, these crops have vanished from many villages. In spite of the severe decline in these crops, the local people have prioritized them as highly preferred species. Shrinking hill agricultural systems and scarcity of traditional food crops have made the local people to eat the exotic foods. This way they are getting less diversity in their seasonal and daily meals round the year. Studies conducted elsewhere have reported the similar observations on the declining trends in consuming wild edibles7,8. These studies have also found that the local people know significantly more edibles that they consume. 

 Elusine coracana is still preferred by most of the respondents in all studied districts because of its high nutritional values. Earlier, the local people used to prepare many dishes of Elusine coracana including Chapati and Halwa. The dishes prepared by Elusine coracana were easy to cook and consumed less time and firewood in cooking. Moreover, Elusine coracana was also recommended by the traditional herbal healers in curing pneumonia and skin diseases20. Macrotyloma uniflorum was one of the important pulses, which was reported to be used in curing curing kidney stones. Apart from the regular use of Brassica campestris and Sesamum orientale in food, the oil extracted from the seeds of these two species were used in curing muscular pain, bodyache and frost bite. The multiple uses of these species are one of the major causes of local people’s concern and that’s why they still give high preference to these species in spite of their low production.

 Among the wild edibles, Myrica esculenta, Berberis asiatica and Rubus ellipticus were the most preferred fruit species. All three species were also used in curing various ailments. However, they were mostly consumed as seasonal fruits and thus these fruits change the taste and provide additional nutritional supply in order to maintain the good health. Some of the wild edibles have limited distribution range however their high preference has introduced the market of such wild edibles. Earlier, persons who could not collect and possessed such wild edibles in their village surroundings were offered some paddy, wheat or pulse in exchange. At present, the money oriented economic system has replaced
the  traditional  system  of   bartering.   Since   Myrica

Table 1¾Characteristics of the districts studied in the Uttaranchal state of India

 

 

 

 

Salient features

Pauri

Chamoli

Pithoragarh

 

 

 

 

Total population

697078

370359

462289

Rural

607203

319656

402456

Urban

89875

50703

59833

Schedule caste

106653

67539

106449

Schedule tribe

1594

10484

10279

Bhotia

214

10192

18647

Boksha

1202

7

7

Tharu

7

9

39

Jaunsari

83

21

7

Raji

17

0

364

Altitudinal range (study villages)

700-1800 m

1500-2500 m

1800-3000 m

Major vegetation type

Sub-tropical, temperate

Sub-tropical, temperate, alpine

Temperate, alpine

Major forest type

Sal forest, Sal-mixed forest, Pine forest, Pine-Oak forest, Oak forest

Pine forest, Pine-Oak forest, Oak forest

Pine forest, Pine-Oak forest, Oak forest

 

 

 

 

Population data source: Census of India, 2001

 

 

Table 2¾Preferences of cultivated species of three hill districts in Uttaranchal

 

 

 

Plant name(s) and local names of agricultural plant species

Preferences of local people (in %)

 

Pauri

Chamoli

Pithoragarh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Triticum aestivum L. (Gehun)

100

100

100

 

Oriza sativa L. (Dhan)

92

83

41

 

Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertner (Manduwa)

83

84

62

 

Hordeum vulgare L. (Jau)

50

41

70

 

Echinochloa frumentacea Link (Jhangora)

41

¾

¾

 

Brassica campestris L. (Sarson)

33

25

30

 

Vigna mungo (L.) Hepper (Urd)

25

¾

¾

 

Lens culinaris Medikus (Masoor)

25

¾

¾

 

Macrotyloma uniflorum (Lam.) Verdc. (Gahath)

17

8

¾

 

Zea mays L. (Makka)

17

16

¾

 

Sesamum orientale L. (Til)

8

¾

¾

 

Pisum sativum L. (Matar)

8

25

¾

 

Chana, Cicer arietinum L.

8

8

¾

 

Lobia, Phaseolus lunatus L.

¾

¾

¾

 

Soyabean, Glycine max (L.) Merrill

¾

17

20

 

Alu, Solanum tuberosum L.

¾

16

38

 

Chaulai, Amaranthus cruentus L.

¾

16

¾

 

Rajma, Phaseolus vulgaris L.

¾

15

30

 

Phapher, Fagopyrun tataricum (L.) Gaertner

¾

¾

10

 

Marshu, Amaranthus caudatus L.

¾

8

9

 

Pahadi Rai, Brassica rugosa (Roxb.) Bailey

¾

¾

10

 

Cheena, Panicum miliaceum L.

¾

¾

22

 

Koni, Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv.

¾

¾

8

 

 

esculenta does not occur in the foothills and warmer valleys in Uttaranchal, the lower hill residents purchase it from Myrica esculenta growing areas. The fruits of Myrica esculenta have become a promising cash crop to the local people of cold areas and Ziziphus mauritiana to the people of warmer areas. Many wild edibles are relatively less known, hence there is less market for such species.

 Many wild edibles preferred by the local people are very important from cultural point of view. There are numerous folklores attached with these wild edibles. The importance and values of Ficus palmata, Benthamidia capitata, Pyracantha crenulata, Pyrus pashia and Myrica esculenta have been described in several folklores of Uttaranchal. The local people consider the leaves and fruits of Aegle marmelos very sacred, and offer them to the Lord Shiva, a Hindu God. Each tribal community in Uttaranchal use to worship many plant species found in their surrounding forested and agricultural areas. Of the food crops Triticum aestivum, Oriza sativa, Fagopyrun tataricum and Hordium vulgare have been traditionally used by all tribal groups of Uttaranchal for accomplishing many religious ceremonies. Apart from plant species, the tribal groups in Uttaranchal worship various mountain peaks and forested areas as a symbol and dwellings of local deities. Although, with the changing socioeconomics, the use of such species and practice has been declined, they remain in the mind and heart of the local people as they are deeply rooted in their cultural milieu. Aegle marmelos fruit has multiple uses in traditional medicine, food and religion. For plant species, which are known to have number of useful purposes, it is imperative to maintain its healthy population because such species may be overexploited from natural habitats.

 

Table 3¾Preferences of wild edible fruit species of three hill districts

 

 

Plant Name

Preferences of local people (in %)

Pauri

Chamoli

Pithoragarh

 

 

 

 

Aegle marmelos (L.) Correa (Bel)

8

8

¾

Benthamidia capitata (Wall. ex Roxb.) Hara (Bhamora)

8

49

¾

Berberis asiatica Roxb. ex DC. (Kingod)

67

83

50

Bombax ceiba L. (Semal)

8

-

¾

Carissa opeca Stapf. (Karonda)

75

33

¾

Ficus auriculata Lour. (Timla)

58

8

10

Ficus palmata Forsk. (Bedu)

42

41

¾

Musa sp. (Jangli kela)

-

8

50

Myrica esculenta Buch.-Ham ex D. Don (Kafal) 

67

99

40

Pyracantha crenulata (D. Don) M. Roemer(Ghingaru)

¾

¾

30

Pyrus pashia Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don(Melu)

¾

8

10

Pyrus vestita Wall. ex Hk. f. (Nyaphla)

¾

¾

80

Rubus ellipticus Smith. (Hishalu)

58

92

40

Syzygium cuminii (L.) Skeels (Jamun)

25

¾

¾

Ziziphus mauritiana Lam. (Ber)

83

12

¾

 

 The local people in the Indian Himalayan region have domesticated some of the wild edible species. Of the total 15 preferred wild edibles, Ficus auriculata and Pyrus pashia are important agroforestry species in Uttaranchal due to their multiple uses21. Both Ficus auriculata and Pyrus pashia are also known for their uses as local herbal medicine and fuel wood6,21. A recent study in Nepal has shown that out of 62 wild food plant species, 80% have multiple uses22. Studies conducted elsewhere in the Indian Himalaya have proposed to cultivate the wild edibles in traditional agroforestry systems and on marginal lands of otherwise low agricultural values in order to conserve such valuable wild resource16,17. The heterogeneity in Indigenous Knowledge Systems within a given area is important in order to understand the society and also to design the localized sustainable management strategies. It has been established that in some cases, local knowledge, bioresources and understandings may be more effective than national policy in sustainable development of rural communities23. The preferred edible species of both cultivated and wild varieties need to be screened for nutritional evaluation (protein, sulfur, amino acids, etc.), and consumer acceptance factors (cooking time, taste, texture, and appearance of prepared dishes). Without preference characteristics, the cultivated and the wild edibles will find any market. The preferred varieties if identified for good nutritional value and high consumer acceptance may return good economy to the rural people. The urgent need is to identify and disseminate the valuable information about the important ethnobotanical species and knowledge held with the stakeholders for the benefit of society. 

 

Acknowledgement

 Thanks are due to Shri BS Sajwan, Chief Executive Officer, National Medicinal Plants Board and the Director, GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development, for providing logistic support. Dr PP Dhyani, Dr RC Sundriyal, Dr SCR Vishvakarma, Dr NA Farooquee, Dr ID Bhatt, Dr BS Majila and Shri T Budal are thanks for helping in various ways during the course of the study. Four anonymous referees are also thanks for their constructive comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

 

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