Dr Chiranjit Parmar
As winter ends and spring begins in the hills, one starts seeing the lovely flowers of Rhododendron called burans, brawaah or burah locally. This tree starts growing in the hill forests from 2,300 m and continues up to 3,200 m. It is a member of botanical family Ericaeae and its botanical name is Rhododendron arboreum var. arboreum. Rhododendron trees grow all over India. It is the national flower of Nepal. Recognising the beauty and utility of this flower, the Indian Postal Department had even issued a stamp of this flower (see pic). Flowers of Rhododendron are usually bright red. But some trees with pink and white flowers can also be seen. Though Rhododendron trees are not very tall, mostly ranging between 7-14 m, there is also a tree of this flower in Nagaland, which measures 32.9 m high. This has been recognised as the tallest Rhododendron tree figuring even in The Guinness Book of Records. The flowers of this tree are edible and used by local people in many ways. These are mixed with besan, salt and spices and made into a tasty vegetable or snack called kachru. It is a special food item of the season. The flowers taste sour and are therefore also made into chutney, which goes very well with pakodas and a few other food preparations. Its petals are dried and made into a powder. This powder is used as a sniff to stop bleeding in the nose. This powder is also mixed with honey and prescribed in cases of frequent nose bleeding (naqseer). The petals are said to have a cooling effect on the body and allays heat. The flowers are also processed to make a squash, which is bottled by village industrial self-help groups. This preparation is gaining popularity and therefore the demand for these flowers in going up.
Source of income
The demand for flowers is increasing. So, it has now attained the status of a commercial commodity. Traders now come to villages to buy these flowers. The rate varies from Rs 10-15 per kg for fresh flowers and Rs 50-100 per kg for dried ones depending upon the availability.
Tree facing extinction
Flowers are being harvested ruthlessly. There is no regulation on this from state Forest Department. Instead of plucking individual flowers, villagers cut branches for flowers. This causes injury to trees. Secondly, very less flowers are left on trees, which is affecting its natural regeneration. No new trees are being added and their natural population is therefore declining every year. This needs to be checked otherwise this useful tree may not be seen after a few decades. Horticulture, Ayurveda and PWD should include this tree in their plantation programmes and get rhododendron trees planted along roads and in gardens to protect this useful tree.
(The writer is a fruit scientist based in Mandi)