Of the estimated 2,50,000 species of flowering plants at global level, about 3,000 are regarded as food source in which only 200 species have been domesticated. Located in the drier north eastern ghat region of India, the state of Odisha boasts around 2,800 species of herbs, shrubs, climbers and trees.
Written by Subhrajyoti Chatterjee, Assistant Professor, MSSSoA, CUTM
Nutrition has captured the international spotlight in an unprecedented way as persistent global hunger and under nutrition has underscored the need for urgent action. One in eight people around the world still suffer from hunger and more than double that number are victims of hidden hunger. Of the estimated 2,50,000 species of flowering plants at global level, about 3,000 are regarded as food source in which only 200 species have been domesticated. Located in the drier north eastern ghat region of India, the state of Odisha boasts around 2,800 species of herbs, shrubs, climbers and trees. A number of wild plants which are generally lesser known to a large mass (so that termed as ‘orphan’), used by rural and tribal populations and contributing significantly to their livelihood and food security have escaped recognition and scientific inquiry. Their distribution, conservation, mode of harvest by locals and optimal use require region-specific assessment in order to integrate them into developmental interventions. ‘Orphan’ fruits can be defined as the category of fruit crops which are neither grown commercially on large scale nor traded widely. These are also known as ‘underexploited’, ‘abandoned’, ‘neglected’, ‘underused’, ‘local’, ‘traditional’, ‘forgotten’, ‘alternative’, ‘promising’, ‘underdeveloped’, ‘marginal’ or ‘lesser known’ fruits. Some wild plants and edible fruits are important constituents of biodiversity and their exploitation has become a valuable livelihood strategy and fall back option for rural households during periods of nutritional stress. Historically, tribal and rural people identified and collected plants for food and medicine from forests and developed a range of processing methods in accordance with their needs. With modernization and settled agriculture, this knowledge is becoming lost, a trend that may lead to decreased diversity of indigenous diets and poorer nutrition. In Odisha, it is found that majority of the edible ‘orphan’ fruit species belong to the family Moraceae (10.7 %) and Rhamnaceae (8.9 %). Among the genera, Zizyphus and Ficus were the most highly represented with five species each followed by Grewia with four species. Trees and shrubs made up the highest proportion of edible wild fruit species- 70 % tree, 19 % shrub and 11 % climbers. The majority of species (94.6 %) have only edible fruits, while both flower and fruits of Mahua (Madhuca indica) and Bhadabhadalia (Parrot olax) and leaves and fruits of Bael (Bael/ Stone apple), Kundui/ Marmuri (Sour currant shrub), Bahubara (Indian cherry), Nakkuvalli (Panicled erycibe) are eaten by locals. The principal multipurpose species of the region are: Bael, wild lemons, Bahubara, Kaith/ Katbel (Wood apple), Amla (Indian gooseberry), Bhollataki/ Bonebhalia (Indian marking nut tree), Ambaada (Indian hog plum), Lakoocha (Monkey jack). Use of many species is localized and restricted to casual encounters like Tippani/ Eravalu (Toothe leaf allophylus), Kurpa, Jamun, Suran (Ber), Latkan (Eastern uvaria), whereas species such as as Amla, Bael, Lakoocha, Charu (Chironji/ Cuddapah almond), Kend/ Kendu (Black ebony), Kaith, Khorjurri (Date palm) and Jamun (Java plum) are frequently found and consumed all over the region and beyond. A number of species such as Bael, Dikemali/ Bikke (Gummy gardenia), Gajphala (Indian Laurel), Amla and Bhollataki are widely used in traditional herbal medicine in rural areas of the state. Some fruits are eaten raw, either ripe or unripe, while others are cooked and consumed as curries (e.g. Dimri/ tender figs of Ficus hispida, F. racemosa and F. semicordata) or are pickled or made into ‘curry paste’ or ‘chutney’. Bhadabhadalia, Dimri (Fig), Potua (Divine jasmine), Aradanda (Indian caper) and Goble (Hairy fig) are used as vegetables. Seeds of Kangara (Burma ironwood) and Siyali (Bauhinia climber) are roasted and eaten by the Kohla and Juang tribes. Dried seeds of Charu, Bonebhalia and Mahua are eaten directly or in semi-processed form by tribals. Santals and Juangs consume the tender and immature seeds of Kendu (Black ebony) and Gaab (Indian persimmon) as famine foods. Insipid fruits of Osta (Peepal) and Baragachha (Banyan tree) are also considered to be distress foods and are eaten in times of food scarcity. Ripe fruits of Bael, Lakoocha, Bilangada (Governor’s plum), Roxburgh’s cherry, Karamdika (Wild Karonda), Latkan, Panicled Erycibe, Kendu and Khorjurri are used in most localities as they have a sweet taste and pleasant flavour. Kantei koli (Indian jujube), Lakoocha, Kundui and Amla are eaten raw or sun dried and preserved in mustard oil after mixing with salt.
The tropical and subtropical tracts of India are bestowed with wide range of diversity in several fruits, which are growing wild/semi-wild, are unattended and underutilized. Most of these species have a wide adaptability as well as high degree of tolerance and hence can thrive well under most adverse situations. In spite of rich germplasm existing in India, for most of the underutilized fruits, no standard variety has been developed so far. Many of these fruits are nutritionally very rich which can play a vital role in nutritional security of Indian people and are of great medicinal value. These fruits hold promise for sustainable agriculture, particularly for small farmers by augmenting their income with the least risk. Our urgent task is to develop/select suitable variety/genotype and to standardize production protocol and to popularize these fruits.