Friday, December 23, 2016

Valuable but neglected – some oil yielding plants from the southern plains of Nepal

Some plants are valuable but neglected. And among those valuable but neglected are some of the oil yielding plants cultivated in the southern plains of Nepal.

I’m talking about castor oil, linseed oil, wild linseed, sesame and chamomile. While the linseed is still cultivated in large quantities, its importance is unknown to the farmers. Except for its use in few Tharu cuisines like the water snail curry for the non-vegetarians and jackfruit and bamboo shoots curry for the vegetarians.

Meanwhile chamomile is being cultivated for its essential oil, largely by the Tharus in the Mid and Far Western Nepal in the lands near protected areas. Just to prevent the wild animals marauding on the crops.

Let’s talk about these plants in detail.

Castor oil plant by Flickr user Kenneth Cole Schneider. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Castor oil

One of the most neglected oil seeds is castor oil. These plants grow on fallow lands and garbage dumps on its own. In the past, castor oil was used to burn oil lamps in the southern plains of Nepal during Sukrati, the festival of lights called Tihar and Deepawali in other parts of the country. The oil was also used as a pain reliever. I’ve heard my grandmother telling about its benefits and applying it on her joints and back to get rid of any pain and stiffness. And my grandfather, a traditional healer, used to make concoctions using the castor oil to cure ringworm infections.

Castor seeds by Flickr user budak. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The oil, used widely in shampoo, soaps, cosmetics and massage oils, helps fight signs of aging, moisturises skin, reduces skin pigmentation and acne, promotes hair growth, prevents premature hair greying and conditions hair among other benefits.

So, isn’t it sad that we’ve left cultivating this useful plant?  


Linseed oil has always been neglected. In the terai, people take it as a poor man’s replacement of mustard oil. However, this oil has plenty of benefits. And linseed has been termed as a superfood in the West.

Flax (Linum usitatissimum) or linseed by user Peter O'Connor aka anemoneprojectors. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

People in the terai, especially the Tharus in the Eastern Nepal, still use linseed powder to garnish some curries like jackfruit, bamboo shoots and ghonghi (water snails). Without the linseed powder the curry is tasteless for them!

Though considered a poor man’s dietary intake, the medical science has confirmed that the linseed oil or the flax seeds protects from osteoporosis. It is also considered as a laxative and a hormonal balancer.

The oil also relieves inflammation and pain. That’s why you can see old people still resorting to linseed oil massages.

Linseed cultivation is so easy that you just need to sprinkle the linseed in the paddy fields when the rice starts to flower. The linseed grows well from the moisture remaining in the field and just few months after the rice harvest, you can harvest the linseed crop. And it has been cultivated since ages in this way.

So, let’s continue cultivating it and start using more linseed powder and linseed oil in our diets!

Wild linseed

This wild variety of linseed is still grown in the terai, but by limited farmers.

The lesser known sibling of linseed. A native variety, it is still cultivated for its long black seeds which are a bit different from brown and smaller linseed. While the linseed flowers are purplish blue and the plants are small and frail, this variety called 'bonchikna' (a vulgar word though in Nepali) in the southern plains yield oil which is much viscous than regular mustard and linseed oil. It's still used for cooking purposes but not preferred over the former ones. More research is needed to find out its benefits. Though lesser known and less preferred, it's a joy to see fields of these beautiful flowers in the southern plains of Nepal during the month of November! --------------------- #native #linseed #terai #Nepal #beautifulflower #picoftheday #teraidiaries #travelblog #instapic #flowers #oilseeds
A photo posted by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on


Though the sesame has been tagged as a purity material – a must offering to Shani Dev and other gods in Hindu mythology, it is being cultivated less and less these days.

A photo posted by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on


Chamomile is a recent addition to the list of cash crops being grown in the terai. Currently grown only in the Mid and Far Western Nepal, farmers need to spread its cultivation even in the Eastern Nepal. 

A photo posted by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Weave your own basket from kans and sikki grasses

The sikki grass (vetiver grass - Chrysopogon zizanioides), once found in abundance near water sources, has been vanishing and with it is declining the art of basket weaving from the golden splinters. And due to the easily available plastic containers, the basket weaving out of kans grass (Saccharum spontaneum) is also on the decline.

Vetiver grass (c) Forest and Kim Starr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Sunset through Kaash (Kans Grass) by Flickr user Abhijit Kar Gupta. (CC BY 2.0)

Whenever I travel to my home in the southern plains of Nepal, the kans baskets (they call it dhama in the Tharu language) hanging by the roof always haunt me. All these baskets were woven by grandmother who passed away recently. Since we have been lowering our involvement in agriculture and storing the food items in sacks and drums, these beautiful baskets have been left useless. And the only thing I can do is, stare at them!

Kans baskets hanging by the roof in my house.

Tharu and Maithil women from the southern plains of Nepal have been weaving baskets of all shapes and sizes from the kans grass since ages and the art has been passed from one generation to another. The mothers and grandmothers have been teaching the young ones to weave baskets out of kans, considered useless and sikki, regarded pure.

So, how do they weave these baskets?

Once I sat with my grandmother and she showed me the basics of this craft. Let me share it with you.

First, all you need to do is collect the kans stems before they flower (they call it gabaha in the Tharu language). Take out the flowery filaments and leave the stems to dry. Since the stem is hollow now, it can be wound into any shape and size.

Kharhi, the base material for weaving basket.

Now trim the upper and lower parts of the stem. They can be used as the base material to wound the kans stem around. Also make sure to collect the kans grass from an earlier stage, before they start bearing flower inside. The stalks are usually hard at this stage and can be used as the base material for the baskets. People also use fistful of kans grass from this stage as a broom.

Soak the gabaha in water so that it becomes flexible. A rudimentary tool you’ll need besides the grass is a takuwa – a needle like equipment with a rounded end to hold on while weaving a basket.

Takuwa - a needle like equipment used to weave the basket.

Take a fistful of the kans grass and coil the gabaha around it. Then swirl it to give a round shape binding the framework with gabaha. And take the help of takuwa to make holes in the structure and put the gabaha inside the holes till it takes the shape a conical basket like the one in the below picture. Later you can add the base to this basket.

A basket without a base.

Keep on weaving and you’ll get a basket like the ones hanging by the roof in my house.

Now you must be curious how Tharus weave so beautiful baskets (called pauti and dhakiya) that are displayed during the Tharu festivals like the ones on the heads of these women from Sunsari district.

Tharu women holding sikki baskets (c) Madan Chaudhary/

It’s simple like weaving the basket from gabaha. First, you need to collect the sikki stems and tear them apart into two equal splinters and leave them to dry. Once dried, you can apply colours of your choice to them.

Now repeat the process of weaving a basket from kans grass. Soak the coloured sikki splinters in water and take a fistful of kans grass as base material. Then with the help of a takuwa wind the colourful sikki splinters around them. Slowly, your basket starts taking shape. To create the beautiful colourful patterns on the basket, you’ll need to coil the coloured sikki splinters on the basket with the help of a takuwa. But you’ll need to practice a lot to create those beautiful patterns.

Good luck with the weaving!

Read: A basket of nostalgia

Monday, December 12, 2016

Have you heard about these medicinal plants from the southern plains of Nepal?

Millions of medicinal and aromatic plants remain undiscovered, unknown and unused in our jungles and some even grow in our backyard. Most of the herbs used by shamans and witchdoctors are still not known to the outer world. While the old medics are aging they prefer not to share their knowledge with the young generation. And the sad part is – the young generation never takes these medicinal plants seriously. For them, popping the allopathic pills is much easier and effective than crushing the leaves and stems of obnoxious smelling medicinal plants and gulping the bitter juice. However, these plants are known for their healing properties and the good thing about them is – they don’t have any side-effects like the drugs made in the factories, except for few cases.

This October-November I tried convincing the shamans in the terai, the southern plains of Nepal and requested them to share their secrets. Achhai Tharu, a local shaman was happy to share his knowledge with me and he even took me to the places where he had secretly hid the magic plants!

Let me share the benefits of the medicinal and aromatic plants that he showed me.


Native basil. It has completely different and strong aroma. Resembling 'tulsi', the common basil, it has lot more medicinal properties. I met a young guy whose jaundice was almost incurable but drinking water left overnight with a handful of this herb made him healthy once again. Achhai Tharu, a local shaman said, "Soak the leaves and parts of this herb overnight and drink the water in the morning, it will keep your diabetes at bay." He also added that if you keep a bunch of this herb in a pot of water, it will turn the water into a medicine --- a frozen, colourless liquid. It cools the water if you put a little bit of this herb into it. When I asked its name, he said, "We call it jethmal." --------------------- #nativebasil #jethmal #maps #medicinalandaromaticplants #herbs #Nepal #ayurved

A photo posted by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on

Remedy for rabies

Right medicine to prevent rabies. Talking to shamans and herbalists in the southern plains of Nepal was an eye-opener for me. We hiked together to find medicinal plants that they've been using to cure different ailments since ages. This herb is applied to the wound caused by dog bites and also works even when bitten by wild animals like jackals and monkeys. Just crush it and apply the juice to the wound. It heals and prevents rabies. But they've been advising the patients to go for vaccination also in case a mad dog bites. Just to be sure. But the old man seemed to have forgotten the name of this plant. The nature has provided cure for every disease, we just need to identify the right plant. Isn't it? ----------------- #herbs #rabies #Nepal #medicinalandaromaticplants

A photo posted by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on


Now let me tell you a bit about some of the herbs that grow everywhere, in the fields and even in your background.


Have you seen this wild herb? Called dulfi locally in the southern plains of Nepal, this aromatic plant has a special significance during Dipawali, the festival of lights. The cattle owners grind these plants (Leucas aspera), filter the green juice with a piece of white cloth and administer it to the cattle. It's really tough to make the animal swallow this strong smelling juice. So, with the help of a long but narrow container made from bamboo twigs, the juice is poured into the nostrils of cattle. When I asked about its benefits, a farmer said, "It keeps the cough, cold and fever at bay." Interestingly, this plant extract is used to treat scorpion bites in the Philippines. And the flower juice can be used to treat sinusitis, headaches and intestinal worms in children! ------------------- #medicinal #aromatic #herbs #sinusitis #headaches #cough #terai #Nepal #leucasaspera #dulfi

A photo posted by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Try eating these native veggies before they become extinct

I’m not a vegetarian but I love vegetables. And whenever I get to the southern plains of Nepal, I try to savour some of the native veggies. Especially, I yearn for that particular taste of these veggies cooked by the Tharus. The use of powdered linseed to the bauhinia leaves and drumstick beans and adding of baking soda to ‘naf’ leaves gives that ‘different taste’ to these vegetables.

However, in spite of being tasty and nutritious these veggies might become extinct. One of the main reasons of these varieties becoming extinct is simply the neglect of the young generation and the onslaught of hybrid veggies.  

Now let’s talk about these native veggies. Leave your comments below if you have not heard of these. 

This native bean was found everywhere only a few decades ago. However, due to the itchy outer layer and the difficulty to cook, only few people grow this – and that too is limited to few climbers growing on its own in the farms.

Neglected but nutritious. This native variety of beans is on the verge of vanishing. Called 'jhauwa' in the southern plains of Nepal and 'kauso' in the hilly areas, these beans are tasty but you need to be cautious while plucking them. The outer coat of these beans is itchy and that's why it is used by the swindlers to snatch away the possessions of travellers. They throw the itchy powder over the travellers and while they start itching, the thugs run away with their belongings. To eat these beans you'll need to boil them first and peel the outer coating. Then you can cook the rest just like any other vegetable. Be careful not to eat too much of these beans. It causes dizziness. But it is full of protein and nutrition. Not a time to neglect these beans any more! ------------------------ #neglectedbutnutritious #beans #jhauwa #kauso #terai #Nepal #vegetables #picoftheday

A photo posted by Sanjib Chaudhary (@sankuchy) on

These wild vegetables are getting scarce as the forest area is decreasing. Its trees are hard to find in the jungle these days and mainly brought to the markets by the firewood collectors and cattle grazers.

The drumsticks, in spite of manifold benefits, are rarely grown in a commercial scale.

The ‘naf’ leaves resemble the hollyhock leaves.

The bauhinia or ‘koilar’ flowers are eaten widely in Nepal but their leaves are seldom eaten elsewhere except in the terai. Since the flowers and leaves need to be sourced from the nearby community and national forests, this delicious vegetable is not found in the market all the time.