Moun­tain spice

Learn how to make dishes gar­nished with faran, a spice na­tive to the Hi­malayas


Iquite com­mon to see groups of women car­ry­ing bas­ket­ful of T IS green leaves walk­ing down the hill trail near Ghangaria, the base sta­tion for visi­tors to the Val­ley of Flow­ers,a world her­itage site in Chamoli dis­trict of Ut­tarak­hand. Ghangaria is also the sum­mer set­tle­ment for lo­cal res­i­dents and a camp site for Hemkund Sahib’s pil­grims. I thought the women were car­ry­ing fod­der for their cat­tle. But I was proved wrong by Bharat Chauhan, a lo­cal res­i­dent. “It is faran, a mem­ber of the onion fam­ily. Once it be­gins bloom­ing in June and July, lo­cal peo­ple climb up to the alpine mead­ows in search of the spicy leaves,” re­vealed Bharat.

The rolling mead­ows of the Hi­malayas are trea­sure troves for many pre­cious plant species. Of the nu­mer­ous ex­cep­tional plants, Al­lium sp, lo­cally called faran, is the most sought-af­ter spice of the lo­cal peo­ple. “The term faran is gen­er­ally used by non-tribal peo­ple. The sub­tribal groups within Bhotiya com­mu­nity of Ut­tarak­hand ex­press it by dif­fer­ent names, such as Koch by Marchha, Ladum by Tolchha of Garhwal re­gion and Dhun­war by Bhotiyas of Pithor­a­garh,” says V P Bhatt,sci­en­tist at the Herbal Re­search and De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute (hrdi), Man­dal, Gopesh­war.

Al­lium, a genus of bul­bous herba­ceous plants usu­ally hav­ing nar­row leaves, is known to have 250 species across the globe, says The Flora of Bri­tish In­dia. Many of these species grow in the Hi­malayan re---

gion, which in­clude A stra­cheyi (rosy to pale yel­low flow­ers), A wal­lichii (pur­ple flow­ers) and A hu­mile (whitish flow­ers). All three species are of­ten used as spice, es­pe­cially for flavour­ing the curry. Aloo ke gutke tem­pered with faran is one of the best lo­cal dishes in Ut­tarak­hand, which is en­joyed with cha­p­atti made up of buck wheat, lo­cally called phaphar ( Fagopy­rum tatar­icum) in the high al­ti­tude Hi­malayan vil­lages of the Bhotiya com­mu­nity. I re­cently en­joyed aloo ke gutke tem­pered with faran at a friend’s house.T his is a very easy, tra­di­tional and pop­u­lar moun­tain dish.It is best to pre­pare it with fresh pota­toes sold across In­dia dur­ing win­ter (see recipe: ‘Aloo ke gutke’). Faran is also used in a host of recipes, in­clud­ing flavour­ing daal and curry.

Multi-util­ity leaves

A study by K S Negi and K C Pant, pub­lished in Eco­nomic Botany in 1992,states that the young aro­matic leaves of Al­lium hu­mile and A wal­lichii are used as green veg­eta­bles and the dried leaves are used as condi­ments. The tuber­ous roots of A stra­cheyi, which grow be­tween 2,500-4,000 m, are also cooked as a veg­etable. The au­thors have doc­u­mented 10 species of the wild Al­lium grow­ing in cen­tral, north­east and north­west Hi­malayas to es­tab­lish the use of wild Al­lium for food, spices and condi­ments.

Stud­ies also re­veal that faran has sev­eral medic­i­nal prop­er­ties. For in­stance, A hu­mile is used for the treat­ment of in­di­ges­tion, blood pu­rifi­ca­tion, di­a­betes, asthma, jaun­dice, cold and cough. A stra­cheyi’s leaf is known to have anal­gesic and an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties, and A wal­lichii is tra­di­tion­ally used in cur­ing bile-re­lated dis­or­ders and flat­u­lence.

Faran, whether col­lected from the wild or cul­ti­vated in farms, is dried in shade .Once dried, it can be stored for months and used when re­quired. Farm­ing of faran is a prof­itable busi­ness. Al­most all fam­i­lies in Tolma, a vil­lage in the Nanda Devi Bio­sphere Re­serve, prac­tise faran farm­ing. “Like many medic­i­nal and aro­matic plants, mar­ket­ing faran is not a prob­lem.It is al­ways in high de­mand,” says Bis­han Singh Pan­war of Tolma vil­lage, who also prac­tises faran farm­ing.

Faran is har­vested three times in a year— in May, July and Septem­ber—Oc­to­ber. Though there is not much dif­fer­ence in taste, faran har­vested in May is con­sid­ered to be of best qual­ity. Sig­nif­i­cantly, about 2-5 cm of the plant above the ground is not dis­turbed and leaves be­yond that height are har­vested. So the un­der­ground plant parts re­main in­tact to pro­duce new crops. Once the plant flow­ers, the leaves lose their flavour ,while the un­der­ground parts of faran con­tinue mul­ti­ply­ing. Faran is an or­ganic crop; com­posted cow ma­nure is ap­plied twice a year—Fe­bru­ary and Novem­ber-De­cem­ber. The crop is grown in a rel­a­tively plain area so that wa­ter can spread across the farms. Farm­ers avoid grow­ing it on sloppy land.

Prof­itable and gifted

A study by hrdi says that 0.404 hectare of farm­land can ideally pro­duce 100 kg dry leaves and flow­ers of A stra­cheyi, which can fetch a profit of about ` 115,000. Last year, the rate of dry faran was ` 350 per kg in Tolma in up­per Kedar­nath val­ley. Once it leaves the vil­lage mar­kets, its cost es­ca­lates.

The lo­cal peo­ple who grow faran of­fer it to their rel­a­tives as a gift and to peo­ple in ar­eas where it is not found. “When­ever a guest vis­its us,I of­fer him faran as it is a unique gift from my vil­lage,” says Pan­war. In view of its so­cial, medic­i­nal and eco­nomic im­por­tance, hrdi has been pro­mot­ing the cul­ti­va­tion of A stra­cheyi. The Ut­tarak­hand gov­ern­ment, too, has en­listed it in the 28 pri­ori­tised medic­i­nal and aro­matic plants for farm­ing, of­fer­ing a sub­sidy to farm­ers to grow the plant.

While trekking to Badri­nath, I once chanced upon a group of women in tra­di­tional at­tire col­lect­ing faran from the moun­tain slopes of Kh­i­ron val­ley. “Faran of this val­ley pos­sesses a unique fra­grance,” re­vealed one of them, un­der­lin­ing the fact that lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal and soil con­di­tions help en­hance the taste of faran.

Be­sides, faran in the wild has a dis­tinct ad­van­tage over the cul­ti­vated one be­cause of its unique flavour. But up­root­ing the en­tire plant ham­pers the process of nat­u­ral mul­ti­pli­ca­tion. Har­vest­ing of aerial parts, which is mainly done be­fore the seed set­ting, af­fects the nat­u­ral re­gen­er­a­tion. The over­ex­ploita­tion of A stra­cheyi and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of po­ten­tial habi­tats have made it a threat­ened species. There­fore, mea­sures need to be taken so that our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions are not de­prived of its de­li­cious flavour.

The writer is with the Ecosys­tem and En­vi­ron­ment Man­age­ment Di­vi­sion of the In­dian In­sti­tute of For­est Man­age­ment, Bhopal


Alookegutke is a tra­di­tional and pop­u­lar moun­tain dish

Faran leaves are of­ten used

as a spice, es­pe­cially for flavour­ing the daal or curry

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