There is no better way to preserve a plant than to make it an integral part of the local cultural celebration, cuisine or medicine. The Aztecs preserved grain amaranth or ‘rajgira’ in spite of the Spanish colonialists. The maize of the Red Indians amazingly survived the European onslaught and, on the contrary, entered the European diet. Whether it is the Monti Fest or Gauri pooja or the mattoli at the Vinayak Chaturthi – it is all about biodiversity. Founded in 2003, the Konkan Fruit Fest (KFF) celebrated in the summer is the Botanical Society of Goa’s (BSG) contribution to conserving the biodiversity of the Konkan through a community festival. Marius Fernandes and Fr Santano Carvalho have added the ‘Ponnsachem Fest’ and ‘Kajuchem Fest’ to preserve two key fruits of the summer.
The wood apple or bael (aegle marmelos) is a tree that is important to Shiva worship for its trifoliate leaves. This tree is rare in Goa. Lord Ganesha is the son of Shiva’s consort, Parvati, and hence it is considered auspicious to have a bael fruit or leaves in the mattolli. The fruit has properties of regulating body temperature and is used to prevent heat stroke as well as reduce fevers. It is much in demand during the summer across the Deccan plateau and the Indo-Gangetic plains where temperatures can rise well above forty degrees celsius. The students of Syamantak’s ‘school without walls’ based in Dhamapur-Vengurla produce a wonderful sherbet that will be available on the first weekend of May at the Moti Talav Festival at Sawantwadi, and in the last weekend of May at the KFF in Panaji. No wonder then, that the tree is a part of the culture, tradition and observances.
It is now fashionable to talk about anti-oxidants. No one spoke about it while they ate the jamun or java plums (syzygium cumini), karvandam or kanttam (carissa carandas) or the ansalle or chivram (grewia micrococos), charoli or charam (buchanania lanzan), amboram or mulberry (morus alba) or drank sol-kaddi of kokum (garcinia indica). This year at the KFF, we will miss the mattoma fruit or parinari species and the dark purple jackal jujube or konneram (ziziphus oenoplia) which ripens in the December-February period.
The next generation of individuals like Ashish Prabhugaonkar, Akshatra Fernandes, Aditi Naik and others know many more plants thanks to the Department of Botany at Goa University. They are members of the BSG, which has a membership open to all persons who love plants, irrespective of their educational background or profession.
The Living Heritage group is creating an app to mark the location and description of trees in Goa. AERO (Arannya Environmental Research Organisation) is a group of young and dynamic members with strengths in Botany and Zoology. Khoj Aao is another group that is promoting knowledge and providing an understanding of nature around us. If there is a local plant that you cannot identify, click a photograph and post it to the Botanical Society of Goa’s Facebook page.