Ethnobotany and its tryst with berries

Miguel Braganza

Diksha Gaonkar was a star student of Botany at the Government College Quepem in 2015-16. During her post graduate studies at Goa University, she would find wild orchids and berries that a less discerning eye would easily miss. She documented the ethnobotany of the newest taluka of Goa, Dharbandora – once a part of the Sondekar Raja’s kingdom. Akshatra Pracy Fernandes is documenting the biodiversity of Paroda village in Quepem in the same erstwhile kingdom, on the other side of the Kushawati River from Chandor. The Mattoma fruit has been identified as Parinari species, possibly P curatellifolia.

C Sathish Kumar, an orchidologist and ethnobotanist has always said that we have to go back to our schooling and the profound knowledge shared by village elders. He once chanced upon some beautiful red Nymphaea lotus in a village and wanted to collect some but he feared drowning. He asked a lady in the village if the water was deep and got the reply: “If the lotus flowers are red, the water will be deep”. She was not a scientist but a keen observer.

Similarly the dark purple to almost black Jackal Jujube or Konneram (Ziziphus oenoplia), the first to ripen on the foothills of the Western Ghats are also known by the locals. The Bhagats of Nashik call them borkatti as one has to pick the berries carefully as its thorns bite into the flesh. In the Konkan region, especially in the Sindhudurg area of Maharashtra, the leaves are used as a dressing on wounds. Ethnobotany studies of tribal medicine have also been carried out by St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Ziziphine, an alkaloid from the root extracts of konneram has been found to have anti-plasmodial activity that can help cure malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum. Leaves can also be taken orally with a little honey for relief from stomach ache. Leaves, roots and bark contain antiseptic and anti-microbial properties. They will soon be available on the hillsides.

Konneram are related to the old ivory coloured, rosary bead-like churnam (Zizyphus rugosa). They are also related to the local boram (Ziziphus mauritania) that are round and full of mucilage and the Indian Jujube or Umran ber (Ziziphus jujuba) which have firm, crunchy flesh like an apple or pear. Plenty of the Indian jujube fruits, including some the size of small apples, can still be found in the market now.

The Indian cherry known variously as karvandam, kanttam or kanddam (Carissa carandas) in different parts of Goa as per the local dialect, are available till end of April. Many visitors enjoyed tasting these berries for the first time at the Botanical Society of Goa’s Konkan Fruit Fest. The ‘Konkan Bold’ kanttam from Vengurla are now grown in Goa, too.

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