Spectrum: Fruits of the forest

Spectrum: Fruits of the forest

Wild fruits are not just indicators of a healthy ecosystem but also a storehouse of nutrition. Here's a look at some of these delicious wonders grown in Karnataka

One activity that is etched in my childhood memories is my rendezvous with friends in the forests, picking berries that decorate the trees. Each person brought up in the Western Ghats region invariably reminisces tasty, colourful, attractive berries that spiced up his or her school days. Children those days had easy access to numerous fruits grown naturally in the forest — in shrubs, creepers and climbers. Some of the fruits that were popular among the children include nurukalu, nelli, mullannu, renjala, salle, bikke, sampige and gudde geru.

It is estimated that around 600 species of edible wild fruits are grown naturally in India and as many as 115 are found in Karnataka. The Western Ghats range of the State is home to several rare berries. These are known for their distinct taste, and medicinal, therapeutic, nutritional, culinary and cosmetic uses. They also play a major role in preventing human-animal conflicts that arise because of food scarcity for wildlife.

Source of food

In the past, they were a major source of food for both human and animal populations, particularly in times of drought and famine. Some of the fruits are culturally significant and are a must during village festivals. Fruits like bili mullannu (Ziziphus rugosa), salle (Aporosa lindleyana), charoli (Buchanania lanzan), wild mango, jackfruit, wild jackfruit (Artocarpus hirsutus), karonda (Carissa carandas), Coromandel ebony (Diospyros melanoxylon) and hulige (Elaeagnus conferta) are known for their distinct taste. Many of these fruits ripe between February and June.

Like cultivated fruits, wild berries are nutritious and offer many health benefits. For instance, bael is rich in proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins. Salle is known to be a storehouse of vitamin C and calcium. Amla and citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C. Lakoocha is an iron-rich fruit. Jackal jujube has high iron and phosphorus content. Bilva is rich in vitamin A and other B complex vitamins. Many of these fruits are also known for their medicinal value. Kokum and uppage have hydroxycitric acid, which lowers cholesterol levels and helps reduce body weight.

“Our ancestors knew the use of these naturally available fruits as remedies for several ailments. Unfortunately, we are losing that knowledge, which was tried and tested for generations,” says Umapathy Bhat KV who has been working towards conserving these fruits. For example, amla, jamun and cluster fig are good for diabetes. Bilva controls piles and jamun regulates blood pressure. While amla is a good antioxidant, kokum is a natural antacid. Bael and tamarind juice is rejuvenating. The famous Ayurvedic preparation, triphala, is made from three wild fruits, Vibhitaki, Haritaki and Indian gooseberry. Some of the fruits have cosmetic use too. Amla along with a couple of other herbs is used for hair growth and health. Kokum butter is used for face packs and as a remedy for cracked heels. They are also used in dyeing, tanning, beverage, and in ice cream industries.

People of Malnad region make a variety of dishes from these fruits and berries. A variety of pickles is made from appe midi (wild mango), karonda, kokum, uppage etc. Appe huli is a unique rasam-like recipe made from sour mango or kokum and is famous for its digestive properties. Hundreds of jackfruit recipes have also been recorded by enthusiasts. Custard apple, wild jackfruit, karonda, kokum, uppage, phalsa, amla, jamun, tamarind, ber are largely used in value addition. Chips, jam, squash, pickle, juice, ice cream, edible fat, butter, jelly, candy and wine are some of the value-added products made from these fruits. 

Value addition

Some women self-help groups like Vanastree are involved in the value addition of these wild fruits. Shailaja Goranmane, a member of Vanastree, says, “No fruit should go a waste. Processing, even if it is minimal, increases the fruit’s value and helps rural women earn a decent income.” At the same time, experts say, caution should be taken that the value-addition enterprise does not harm the ecosystem. Sustainable harvesting, without harming the trees and leaving a fair share for wildlife, should be the focus.

“It is high time we shift to agroforestry, with focus on wild fruit trees. We should add value to our fruit produce to get a good income. I am earning Rs 2 lakh from 20 bael trees. This was possible only because of value addition,” says H V Sajjan of Hulikere village in Ballari district. He prepares bael jam, juice, dry bael-tamarind thokku etc. He has planted karonda plants and intends to cultivate 40 more wild fruit varieties at his Jeevana Vana farm, all for value addition.

Apart from all these direct benefits, there is also a notion that conserving wild varieties might help reduce monkey menace, which has become a major problem for the farmers in this region. “We have identified more than 25 types of wild fruits that are relished by monkeys. Growing these fruits in the nearby forests and around the agricultural land would provide sufficient food for these wild animals, decreasing the chances of them attacking the crop,” says Shridhar Bhat, a faculty at the College of Forestry, Sirsi. Jackfruit, wild jackfruit, lakoocha, fig and tamarind are some of the fruits eaten by monkeys.

A wild fruit mela was organised in Sirsi recently to celebrate this natural treasure. The aim was to encourage the preservation of local wild fruit varieties and to enlighten the youth about the importance of wild fruits. More than 100 types of edible and non-edible fruits were on display at the College of Forestry, where the mela was organised. Bandicoot berry, Indian elm, matchbox bean, priyangu, intellect plant, buckler-leaved moon-seed, ixora, cane fruit, Mysore gamboge, kanagila, kolmaddu and many more were on display. Value-added products like pickles, appe huli, jam, bhuta gojju, kokum butter, amla supari and amla lehya were also available. There were sessions that discussed the importance of wild fruits for humans, wildlife and domestic animals, cultivation of these varieties, and value addition.

“Overharvesting of fruits from their natural habitat should be avoided to ensure that they are available for animals and birds too. One should cultivate wild fruit plants for value addition,” said R Vasudev, an expert, in one of the sessions.“Everybody should grow a couple of such varieties at their backyard,” feels  Savithri H, an enthusiast. Sustained efforts at various levels can help conserve these fruits that are known as indicators of a healthy ecosystem as well as a storehouse of nutrition.