Wonder crop

Tuesday 31 December 1996

An edible plant that can grow in extreme temperatures holds the promise of catering to varied needs of humans

SEABUCKTHORN (Hippophae ramnoides) locally called 'Ames', is a crop with outstanding values that grows abundantly in higher Himalayan zones. The unique crop can resist temperatures as low as -43'c and as high as 40*c, and prefers sandy and eroded soils. It grows both on acidic and alkaline soils. It is a deciduous thorny shrub with a lifespan of 120-200 years.

The former USSR, China and Mongolia were the pioneers among the Hippophae-growing countries, and they harnessed the full potential of this plant for various purposes like food, medicine and cosmetics. They continue to lead in their efforts to put it to more uses (Himalayan Paryavaran, Vol 2, No 1).

The crop's fruits are orange-yellow in colour and contain 92-95 per cent of juice. This plant is unisexual and can be easily propagated through seeds, root cuttings and root turion.

Detailed biochemical analysis has shown that it is a polyvitamin fruit plant with carotenoids and flavanoids. The vitamin content of the plant is much higher compared to horticultural fruits or vegetable crops. The proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, pectin glucose, fructose, sucrose, malic acid, calcium, phosphorus and other macro and micro elements in the fruit make it indispensable to pharmacological and food industries. Oil extracted from Ames seeds, pulp and leaves can be use -d for making different kinds of life-saving medicines and drugs for combating numerous diseases, wounds, eczemas, ulcers, burns of the skin and malnutrition, and is considered superior to all other alternative oils.

Ames has several environmental advantages also. It can protect soil against wind erosion by building up a litter of intertwined root needles. These massive roots even play the important rote of holding down land, especially on sharp slopes or overwashed areas. Ames wood is also the best firewood available. It is easy to split, has a high calorific vAue and tends to burn slowly with little smoke and ash. It can also be burnt when green, an important advantage to areas facing fuel shortage.

The fruits start ripening from the first week of October and remain on the plant throughout December. A very simple method is employed to extract the juice from the fruits. A person can extract about 10 litres of pure juice at a low cost without damaging the plant and still gain large profits.

Cost-benefit analysis has showed that if people of Hippophae-growing areas engage themselves in this business, they can certainly earn a lot of money without putting in much effort. Also, it is high time to start the cultivation of Ames and other plants like mayarul kirmor, tilni and bhenkel having similar potentiality, on degraded and abandoned lands for eco-restoration due to their ability to grow in extreme conditions.

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