FROM rendering aroma to curries and
pickles to warding off mustard pests -
the common spice fennel or Foeniculum
vulgare (popular name saunf) has come
a long way indeed. At the Lucknow-
based Central Institute of Medicinal and
Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), experiments
demontrated that saunf grown in
between rows of mustard crops effectively controls a major pest of the crop,
the mustard aphid (Science Service, Vol
14, No 19).
Several essential oil-bearing plants
like Arternisia, coriander and Anethum
were tested for their effect on the mustard pest. Scientists found that the lowest incidence of the pest was in fields
where mustard was intercropped with
The finding is significant since mustard is a major source of edible oil in
India. Every year its crop suffers due to
infestation with aphids, Lipaphis erysimi. These regular outbreaks affect the crop, especially vulnerable from flowering to seed maturity, at all stages. This in
turn leads to a considerable loss in yield.
And how does the pest attack its target? It chooses soft parts of the plant like tender stems, flowering parts and
unripened seed pods to do the damage.
Gradually, it soaks dry the plant of its
vital life-giving nutrients, which retards
the rate of growth. Thus, Outputs get
reduced. As a result, a large quantity of
mustard oil needs to be imported every
year to meet the domestic demand.
Scientists at the CIMAP report that
the effect of fennel is due to some chemicals released by these plants that affect
egg-laying in the aphids. This decimates
the pest population. Besides benefitting
mustard crops, elimination of aphids,
which are carriers of viral diseases too,
would also mean containing these diseases to some extent.
Supposedly one of the first experiments of its kind, the,work by the scientists at CIMAP upholds the organic
method of cultivation. "This approach
to cultivation may help improve yield
and minimise environmental pollution
due to synthetic pesticides", says
D Singh, a scientist at CIMAP.