Cactus-like sillu has helped Garhwalis survive lean seasons
It is an unlikely plant to tickle taste buds. It is covered with spines. People in Garhwal use its poisonous sap to kill and catch fish. When mixed with
other herbs it is as good as a pesticide. But in drier, rocky parts of the Himalaya, where it grows abundantly, people have known that when the
weather is rough and crops fail, they can survive on this cactus-like shrub.
Until about 50 years ago, when the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand was not connected by road and people depended on locally grown
vegetables, sillu (Euphorbia royaleana) was an important famine food. "For lean periods we used to prepare badi (nuggets) of the
pith of its tender twigs," said Meena Dhyani, a resident of Devprayag. The pith that tastes like white pumpkin is also pickled. People would send
tasty badi prepared at home to relatives.Today easily available packaged food has, however, begun to edge out the sillu
Badi might be going out of fashion, but sillu has found its way to markets in Dehradun and Rudraprayag in the form of sweets. Realizing
sillu's economic potential, an ngo in the region has begun making and selling petha made of its pith. The
initiative by the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation has also provided employment to a few women in
Sillu is also an important part of traditional medicine. Its boiled pith is considered an appetizer and is useful in gastric troubles. People apply its
twigs' pas- te on cuts. Extract of twigs is used to cure fever, pus in the ear and boils, according to The Wealth of India, a bo-ok on plants
and other natural resources brought out by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. Its latex is used to treat muscular swelling, sprain,
intestinal worms and skin infection. But for sillu the a yurvedic drug shilajit (asphaltum, a dark bituminous substance found in natural beds) would
not have existed; it contains fossilized sillu.
In the past two decades the plant, usually found at an altitude of 500-600 metres, has spread to pine forests and agricultural land. People in the
region believe it is because of the rising temperature and decreasing rainfall. Though an unpublished study by Subrat Sharma, scientist at G B
Pant Institute for Himalayan Environment and Development in Almora, shows temperature is indeed increasing in parts of Uttarakhand, there is
no study to link it to sillu's spread.
Spice it up
Either boil sillu's pith or leave it in water overnight to remove its toxic latex. Mash and mix with turmeric powder, dry coriander seeds, asafoetida, onion seeds (kalaunji) and red chillies. Make small round balls of the spicy paste and dry them in the sun for two-three days. Store in air-tight containers.
For making a dish fry badi, add potato pieces, water and curd (if you like) and cook till it is soft. You can also add finely chopped cauliflower and tomato puree.
Cut tender branches to a suitable length and remove the green skin. Mash the flesh and boil it. Drain out the excess water, mix with curd. Add salt and pepper and it is ready to be served.
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