Welcome to Zizira.
Zizira operates from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya in the Northeast part of India – a region known for its verdant landscape, natural springs that irrigate fields, and unique herbs and spices. Over 80% of the population depend on agriculture but struggle to market their produce. Zizira is striving to open markets for them.
I am one of the storytellers of Zizira and am here to tell you about a spice that the farmers in Meghalaya use as an insurance cover. That spice is Long Pepper.
Piper Longum is a popular spice of Meghalaya. Maybe you are thinking of dried black pepper that is used for seasoning all over the world? It is not. This is a produce which is not only a native of Meghalaya, but also a solid insurance cover for farmers of Meghalaya.
Let me explain. First let us look at Long pepper cultivation in Meghalaya in particular and its cultivation in India as a whole.
What is Long Pepper?
Piper Longum, as it is referred to, or Long Pepper, is different from black pepper. In fact, dried long pepper looks a little like dried green chilli.
Family name: Piperaceae
English name: Long pepper
Khasi name: Soh marit khlaw
Parts used: Dried spikes and roots
The Long Pepper spikes look like a ‘rougher skinned’ version of chilli peppers. Also like the spikes you see in Anthurium flowers.
Cultivation of Long Pepper in Meghalaya is along the southern slopes of Meghalaya, in Ri-War, Mawsynram, Shella, Sohra (known as Cherrapunji) etc.
Piper Longum or Long Pepper grows in a creeper and is cultivated in Meghalaya in the Cherrapunji region. The plant is a dioecious (Having male and female reproductive organs in separate flowers in separate plants), slender, perennial and an aromatic climber that grows well in the shade of trees. This spice is cultivated in Assam, West Bengal, Nepal and Uttar Pradesh too. Grown in limestone soil, the saplings are planted at the beginning of the rainy season.
The creeper starts flowering six months after planting. The plant yields for 4 to 5 years. after which the yield goes down and the plants are pulled out and a fresh batch planted. Its roots are sought after in Ayurveda. It is believed they help in relieving body pain, arthritic pain, cold and cough. In South India the root of the Piper Longum plant is used to make a herbal soup called ‘kandathipili rasam’.
From what we understood from farmers who are familiar with long pepper cultivation in Meghalaya, the spikes of Long Pepper, which are the flowers of the plant, are harvested in January, while they are still green, pungent and tender. The spikes are then dried well in the sun, till they turn grey in color.
Farmers in the East Khasi Hills districts grow this spice in the forest, as a climber on tree trunks, thus eliminating the need to use a stake for support.
The yield triples within three years of the first harvest – from 560 kg per hectare in the first year to 1,680 kg per hectare in the third! After the third year the vines become less productive and are replaced. (1 hectare = 10,000 sq. m or 2.47 acres).
Information on this popular but endangered spice of Meghalaya is based on data gathered from the Agriculture Information Wing of the Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya and we owe them our sincere thanks.
According to Mr. Canning S Shabong, an official from the Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya: “Most of the people of the Southern slopes use this crop as an insurance against rainy days, because it can be stored for up to one year (after drying). As and when they need money, they gradually sell it in the market. This product acts like a savings bank for farmers who live hand-to-mouth in the Ri-War areas, where betel leaf is the main source of income the whole year long.”
By default, Piper Longum or Long Pepper is grown organically in Meghalaya. Mostly it grows in the wild. Occasionally cow dung cake is used as fertilizer. In most cases, manure is not used at all. Farmers depend on the natural fertility of the soil, which is provided by decaying dead leaves inside the forest areas.
Digestion friendly long pepper is now available in our store. Buy and discover its unique taste and its many supposed health benefits. Do you have a question about Piper Longum? Contact us and our team will be happy to point you to ways of using the spice. Have you used this special spice of Meghalaya? Share with us your recipes.