Would you not be curious to know about a delicious root tuber you can eat that will not only kill your hunger but also the creatures inside your tummy that can cause health problems? ‘Sohphlang’ is one uniquely Meghalayan tuber and late autumn to early spring is the season for its showing up in the markets of Shillong, Meghalaya.
This ‘Sohphlang’ is a semi-wild tuber famous among the local Khasi and Jaintia tribespeople. They consume it as a pastime snack either by itself, with salt and chilli flakes or with ground roasted perilla seeds (Perilla frutescens). They also use it (especially its peel) traditionally to expel parasitic worms from their intestines.
This humble root tuber is ready and simple to eat and has such amazingly phenomenal gut health benefits.
What Is Sohphlang and Why Is It so Cherished?
As you amble across the markets of Shillong beginning in late October you will not fail to notice mounds of the ubiquitous white tuberous fruit (or is it a vegetable?) on bamboo trays (called ‘pdung’ in Khasi) sold by small vendors, mostly women. They wrap them up for you in a natural wrapper - the eco-friendly ‘la-met’- leaves of Phrynium puvinerve, which grows aplenty in Meghalaya. Sometimes you see these women peddling these tubers in small, deep bamboo baskets or ‘shang’ at petrol pumps and bus stations. They sell them along with other wares such as orange and valencia fruit slices and ‘kwai’- the ubiquitous arecanut-betel leaf-lime combine that Khasis chew whole day long.
There is no English common name for this tuber though some people call them ‘earth-nuts’. Yes, they have a slightly nutty flavour but they are not nuts. The tuber’s Khasi name ‘Sohphlang’ literally means ‘grass fruit’ and its scientific name is Flemingia vestita, of the Fabaceae or legumes family. The part eaten is the chewy tuberous root which has a crunchy, juicy bite, giving out a milky liquid. The taste is rather bland and subtly sweetish.
Although seasonally popular in Meghalaya, its prevalence is definitely not restricted to this place. The tubers are also reportedly found in Yunnan province of China, in Nepal and some parts of Laos, Philippines and Vietnam. In Meghalaya, however, it is well-loved because of its unique flavour and hunger-killing capacity. Eat any amount without the fear of overstuffing.
Sohphlang may not win awards in a gourmet contest but coupled with roasted perilla seed paste (which also has medicinal value) it gives a distinct experience to the eater. A vendor selling Sohphlang. Notice the ‘La-met leaf wrap and the perilla seed paste on the left corner Zizira had earlier also brought to you a story and an Info-graphic on Sohphlang.
The best thing about Sohphlang perhaps is its anthelminthic or intestinal worm-killing capacity and soil-enriching property.
Why Sohphlang can be invaluable?
- In Meghalaya, the processed tuber – meaning the peeled, scrubbed and cleaned root- currently sells for about Rs. 700 per pouch of about 5 kilos at wholesale. This is quite a steep price for a wild root. The demand, however, is such that it can make a good cash crop. In the current scenario, the supply is unable to fulfil the demand. Therefore the economic gains can be quite attractive if farmers take to farming it on a regular basis instead of harvesting it in the wild.
- The second gain is the soil enrichment - a characteristic of legumes, they fix nitrogen into the soil from the air. Mixed cropping with Sohphlang, studies say, enriches the soil with nitrogen up to 250 kilos per hectare per year, free!
- Next, Sohphlang is a powerful vermifuge, a worm killer or anthelminthic. Studies have confirmed that it kills parasitic soft-bodied worms that infest the gastrointestinal tract. The Khasi natives use the unpeeled tubers for de-worming.
What Kind of Worms Does Sohphlang Kill and How?Scientists have found the tuber to be rich in bioactive phytochemicals called isoflavones. In particular, the isoflavone genistein is found to be the main agent causing paralysis by destroying the cellular structure of the helminths. Sohphlang kills many species of ‘helminths’ – large macro-parasites that cause havoc to the gut and overall health. Sohphlang renders these parasitic creatures to undergo a rapid contraction of their muscles, paralyzing them and disintegrating their cellular structures. For example, below are some types of intestinal parasites that Sohphlang demolishes:
- Cestodes or flatworms such as the tapeworms
- Nematodes or roundworms such as Ascaris lumbricoides
- Trematodes, which are another class of flatworms such as liver flukes
Unique and Underutilized With Excellent Value-addition Potential
Besides phytochemicals, Sohphlang has high fibre content and is rich in protein and phosphorus. The fact that it also ready to eat makes it easy to comfort your grumbling tummy on the go! Sohphlang clearly has potential whether in raw form or value-added, i.e., dried and powdered. Its anthelminthic properties can prove to be invaluable as a naturally safe and inexpensive remedy for your gut parasite problems. As a ready food, it quickly staves off hunger pangs without the side effects, unlike those unhealthy so-called fast foods. In short, Sohphlang is a great health food and value for money!
At Zizira we are keenly aware of the problems that can overwhelm you. Therefore we are always on the trail to rediscover treasures of Nature known only to the indigenous peoples.
In this journey of rediscovery, the results are often astounding with so many benefits hidden in plain sight. We’ve packaged them with true value for you. Come rediscover with us and rejuvenate yourself!