What does our instinct tell us to do when colds engulf and fevers suffocate our bodies? We reach for that familiar Crocin tablet just so to relieve ourselves of those annoying symptoms, right?
Sure we do. Now that we have ample access to modern OTC - over-the-counter - medicines it’s so convenient to just pop a pill and shoo away small sicknesses.
But ancient communities such as the Khasis and Garos of Meghalaya had no such conveniences (though the story’s a little different now). Instead, they had far more potent herbs and plants. And you know what? Scientists are steadily rediscovering just how potent these natural remedies are!
Like, for example, the fruits with medicinal value such as the now endangered Indian wild orange, Citrus macroptera Montrouz. that the Khasis of Meghalaya call Soh Kwit. It deals with those pesky headaches, body aches, colds and fevers in double quick time.
The Garos of Meghalaya have it too. They call it Chambal.
Grandma's Homemade Antipyretic and Analgesic!
I remember those days, nearly half a century ago when Grandma was still around. As children, we roamed about unprotected from the elements and we sometimes fall prey to coughs, colds and fevers, cuts and bruises.
But our Grandma had an arsenal of natural remedies for these and many other problems. There were turmeric, medicinal ginger, black and long pepper, honey and so on. And for high temperatures soh kwit was the magical antidote.
Here’s what she'd do when our bodies burned with fever and racked with pain:
- Pour about a tablespoon of mustard oil in a saucer
- Squeeze the juice of half a soh kwit
- Add a dash of lime
- Using fingers mix the ingredients thoroughly till they make a homogenous paste.
- Apply on the pate and forehead, back and chest and keep the child well covered.
In a little while, the fever’s vanished as if by a miracle!
Rich are The Forests of Meghalaya
Did you know Meghalaya sits right in the middle of the Indo-Burma Biosphere Reserve which is also one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world? It may come as news but this place teems with plant (and animal) life as ancient as they are exotic.
Did you know it also is the original home of all citrus species in the world?
Of the 27 citrus species that exist in the Indian subcontinent, 23 of these are found in Northeast India and particularly in Meghalaya. The mother of all oranges of the world, Memang Narang or Citrus indica Yu.Tanaka also originally belongs here.
And so does Soh Kwit, Citrus macroptera Montrouz.
Ask any Khasi villager about soh kwit and you’ll get the answer: It’s great for bringing down a high fever in babies and children!
Soh Kwit, the Indian Wild Orange
The rare fruit soh kwit is a valuable specimen. Trees can grow up to 30 to 50 feet high. Fruits are slightly larger than the orange, spheroid in shape and bumpy of skin. Leaves have petioles as large as the leaves themselves, like the leaves of kaffir limes. You can’t miss its tangy zest and aroma and you’ll grimace at it’s sour-bitter taste. Its fruit, pulp and juice have utility both as food and medicine.
Its habitat is the southern precipitous Ri-War region of West Jaintia and East Khasi Hills (Shella-Dawki area) and also Southeast Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Here you’ll find the trees growing in rough terrain in the semi-wild state or cultivated in protected community forests and in sacred groves.
In Meghalaya, the villages of Mawlong, Wahlong and Tyrna in East Khasi Hills are well-known for soh kwit. Sohra is the nearest local market hub.
The fruit’s also found in Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur as well as around the northern plains of Sylhet, Bangladesh.
Soh Kwit for Cure and Food and its Potential as a Health Food
Like all citruses, soh kwit has utility as both medicine and food, useful parts being mainly the leaves, fruit and rind. It even features in socio-cultural festivals and events of the Garos.
Research has proven that soh kwit has significant antibacterial and antioxidant properties and these are even more pronounced in the essential oils from the peels.
Studies have also shown that soh kwit peel powder is rich in caffeic acid which can help prevent oxidative stress, fibrosis and damage of the liver.
So helpful is the fruit in relieving fevers and stomach troubles that to use during offseason the Khasis preserve bottles of its juice by simply squeezing it straight from the fruit. The Garos first boil the juice for a long time, then cool and bottle it.
Common Traditional Medicinal Uses:
- Common Cold – Leaves are boiled till the water turns green and then used as bathwater.
- Headaches and Body Ache Using Leaves – Leaves are boiled as for common cold. The water is then used as a hot fomentation.
- Headache and Body Ache Using Juice – Juice is squeezed and applied on aching body parts.
- Stomach Disorder – Fruits are peeled and boiled with little water, then cooled and strained. The decoction is then diluted with a little freshwater and drank to get relief from gas or constipation.
- Fever – Juice is squeezed and applied on the pate of the head and forehead to bring down the temperature. Sometimes it’s mixed with mustard oil and a little lime which makes it more effective when the fever is accompanied by a cold.
- Antidote against Poisoning – Juice is taken orally in case of poisoning in humans as well as in fowls and cattle.
- Cuts and Wounds – Juice, which has antiseptic action, is applied topically.
- Cracked Skin – Juice, which is also astringent, is very effective for preventing the skin from chapping.
Traditional Uses of The Different Parts of The Plant:
Fruit and Pulp – there’s this one delightful way the Khasis eat the fruit when all chores are done and everyone’s relaxed. They make a fruit salad of it.
Here's how you can too:
- Peel the soh kwit and cut the flesh into small pieces.
- Mix it with finely sliced fresh mustard leaves, a little mustard oil, chilli flakes and salt.
- Dress with a little raw how (or sprinkle some sugar if honey’s not available). This is to cut down the bitter and sour taste.
- Enjoy it with friends and family as a delicious comfort food or snack that will leave every one asking for more.
The hot, sweet and sour juice that settles in the bowl is something every one will covet in the end!
- Pulp – Sun-dried and pickled in oil it makes mouth-watering condiment.
- Fresh Juice – The Garos, as well as the Khasis, squeeze the juice freshly on fried pork. Besides adding to the flavour, it cuts the fat of the meat.
- Peel – During the season, fresh peels go into meats and fish to give a distinct, tangy flavour to the preparations. Dried and preserved, the same peels make great flavouring during offseason.
- Peel and Rice Flour – The Garos mix rice flour and chambal peel to make the delicious Wak Chambal Phura.
Use in Traditional Festivities:
The Wangala dance of the Garos is incomplete without the ‘Chambal moa’ where the Ambeng or the traditional Garo tribes-people dance to give thanks to Miji-Saljong, the Sun-God. The Ambeng tie the fruits to their waists and dance to the rhythm of the long drums, swinging the fruits about in symbolic gesture of driving away pests and birds to protect their crops.
Soh Kwit’s Amazing Health and Nutritional Value
Soh kwit is incredible. Have a look at its beneficial properties below:
Besides the above, soh kwit is rich in these contents which are above other commercial citrus species:
- Dietary Fibre
- Antioxidant Content
Soh kwit, amazingly rich in nutritional content and value, has always been a part of Meghalaya’s rural folk's diet, contributing significantly to their overall health.
The Downslide of Soh Kwit – Can We Do Something?
As with other original foods, soh kwit also seems to be gradually losing its full significance. The main reason being the incursion of new food cultures and cuisines that has changed people's dietary customs in no small measure.
Sadly enough, traditional societies are slowly abandoning their old food habits, throwing away precious indigenous knowledge that has meticulously accumulated through centuries.
As for the soh kwit trees, there's a steady loss of habitat due to the erosion of natural forests, further depleting this rare and highly endangered plant's population. Plant scientists are, however, already aware of the situation and great efforts are underway to reverse the situation.
So all hope’s not lost. As long as we still have soh kwit we can still endeavour to preserve and promote it. Its value as food, medicine and source of nutrition is too precious to throw away.
So, you’ve learned something about this rare and almost forgotten citrus fruit, soh kwit. Do you think it deserves conservation and promotion? Or, maybe value addition?
Drop in your comments below.
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