Most of us know and have eaten some form of citrus fruits – oranges, mosambi (sweet lime), tangerine, lemon, mandarin and more. Yet did you know there are 27 species of citrus fruits reported in India itself, interesting, isn’t it?
Citrus fruits thrive and grow in abundance in tropical and sub-tropical areas and the Northeast India falls under this climate zone. And, Meghalaya is one of the states that are rich in wild and semi-wild citrus species.
In this article, you will learn about some of the citrus wild edibles that are used as a source of food and medicine by the indigenous folks of Meghalaya.
Areas lying between approximately 40-degree North and 40-degree South latitude is called the Citrus Belt. Meghalaya falls under this area! C. indica Yu. Tanaka (Memang Narang) is endemic to North eastern Himalayas and reported to be occurring wild in the hills of Nagaland, in the forest of Kaziranga, Assam and Garo hills of Meghalaya. (Source)
Meghalaya is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, the Khasi and Jaintia hills are described as some of the richest botanical habitats in Asia. Meghalaya is where Citrus species began and the place is also rich in Citrus germplasm.
The usage of Citrus fruits in India is known to have a long history and appears in old documents of both Chinese literature, and Sanskrit literature of around 800 BC. These tangy fruits have been valued throughout by indigenous tribal communities for their application as fruits, essential oils, and medicines.
In India, a vast reservoir of Citrus diversity exists both in the wild and cultivated forms, and the northeast part of India is considered as paradise of genetic diversity and natural diversity and natural home of many Citrus species. In the past, several researchers have described the region as a hotspot of Citrus biodiversity and have significantly stated that erosion of its genetic resource is a cause of concern. (Source)
This article is based on a study that has documented and analyzed the traditional knowledge and use of Citrus macropetra Montrouz., Citrus latipes (Swingle) Yu. Tanaka and Citrus indica Yu. Tanaka, by Khasi and Garo tribes of Meghalaya.
The study was conducted using the socio-economic research method in 16 villages of Meghalaya, having large forested area. Various citrus species were found in these villages. Uses of semi-wild and wild Citrus fruits are fostered in the culture of the tribal folks of Meghalaya. This is because citrus fruits are found in abundance here in the state.
Distribution of these citrus fruits is mostly confined to the sacred groves, community conserved forest, core zone protected areas and home gardens. The fruits and various parts of the citrus fruit are used for consumption, medicinal and culinary purposes.
Owing to the distribution, Citrus latipes (Swingle) Yu. Tanaka is commonly used by the Khasi people; Citrus indica Yu. Tanaka is more used in Garo hills part of Meghalaya. While the species Citrus macropetra Montrouz. is popularly used by both the tribes. (Source)
To conduct the study and collect data on the local and traditional knowledge associated with the use of selected citrus species, Meghalaya was divided into 4 broad agro-ecological regions.
About 16 villages or towns, 7 from the central upland region, 4 from South precipitous region, 2 from the western region, 3 from North undulating region were selected. These areas have a significant amount of forest that is rich in Citrus species, which was a perfect setup for this study.
During April 2008 to March 2009, a household survey was conducted for collecting data on traditional knowledge associated with Citrus species.
According to the survey that was conducted, we find out that Citrus spp such as C. latipes (Swingle) Yu. Tanaka and C. indica Yu. Tanaka were found growing in primary forest namely Sacred Groves of Mawplang, Ialong, Raliang and in the community forest of Mairang and Upper Shillong.
While C. indica Yu. Tanaka was found in the core of Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, foothills of Nokrek and in the community forest of South Garo Hills. The species C. Macroptera Montrouz on the other hand was found in the semi-wild state, cultivated and protected in the forest gardens of South precipitous regions.
Here are some traditional uses of these citrus fruits, some of them unknown to many:
This citrus species, C. latipes (Swingle) Yu. Tanaka is locally called as Soh Kymphor by the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya. This fruit is bitter sour in taste and commonly consumed raw.
But, in a few local Khasi villages of Laitjem and Sadew, this fruit is eaten between meals, usually blended with finely cut tender leaves of mustard or radish with chillies, sugar and salt to taste. Here are a few traditional uses of this plant:
Another citrus fruit found in these areas was C. macroptera Montrouz., known as Soh Kwit in Khasi and Chambal in Garo. It is mostly grown in the southern slopes of Meghalaya, in the villages of Mawlong, Wahlong, and Tyrna. Sohra is the local market and a center for surrounding areas, where the cultivars the villages sell this fruit on the “weekly market day”.
Whereas in Garo hills, it is widely distributed and mostly grows on hill slopes as natural vegetation. Here are a few traditional uses of this citrus fruit:
One delicacy of the Garo’s is the Wak Chambal Phura” where the pork is prepared with rice flour and peel of the fruit. The fruit is also relished as pickle, the peel of the fruit is scraped and is cut into pieces and bottled with lots of salt. It also has its significance in the most famous “the Wangala dance” where the local Garo folks perform a dance to celebrate harvest season. The festival is celebrated to thank the sun god (Misi Saljong) for a good harvest season. A part of the dance depicts the dance called “Chambal moa” which depicts the protection of crop field from birds and other predators. In this section, they tie this citrus fruit behind their back with a string and swing in a rhythmic way chasing away the birds and other animals from the crop field. (Source)
This citrus fruit is commonly called as Memang Narang in Garo and Soh Kumphlair and Sa Kymphrai in Khasi and Jaintia respectively. It is mostly grown in Garo hills below 1000msl, but the wild population of Citrus indica was not recorded during the study at Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Here are a few of its traditional uses:
From this study, we can conclude that citrus fruits are one of the most consumed fruits in Meghalaya, and are sought after for their nutritional and medicinal properties. The acid lime content of these citrus fruits has antiseptic, astringent and restorative properties.
Being rich in nutritional content, and being part of the regular diet of the tribal people, it significantly contributes to the well-being of the people of this region.