Alpine vegetable serves dual benefits as medicine and food item for locals


Photo courtesy Kinzang Thinlay, BWS
Photo courtesy Kinzang Thinlay, BWS

The Alpine vegetable (smilacina) rated as a rare order in some literature is found readily available in the wild with the exponential growth in population leading to overwhelming pressure in Rongmateng under Khoma gewog in Lhuentse dzongkhag.

Locally known as Dheyma, it is found growing within the altitudinal rage of 3,200 to 4,000 meters above sea level and in far flung areas where not much of medical facilities is bestowed. The people in these regions use it for treating certain kinds of diseases.

The communities of Rongmateng either cook the plant as a vegetable or consume it to treat common diseases and prevent infection by certain diseases.

“Growing of Vegetable in the alpine areas remains as a constraint mainly because of the altitudinal differences,” an official with Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Kinzang Thinlay said.

He said that in order to ease this problem, the people of Rongmateng community use fresh tender young leaves and shoots of smilacina plant cooked as a vegetable.

He also said that still today in some places where medical facilities have not reached, people uses series of wild plants to treat themselves. “But for vegetable is not far apart, in Bhutan the communities especially in the rural areas, they use many different plants for different purposes,” he said.

Ecologically and environmentally, the Plants play a vital role in sustaining the livelihood of all living beings on earth. Plants provide food, shelter, clothes, medicine and so on. In fact, in the old days, besides many other uses, people depended completely on plants for medicine to cure and as well to prevent diseases.

Such plant is also found in the alpine areas of western China, Nepal, Bhutan and in other parts of Asia in the eastern Himalayas. In Bhutan this perennial plant is mostly found in the temperate conifer forest in northern part of the country.

The alpine vegetable is a perennial plant that attains a height of 70 cm with dark green, red-margined foliage. It is an easy hardy plant which goes well with other woodlanders and has a very graceful habitat usually colored, dark-hued blooms lightened at green center.

There is a variation in the proportions of green and red purple of the flower. Superficially this is similar to Smilacina fusa, but it is more robust with more numerous leaves and it has flowers with petals all equal in size. Flowers are borne in simple racemes (branched panicles). It is in bloom from May to June and the seeds ripen from August and September.

The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by the insects.

The people of Rongmateng also do mass-collection every year and they dry in the sun for future storage. It is an age old tradition that they use smilacina plant as vegetable from the time of their forefathers.

According to Kinzang Thinlay the people are willing to continue to use it all time to come. “We could see that this is the only main vegetable apart from few others that they consume throughout the year,”

on natural resources, the collection involve destructive harvesting techniques where plant parts such as young shoot, barks, stems and whole plants are extracted.

The study on the sustainability of non-wood forest products in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in 2003 indicated that medicinal plants such as Picrorhiza, Cordyceps, Nardostachys and one such is smilacina plant because of its vegetable value, are over-collected and long term sustainability is uncertain.

The park official said that it is therefore high time for concerned departments to reach out conservation activities for those plants. “One of the means would be to encourage the highlanders to do cultivation in their village vicinity,” he added.

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