Ashwagandha, The New Superfood

You’ve cherished, enjoyed and even referred it to your friends. I’m talking about Haldi (turmeric) grown on our farm. Now we offer you a medicinal herb which promotes sleep, balances the nervous system, restores energy and strength and helps delay premature ageing. We bring you Ashwagandha, also called the Indian ginseng grown on our farm in soil rich in organic matter alongside Barvi, a perennial river, located in village Chon, Badlapur (Maharashtra).

 In the US, Ashwagandha sales grew impressively in 2020, with chronic stress and sleeplessness on the rise, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts discuss how ashwagandha is poised to lead the adaptogens category into the mainstream.

Ashwagandha is propagated from seeds; planted in August-September. The crop is ready for harvest in January-March at 150 to 180 days after sowing. The maturity of the crop is judged by drying out of leaves and yellow-red berries. The entire plant is uprooted for roots which are separated from aerial parts by cutting the stem 1-2 cm above the crown. The roots are split and dried for a fortnight in shade and pulverised to make powder.

As ashwagandha gains a profile among new consumers who are educating themselves on natural options that support stress and sleep, the ingredient also serves as a leader in a burgeoning category of ingredients called adaptogens.

Though commonly used for stress, Ashwagandha is also used as an “adaptogen”. Meaning it may help your body adapt to short and long-term physical, mental, and emotional stressors. Tulsi, turmeric ginseng and liquorice are other examples of adaptogens. Research shows adaptogens can combat fatigue, enhance mental performance, ease depression and anxiety, and help you thrive rather than just muddle through.

When we can adapt to stress, we perform better and feel better despite what’s stressing us out. And with that, we can also improve our health and well-being. When you’re stressed, your adrenal gland releases the stress hormone cortisol, which then energises you to tackle an emergency. But too much too often is usually bad for our bodies.

Stress is a major factor leading to lifestyle diseases. Ashwagandha acts as an effective stress buster and boosts mental performance. Hence, this supplement helps to manage your day-to-day life effectively and naturally. It reduces levels of fat and sugar in the blood in people using these medications. Regular consumption can reduce cortisol levels and improve immunity. This supplement also helps to relieve fatigue and weakness by restoring your natural body strength.

 Ashwagandha contains chemicals that might help calm the brain, reduce swelling (inflammation), lower blood pressure, and alter the immune system. In its purest form, it keeps inflammatory diseases away from harming the body, building a strong immunity system within you.

It has an earthy and bitter flavour. Take ¼ or 1/2 teaspoon of Ashwagandha root powder along with ghee, sugar and honey daily morning for a month.  You can also take in a glass of warm milk at bedtime. You can add it to your desserts, beverages and smoothies.

 You can apply Aswagandha powder topically to inflamed joints or as part of an Ayurvedic skincare routine. Ashwagandha can take anywhere from 2-3 days to several weeks to work. Current research suggests it may take ten or more weeks to achieve maximum benefits related to stress and anxiety reduction 

 Ashwagandha is considered safe for most people. However,  pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, may need to avoid it. Better consult your physician to know whether you should go for it.


Young Gujarat Farmer Takes Lead Grows Passion Fruit

Bhavin Ravaliya is unlike the scores of farmers I’ve met and interacted with during my assignments over the years. Young, he is 27, willing to experiment with new crops, share his experiences and even promote a new fruit—offering saplings at highly subsidised rates to farmers.

“I’m a farmer and they are my fellows,” he reasons.

If in future, Bhanvad and its neighbouring villages in Jamnagar district grow to become the hub of passion fruit growers in Gujarat the credit, most likely, will go to Bhavin. Till now passion fruit has been grown in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.

Bhavin at his farm

In 2018, he planted the PKM 1, the Moringa variety on nine bighas and made around Rs 30 lakhs from the harvest. “We had a good harvest of Saragwa but next year due to the lockdown we couldn’t sell much,” he says.

Always willing to experiment he has planted 2,000 lemon plants on 15 bighas and 100 plants of Barhi dates on five bighas.  

For selling the newly introduced saplings of passion fruity he has adopted the ‘mall strategy’—buy one get one. Buy 50 saplings and you get an additional 50. For the kitchen gardeners, however, the three-month come for Rs 100 apiece.

“If they succeed to grow it I am willing to collect their harvest to sell it to traders in Delhi and Mumbai or make value-added products,” he says.

Flowers on the vine

Bhavin sourced seeds of the passion fruits from Tamil Nadu in 2020 to begin his orchard, a first in Gujarat. “I and a friend sourced some seeds from Brazil too,” he informs.

Native to Brazil, Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis Sims) belonging to the family Passifloraceae, is grown mostly in tropical and subtropical parts of the world from South America to Australia, Asia and Africa. In India, passion fruit was introduced in the early part of the twentieth century in the Nilgiris, Coorg and Malabar areas of southern India. A perennial fruit, its a vigorous, climbing, woody vine that produces round or ovoid fruits. The fruits have a tough, smooth, waxy dark purple/yellow coloured rind with faint, fine white specks. Fruit contains orange-coloured pulpy juice with a large number of small, hard, dark brown to black pitted seeds. The fruits possess a unique flavour and aroma and high nutritional and medicinal properties. Mainly they are processed to make fruit juice and concentrate, it has lately become a favourite at weddings and social gatherings in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The purple passion fruit (P. edulis) is adapted to the cooler subtropics or at high altitudes in the tropics, while the golden passion fruit (P. edulis var. flavicarpa) is more suited to tropical lowland conditions. The two forms of passion fruit hybridize readily and produce fertile seedlings intermediate in appearance between the parents. The yellow is more acidic and less starchy while the purple less acidic and more starchy. Each plant bears 40-60 fruits per annum and produces 200 tonnes yield/ha over a three-year cropping period. Fruits ovoid to round and purple dotted. Fruits contain 25-30 per cent juice, 11.5-12.0 per cent sugars and 3.0-3.5mg citric acid/100ml.

In Kerala, physicians recommend it and during the dengue season, its sale spirals on. Shops and fruit vendors around big hospitals start selling passion fruit. Fruit vendors, realising this, begin to stock it. The leaf decoction of passion fruit is believed to bring down blood sugar. The fruit has antioxidants and richer reserves of polyphenols than other tropical fruits such as bananas, lychees and pineapples. Extract of purple passion fruit peel is believed to help reduce wheezing and coughing associated with asthma, according to one scientific study.

Fruits on the vine

“I have extracted the seeds by fermentation method by heaping up the pulp for 48 hours in the fridge, extracting the seeds and then drying them in shade,” informs Bhavin.

Sowing is done preferably during the month of March-April in a well-prepared seedbed. The seeds start sprouting in about 12-15 days after sowing and germination is completed in about a month. In some cases germination extends even up to 50-60 days. When the seedlings attain four to six leaves and are transplanted in the field in about three months.

How does Bhavin grow passion fruit?

“I have created mandap (canopy) of 10 ft by 10 ft with four iron girders on the corners and its roof woven with nylon ropes,” says Bhavin. “One has to train the vine to climb the mandap which it does with great vigour.

The Ravaliyas have erected 214 mandaps for passion fruit cultivation. Each mandap gives them between 12kg to 15 kg of fruit. “Whereas Tamil Nadu growers receive 10kg per mandap our is much higher,” says Bhavin who discontinued his studies after completing his 12th standard.   

Bhavin’s family, a joint family of 20 persons, owns 80 bighas, of which 65 bighas is devoted to passion fruits. According to him, the Revaliyas are the only joint family in Bhanvad who continue to live together, farm together and share the harvest too.  For long they have been growing rain-fed crops but have now two borewells, having struck water at 800 ft and 1300 ft respectively.

Saplings at his nursery

Presently, Bhavin has 22,000 passion fruit saplings in his nursery ready for sale to nurseries in his neighbourhood and farmers willing to experiment with passion fruits. Thanks to his initiative of growing passion fruits, he has become a local celebrity and even been interviewed by the  All India Radio, Rajkot.

In Maharashtra’s Rose Village Every Grower A Lakhpati

Hiren Kumar Bose

It’s four in the morning and the entire Kumhar household, young and old wearing mining torches, are out in the field braving the early December chill nimbly plucking the blooming roses, wary of the wayward thorns. They are not alone, for the Chiwares, the Bhagwats, the Patils, the Pawars, the Mujawars, the Chowgules and the Chendkes—of Wadji, Maharashtra’s ‘rose village’—are there too, in their respective fields.

Continue reading “In Maharashtra’s Rose Village Every Grower A Lakhpati”

Award-Winning Farmer Develops Elongated ‘King Berry’ Grape That Sells for Rs 80/KG

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Developing new grape varieties has become a common practice among farmers of the grape growing belt in Maharashtra.

Over the years, varieties from the Vitis Vinifera have attracted the attention of farmer breeders and so far there are around a dozen new varieties developed by farmers belonging to the grape-growing belt of Maharashtra. Among the earliest farmer breeder varieties is Tas Ganesh, developed by Subash Arve (1970), followed by Solapur’s Manik Chaman by T R Dabade (1982), Maruti Seedless by Sangli’s Maruti Ramchandra Mali (1994), Mahadev Seedless by Solapur’s Gausmohammed Saipan Shaikh (2007) and Sudhakar Seedless by Nashik’s Sudhakar Kshirsagar (2019). Other varieties grown include Red Globe, Krishna Seedless, Sharad Seedless, Fantasy Seedless, Crimson Seedless etc. Varieties developed by Pune-based ICAR-National Research Centre for Grapes, namely Manjari Shyama, Manjari Naveen and Manjari Medika too are cultivated by scores of farmers.

Most growers in the State are members of GrapeNet, a web-based certification and traceability software system which monitors fresh grapes exported from India to the European Union. It helps track all the details of the consignment, right down to the location of the vineyards, record of all the processes involved which can be traced by international customers at the end of the chain to validate the authenticity and quality of the grapes.

However, Dattaraya N Kale of Solapur stands apart having developed five new varieties over the years. Most of them have found acceptance not among growers in their home state but also among those in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

The 56-year-old’s latest variety called King Berry, launched this February, has attracted a lot of attention due to its size. An elongated variety, which is black and purple in colour has an astounding berry length of 45-50mm and width (berry diameter) of 24-25mm, making it suitable for making premium raisins. Its size is relatively big considering the berry length of those produced in India that vary between 12mm to 20mm. Its closest rival is Super Sonaka, a white-coloured table grape that reaches a length of 25mm.

Kale’s Sonaka Farms in Nanaj, spread over 25 acres, has so far developed six unique varieties of grapes.

A Family of Grape Innovators

It all began in 1980, when Dattatraya’s father, Nanasaheb, considered a pioneer in grape farming, introduced Sonaka Seedless, arguably the country’s first elongated green grape. Widely popular in the domestic market, it created history and inspired many new grape varieties. The variety opened new markets, like China and HK to Indian grape growers.

Ten years later, Dattaraya, then 31, launched Sharad Seedless, a black variety which is one of the top varieties grown in India and followed it in 2004 by introducing Sarita Seedless — named after his mother. Reminiscing about his first innovation, Kale says, “I observed that bunches in one particular clone of Sharad Seedless vine had many bigger-sized berries. I monitored it closely for three years and realised the clone was different and distinctive from the rest.”

A progressive grape grower who discontinued his education after his Class 12, Kale has followed the footsteps of his father and owns 25 acres of vineyards and grows various varieties developed by his family. He has started a nursery to sell the grafts of his seedless grape varieties and is also involved in producing and selling black raisins prepared from the Sarita and Nanasaheb Purple Seedless varieties.

Kale was given the Plant Genome Saviour Farmer Award (2018-19) which carries a cash award of Rs 1.50 lakhs for his outstanding contribution in developing improved grape varieties by the Union Agriculture Minister at an event held in New Delhi.

This February, keeping social distancing norms in place, he introduced the King Berry to grape growers, with former Agriculture Minister Shard Pawar present in his vineyard at Nanaj.

Every branch of this variety has at least two to three bunches. He has successfully produced 11 tonnes per acre in the first year and followed it with 14 tonnes in the second year. Says Kale, “King Berry is likely to address new export markets, namely China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. It is high yielding, weather-resistant and fetches higher prices in the market,” says Kale, a recipient of Grass Root Innovation Award at Festival of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (FINE) 2019 — the country’s flagship initiative towards recognising and rewarding the creativity of the common man.

As the variety produces high-quality raisins growers have the alternative to fresh grapes. As branded raisin, it attracts a premium price due to its size.

While export gives him between Rs 165 and Rs 170 per kg, local sales give him Rs 80 a kg, and the King Berry raisins command a price of Rs 600 per kg.

He has developed five varieties, of which three are registered with the National Innovation Foundation while the other two, namely King Berry and Danaka Purple Seedless, are under process.

According to Dr R G Somkuwar, Director (Acting) of ICAR-National Research Centre for Grapes (NRCG) the Kale family’s contributions towards developing new varieties is exemplary and is being cultivated widely. “The new variety, King Berry, holds a lot of promise for growers from what I have learnt,” he adds.

A serial farmer-breeder, Kale has set up a nursery to sell the grafts of his developed grape varieties. “We prepare the grafts with immense care and precaution so that survival rate is close to 100% and fruiting starts at the right time. As grafting needs good humidity we use foggers to create the desired humidity in the nursery,” he informs.

Among his innovative varieties Sarita Seedless and Nanasaheb Purple Seedless have been widely adopted by the growers for profitable cultivation due to their good berry length, taste, attractive purple coloured and litchi flavoured big sized berries.

The variety Nanasaheb Purple Seedless has been disseminated in four states, namely Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka covering more than 21,000 hectares area. It also covers 90 per cent of grape cultivation in Maharashtra. Sarita Seedless is widely cultivated in Solapur and Nashik areas of Maharashtra covering over 17,000 hectares.

Thanks to King Berry’s acceptance in the market as raisins, Kale has plans to shift to raisin production on a large scale. “The future of grapes is in adding value and raisins have great potential. Processing grapes into raisins gives a good option to farmers in case of market instabilities,” says Kale, who has already tied up with neighbouring farmers to brand their product and sell it in cities of Pune and Mumbai.

Chhattigarh Farmer Develops 65cms long brinjal

Hiren Kumar Bose

 A brinjal as long as a snake gourd but thicker girth, variegated-skinned and endowed with mild sweet pulp, is increasingly becoming the staple of scores of dishes, as more and more farmers grow it.

The brinjal variety named, Niranjan Bhata, is unique as it softens and dissolves, once cooked, and has few seeds. Though brinjal is known as baingan in the Hindi-speaking belt, in Chhattisgarh it is called bhata. 

Developed by a Chhattisgarh-based farmer and grassroots innovator Ram Sahu from a traditional brinjal variety, the sixty-year-old Sahu’s innovation has earned him the Plant Genome Saviour Award by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA) New Delhi.

Often described as a poor man’s vegetable, brinjal is popular amongst marginal growers. Every household in India, regardless of food preferences, income levels and social status features the vegetable from the Solanum melongena family in the dishes. Low in calories and high in nutrition, it has a very high water content and is a very good source of fibre, calcium, phosphorus, folate, and vitamins B and C.  India being the second-largest producer after China, brinjal is an important cash crop for over 1.4 million small, marginal and resource-poor farmers. A hardy crop that yields well even under drought conditions, it is grown in almost all parts of the country. West Bengal, Orissa, Gujarat Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Bihar are the major brinjal producing states.

Perhaps the most versatile crop in the vegetable world, brinjal has adapted to different agro-climatic regions and displays a wide range of fruit shapes and colours, ranging from oval or egg-shaped to long club-shaped; and from white, yellow, green through degrees of purple pigmentation to almost black. Over 66 known brinjal hybrid varieties, developed by Agri universities and research bodies, like Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research and others, are grown in India besides the indigenous ones—the consumer preference being dependent upon fruit colour, size and shape.

Among brinjal’s long varieties are Pusa Purple Long, Pusa Purple Cluster, Azad Kranti, Arka Keshav, Arka Shirish, and Pusa Hybrid— ranging from 10 to 25 cm.  Significantly, the 46 cm long Niranjan Bhata has dwarfed its less elongated cousins. “I even had ones which were 60cms long but chose not to introduce them as I felt that it would not be easily accepted and difficult to market,” tells  Sahu. 

He developed it by mass selection—a breeding method where the genetic values of individual plants are estimated and then based on these estimates selected to be the parents of the following generation—from a traditional variety conserved by his forefathers. “I have been cultivating the traditional brinjal variety since 1988 but started the selection in 2010 and it took me another three years to develop, all along keeping in mind its length, spine on stem and calyx, tolerance to pests and disease and number of fruits per plant,” informs Sahu.

A resident of Dhuma village in Kurud tehsil of Dhamtari district in Chhattisgarh, Sahu cultivates various crops throughout the year, like paddy, turmeric, gram, black-gram, vegetables, and other local crops on the family’s 7.5 acres. As his village regularly encountered water scarcity, Sahu has voluntarily built several check dams which have led to increased irrigation in his and the neighbouring farmers’ fields.  One who believes in growing traditional crop varieties and pursuing organic cultivation practices, Sahu’s achievements in organic farming have been highlighted in the NCERT textbook for standard VI-VIII.

For seven years now, Dhuma’s 150-households have been beneficiaries of Sahu’s innovative brinjal variety and is grown in 40-odd acres—most landholdings here are between 2.5 acres to five acres. Cultivating twice a year, the brinjal growers make between Rs 35 to Rs 40 a kg.

In 2016 Niranjan Bhata went on trial in famers’ fields in six States at the instance of NIF-India and received encouraging responses. For instance, in Nandurbar in Maharashtra farmers, Ramesh Pawara and Jaysing Pawara of Bhujgaon village in the Satpura range grew it in their kitchen gardens consisting of 50 plants, each yielding 5kgs of fruits. “Initially they struggled to make any sale due to the brinjal’s size and colour but as the word went around about its taste and keeping quality sold their entire harvest and made around Rs 8,000,” says Padmakar Chandrabhan Kunde, scientist, Plant Protection, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Nandurbar. “I too was amazed by its taste and realised that once cooked it dissolved like butter.”

A crop that is susceptible to bacterial, fungal and viral pests, Niranjan Bhata is tolerant to major insects and pests compared to the other varieties. “Here in Chhattisgarh we are not much exposed to chemical pesticides and use organic methods, like neem-based pesticides and also broadcast the field with ash from the hearth,” says Sahu, honoured with a State award by the President of India during Festival of Innovation-2017, organized by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF)-India.

NIF supported Sahu for on-site evaluation of the variety by the Department of Vegetable Science, Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (IGKV) Raipur, Chhattisgarh and confirmed that its length (45-60 cm), fruit quality and lower susceptibility to pest attack and disease.  It also facilitated its trials in farmers’ fields in States namely West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Nagaland, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.  For instance, its performance in a farmer’s field in Gujarat had excellent results with the fruit achieving an average length of 1.5 to 1.7 feet.  

In Manipur, seeds of Niranjan Bhata were distributed to four farmers in 2016. According to Laishram Yelhounganba Khuman, Innovation Fellow, NIF-India its fruit size was considerably bigger compared to a local brinjal variety. “Though the infestation of Fusarium wilt and stem borer were observed which could be due to the quality of soil and season, however,  its fruit was fleshy, remained soft and contained lesser seeds even during the maturation stage,” he stated.  

Niranjan Bhata has found new takers in the southern States where it can be grown all year round. A farmer from Tiruchanapally in Tamil Nadu who has been growing the variety for three years now told Sahu that used in sambhar the variety “melts, making the gravy thicker”. While a farmer in Jatpur in Raigarh district, bordering Odisha, who planted it on a half-acre plot, had plants reaching a height of 12 ft. The said farmer not only made a handsome amount selling the vegetable in the neighbouring state but disposed of the crop remains, used as fuelwood, for an additional Rs 18,000!

A conservator at heart, Sahu has built a seed vault at his home and is working on breeding newer varieties of paddy, turmeric and cluster beans. Rather than outsource the germplasm to seed making companies, Sahu prefers to sell the seeds of Niranjan Bhata to individual growers and regularly interacts with them to know about its performance and even offers guidance on the agronomic practices to be followed.

Reach Sahu at 098261 48629

Blue Tea!

Having been a green tea regular, it was my first experience with floral tea. French have a word for it, Tisane, pronounced tee-zan.

Tisanes come from a water-based infusion of herbs, spices, flowers, leaves, etc. Essentially, an herbal infusion, or tisane is any plant-derived drink other than true tea.

Today I made Tisane from Shankhpushpi. The conch-shaped (or shankh in Hindi) flower, also known as Asian pigeonwings, Shankhini, Kambumalini, Aparajita, Sadaphuli and Sankhaphuli, is popularly used as a memory booster and brain tonic. In Ayurveda, the edible flower is used to calm one’s mind.

Making it is very simple. I let the flowers remain in a bowl full of water overnight. Next day I found that the water had turned blue. In fact, aquamarine blue.

From a painting by Murali Nagapuzha

I sipped the floral tea while wifey clicked the pics. I fail to describe its taste but I know I enjoyed it. I tried it because it promised several wellness properties. Yes, it does calm the mind.

I am told it helps in balancing brain chemicals such as neurotransmitters and ups secretion of dopamine, which in turn keeps the serotonin level under control. It also helps to reduce various symptoms of anxiety which includes restlessness, uneasiness, cold hands and feet, and makes one mentally stronger.

Shankhpushpi Tea

FYI Amazon sells it as Butterfly Pea Tea in 25 g bottles.



Alphonso Of Nagar Revived From Extinction

Shamkant Thange and his family have helped revive the local ‘Tikhliya’ mango variety by saving grafts from the branches of one tree. His 2-acre orchard now grows 200 mango trees.

Ever since word spread that Shamkant Thange has successfully revived a once-popular mango variety in his two-acre orchard in Tikhol village in Ahmednagar Maharashtra, he has been receiving a stream of visitors including farmers from far off Sindhudurg.

Swamped by hundreds of orders for the saplings of mango, locally known as ‘Tikhliya’, the 52-year-old assures prospective buyers saying, “I will be able to offer it by early next year.”

A small village with 2,000 plus inhabitants, Tikhol sits in a valley circled by the Sahyadri range. Barely 3 km from National Highway 61, the village of farmers is home to an earthen dam, which caters to drinking water and is also used for irrigating crops like bajra, sweet pea, onion, tomato, sugarcane and beans. The village also borders the famed Ralegan Siddhi, considered to be a model of environmental conservation.

According to the villagers, the Tikhliya mango trees have stood on the edge of the village since the British era but stopped yielding fruits in the early ’90s. There are two theories about how it got its name: first, because it belonged to Tikhol village and second, because of its light green dots (tikki in Marathi) on the fruit’s body. In Maharashtra, mango trees which come up beside water bodies, like a river or a pond are known as raiwal or gavran amba (local mango variety). Tikhliya is also a raiwal variety.

Old timers here tell you that the mango variety has had a special place in the heart of Tikhol and its neighbouring villages. Till about the 1970s, after harvest, bullock carts laden with ripe Tikhliya were taken in a procession with a brass band playing till the village’s border. However, the practice was discontinued in the early ’70s. “We took the mangoes loaded in bullock carts to the Nagar (Ahmednagar is colloquially referred as) mandi, which is 40km away. Six bullock carts carried around six quintals each of the fruit,” reminiscences Sakhare Thange (85). He adds, “It took us close to three hours to reach the mandi and we sold a choudah (a pile of 14) for Rs 40.”

As late as 1984, a Tikhol farmer, Rangnath Ganpat Kabre, was awarded a cash prize of Rs 1,000 by the Ahmednagar Zilla Parishad for growing the Tikhliya variety. Now we know why it acquired the moniker, ‘Nagar Cha Hapus’ (Hapus of Ahmednagar), comparable to Konkan’s Alphonso.

However, by the late ’90s, the tree had stopped yielding fruits, which in horticulture is called becoming ‘senile’. Six years into the new millennium it had withered. Then, sometime in 2006, Shamkant, whose family had enjoyed it’s fruits, decided to conserve it. “The tree had withered and become lifeless, barring a couple of branches. I brought home a couple of them and made grafts of them which over the years I planted on three gunthas (3000 sq. ft) of land,” says the man who has devoted 15 long years to revive Tikhliya.

Flowering on this tree begins in the December-January period and a 10-year-old tree annually yields between 3 to 5 tonnes of fruits, according to Shamkant.

From the oldest orchard comprising 50 trees, this year, the Thanges harvested 50 quintals and sold it for Rs 150 a kg.

Of the many who consider Tikhliya to be a hidden gem awaiting to be rediscovered is one Vasant Gharat (60), a Panvel resident who trades in fish spawns. He says, “During a business trip to Tikhol I happened to enjoy the mango and ever since then, my family and I have been asking for more of it. What’s remarkable about this mango variety is it’s aroma stays with you. I was so charmed by it that I acquired a couple of saplings and gifted them to a farmer friend.”

There are scores of farmers in Tikhol who grow mangoes, namely Dasheri, Payeri and Kesar but it’s the Thanges who besides growing other crops have helped revive a local variety and propagate it too.

Dwelling on the identifying characteristics of Tikhliya, Devendra Jadhav, Block Technology Manager, ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency) who has been working in Parner taluka since 2016, says, “Tikhliya arrives after all the mango varieties, like Hapus, Kesar, Payeri, etc, have finished their three-month-long reign. Harvested in mid-June it’s much-sought after among the fruit’s dedicated fans.”

Every year a storm characterised by high-speed winds and heavy rains fells the mango crop in large numbers leading to losses to the grower. Interestingly, Tikhiliya is endowed with a unique feature noticed by the villagers. The thick stem on which fruits hang in a bunch protects it from erratic weather conditions.

ATMA has big plans for Tikhliya. Jadhav says, “We will provide all the assistance to the Thanges to develop a nursery and cater to the huge demand for its saplings. We want to make Tikhliya synonymous to Maharashtra which will benefit growers who want to grow off season mango.”

Weighing around 250-300g, the fruit, once plucked, remains fresh for up to 25 days. Slightly rounder in shape, firm-fleshed, fibre-free and endowed with a pleasing aroma, Tikhliya has delicate skin. When ripe the skin becomes yellow. But it lacks the extreme sweetness of Alphonso.

Taking into consideration its unique features, ATMA has filed for GI (Geographical Index) status with the IPR cell of Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri.

The family also aspires to enter the variety in the National Database of Mangoes which is maintained by the Department of Biotechnology, Indian Council of Agriculture Research and Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture. “If the Thanges achieve the status of becoming a custodian farmer like hundreds of others spread across the country who conserve our horticulture heritage,” says Jadhav.

Having tasted few slices of a freshly-cut Tikhliya I tend to agree with what Avinash (28), a third generation Thange and an agriculture graduate, told me: “Whatever you write, it would still be inadequate to express the mango’s uniqueness.”

Reach Avinash on 9552585143

Also check

Mulberry Leaf Powder Can Help Control Diabetes

Being a farmer for over a decade and half now, I have always been eager to know about plant chemical or phytochemical properties of plants, it’s fruits, and its flowers. In short, to know whether it’s minerals can be harvested for plant nutrition. Over the years I have  been able to identify the phytochemicals through poring over reams and reams of literature and used the same to benefit my orchard. I think most farmers who are curious do the same. These are organic alternatives  to the synthetic chemicals we use to feed our plants.

Plants produce many chemicals that are biologically active, not just in themselves, but also in other organisms. Some of these chemicals enhance their own survival.

Many plants have high levels of minerals because they can draw minerals from the soil and can convert them into a form that is more easily used by the human body. Mineral content is often the key factor in a plant’s effectiveness as a medicine.

I have used calotropis leaves to cure boron deficiency in mangoes,  fermented banana stem solution to harness potassium needs of turmeric and used moringa leaf spray to enhance vegetable growth. 

Last week my quest led me to  Mulberry leaf  tea and I came to know that it is an excellent medium to control Type 2 Diabetes. I would not claim it to be my discovery: for thousands of years ago it was mentioned in the Bhavprakash Nirghantu but has been ignored and overlooked by present day physicians who can’t think beyond prescribing Metformin.  By the way the plant is known as Tula, Brahmadaru and Kramuka in Sanskrit. Over the years medical journals and research have provided ample proof that blood sugar can be treated by Morus Alba or white mulberry.

I am no physician but the following paragraphs provide you with ample evidence of what promises mulberry holds for diabetics. 

The plant is rich in phenolics. The leaves contain flavonoids, artocarpin, cycloartocarpin and analogues. The root of the plant contains flavonoids like kuwanons, sangennons, mulberrosides and mulberofurans. The small branches contain mulberrin, fructose, glucose, flavonoid, coumarin, arabinose, xylose, stachyose, sucrose. The fruit contains carotene, vitamins A and C, thamene, riboflavin, tannin, linoleic and stearic acids.

Most importantly the leaf contains 1-Deoxynojirimycin (DNJ or 1-DNJ), also called duvoglustat or moranolin, is an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor, most commonly found in mulberry leaves.

An easy to grow plant, Mulberry is propagated through cuttings and is grown in almost every part of India. With the number of diabetics increasing, be it in cities or villages, it would not  be wrong to say that wherever there are diabetics you’ll find Mulberry!

Sadly, most diabetics are not aware  that mulberry is a panacea for their ills. It is a fast-growing, small to medium-sized tree which grows to 10–20 m tall. The white mulberry is widely cultivated to feed the silkworms employed in the commercial production of silk. It is also notable for the rapid release of its pollen.

Chemicals present in white mulberry  work in a similar way to some medicines used for type 2 diabetes. They slow the breakdown of sugars in the gut so that they are absorbed more slowly into the blood. This helps the body keep blood sugar levels in the desirable range.

The leaf extract of Morus alba (LEM) shows the competitive inhibition to α-glucosidase. This single- blinded, placebo-controlled study investigated the effects of LEM on postprandial glucose and insulin levels in type 2 diabetes patients treated with or without sulfonylurea hypoglycemic agents (SU). Elevations in glucose and insulin levels were suppressed and the excretion of breath hydrogen gas was markedly increased in healthy subjects after ingestion of jelly containing LEM. These results suggest that LEM can suppress the postprandial elevation of glucose and insulin independent of SU treatment.

White mulberry is also tried for treating high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, the common cold and its symptoms, muscle and joint pain such as from arthritis, constipation, dizziness, ringing in the ears, hair loss, and premature graying.

Taking 1 gram of the powdered leaf three times a day for 4 weeks decreased fasting blood sugar levels by 27%, compared with an 8% decrease with the diabetes medicine glyburide, 5 mg daily.

In a small study of people with type 2 diabetes, white mulberry leaf, 1 gram taken 3 times daily for 4 weeks, reduced total cholesterol by 12%, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 23%, and increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 18%.

Taking white mulberry along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

White Mulberry Leaf combats the three invisible enemies of high blood sugar levels right at its core: the Overactive Lipids that hijack the pancreas causes the body to go in defense mode; those irritated cells then lead to inflammation.

White Mulberry Leaf with its healing properties gives a natural balance of inflammation in your cells.

A scientific review, published by the American Diabetes Association, declared that, “studies have shown that ingestion of mulberry leaf produced significant reductions in blood glucose increases and maintained a healthy balance in the pancreas.”

For further reading:

Mulberry leaf extract decreases digestion and absorption of starch in healthy subjects-A randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover study

American Diabetes Association February 3, 2007 Mitchell Mudra, Nacide Ercan-Fang, Litao Zhong, MD, PHD Julie Furne, and Michael Levitt, MD12Address correspondence and reprint requests to Michael Levitt, MD, Research Office, Minneapolis VAMC, 1 Veterans Dr., Minneapolis, MN 55414

Journal of Drug and Food Analysis December 01, 2017

BMC Administration of mulberry leaves maintains pancreatic β-cell mass in obese/type 2 diabetes mellitus mouse model

​IJBCP Assessment of Morus alba (mulberry) leaves extract for anti-psychotic effect in rats

Is Sonpari, Alphonso’s Closest Cousin?

Is there a mango to rival the numero uno position Alphonso has achieved?

Many lovers of this variety of Mangifera Indica, grown in the red soil of Maharashtra’s  Konkan region, that too in Devgad and Ratnagiri may baulk at the question but there is one that has all the attributes of Hapus but for its size. It has been around for two decades now and yet kept a secret among the orchard owners of Navsari and its neighbourhood. If you’re a mango aficionado and try acquiring a dozen you’ll know that it is a difficult task. As Navsari-based horticulturist Ankush Patel tells me last year he after a lot of efforts could lay his hands on a handful of saplings.

In fact, it has remained limited to Gujarat but for some aberration like one Janardan Waghere, a Nashik Zilla Parishad Health Deptt employee who also doubles as a mango grower and is a diehard Sonpari fan.

Sonpari rarely reaches the market. Considered a family jewel, they are shared among families and acquaintances of orchard owners.

Alphonso has an unparalleled, unique flavour and aroma. Its magnificent colour-deep orange saffron flesh with sweet delectable taste makes Mumbaikars and Puneites salivate once the news of its maiden harvest is announced in the media.

Arguably the world’s best mango, Alphonso is on the decline in the coastal belt of the state, where most of it is grown. In Ratnagiri alone, it is cultivated on 65,000 hectares. Climate change and unsustainable cultivation practices are slowly but surely taking their toll in the form of repeated pest attacks, destroyed flowers and large scale fruit shedding. For farmers, this means spiralling cultivation costs and plunging returns.

A  premium cultivar of mango, Alphonso constitutes more than 60% of the mango being exported from India. is in great demand globally. Lately, it has suffered a major setback from “spongy tissue” (ST), a physiological internal breakdown disorder. Fruits affected by this disorder do not show any external symptoms and the malady is detected only after cutting the fruits open, posing a challenge for quality control. ST is higher in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra than in other inland regions of India.

Being a delicate mango crop that fruits once in two years, too hot or too cold weather disrupts flowering and impacts production. Largest scale government-propelled Alphonso monoculture since the 1990s has led to the near-total disappearance of several other local mango varieties like Raiwal and Payari. Dwindling Payari cultivation this year led to a dozen notching a price of Rs 2,000.

Alphonso is a grafted hybrid, but due to the disappearance of Raiwal, the preferred rootstock, Alphonso is grafted on Alphonso. Its popularity  has replaced the traditional mix of orchard crops like coconut, areca nut, cashew, and fruits like karvand, making farmer economies heavily Alphonso dependent and vulnerable.


So loved is Alphonso that plant breeders since the Seventies have been putting their efforts to make a hybrid—a fruit closest to one the Portuguese colonists gifted us.

Waghere with a bunch of Sonparis mangoes grown in his farm at Chinchwad

It began with Ratna, a hybrid from the cross of Alphonso and Neelum; Sindhu, a hybrid progeny derived by backcrossing Ratna and  Alphonso; Konkan Ruchi, a hybrid from the cross between Neelum and Alphonso; PKM-2 from the parentage Neelum and Alphonso; Al Fazli from the parentage Alphonso and Fazli; Arka Aruna, a hybrid between Banganapalli and Alphonso; Arka Puneet, a hybrid between Alphonso and Banganapalli; Arka Anmol, a hybrid from a cross of Alphonso and Janardhan Pasand; and Arka Neelkiran, a hybrid between Alphonso and Neelum; Neelphonso, a hybrid of Neelam and Alphonso. Interestingly all these hybrid varieties are not victims of  spongy tissue disorder and unlike Alphonso regular bearers.

In recent years, a new variety of mango, named Konkan Samrat, has been introduced which is a hybrid between Alphonso and a non-native variety, Tommy Atkins of Mexico.

In the year 2000, the Gujarat Mango Hybrid-1 (GMH-1) was released from Agriculture Experimental Station, Paria in Navsari and later given the name, Sonpari. This mango hybrid was developed by taking Alphonso as a female parent and Baneshan as a male parent. The trees of Sonpari are vigorous in growth, have dense foliage of lanceolate leaves with sub-erect branches which gives the dense round canopy structure. Sonpari is a heavy yielder and regular in bearing. The fruits are obliquely oval in shape like Baneshan, big in size weighing 360–550g. The tree bears fruits singly. The fruit skin is smooth and becomes golden yellow in colour on ripening. The big-sized brown lenticels moderate densely spread on skin give a very characteristic look to the fruit. The peel is very thin and does not adhere to a pulp. The pulp is firm and fibreless, attractive golden yellow in colour with average pulp content of 75-77%. The taste is excellent and resembles that of Alphonso and very good for table purpose. The fruit has a good blend of sugars and acids which are desirable for consumer preference. The TSS is more than19.5% with lower acidity 0.18% and higher total sugars 14.46%. The keeping quality is very good and fruits remain in good condition for more than 10 days at room temperature. The fruits mature in the second week of June. The trees are free from mango malformation, shoot borer and mealybug. The fruits are free from spongy tissue disorder.

Sonpari mango

According to Janardan Waghere who has 25 other mango varieties growing in his orchard Sonpari is closest to what one gets out of Alphonso. “It can be grown in any type of soil unlike Alphonso which prefers the coastal belt of Maharashtra’s Konkan region,” says he. “I see a great future for it and would suggest people to grow it.”

Waghere has a handful of Sonparis which have fruited in the third year of planting. Each tree has given him 20 kg, unlike Alphonso which gives a mere 5kg on its maiden harvest. The largest of them weigh 750g.

Acquiring  Sonpari saplings is not easy because nurseries rarely keep them. If you’re keen to have some, you need to log in to the Navsari Agriculture University portal and fill a form that is in Gujarati. And if you’re lucky to get the saplings you have to bring them from Paria, a village situated near Vapi in Valsad district of Gujarat.

Adds horticulturist, “Once relished Sonpari’s taste and aroma lingers for hours.” 

A Heart-Friendly Plant We Consider As Weed

Wherever paddy is cultivated it comes uninvited and stays until uprooted. Only to return. Though considered a weed it is a preferred leafy vegetable among the peasant community and farm folks. In States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and others. In fact, peasants believe that consumption of its gives one instant energy.

We, Indians, have loved this succulent plant otherwise how does on rationalises the many names it has. Noni Sag in Bangla, Nonila Ghol and Motiloni in Gujarati. But it’s surprising to know that Assamese have seven names for it, Malayalam has eight names to describe it, and Kannada two, namely Doodagooni Soopu and Dudagorai.

As we urbanized ourselves and our food diversity got limited and we no more considered food as medicine we forgot Purslane (portulaca oleracea).  From “noxious weed” to “superfood” the journey of this succulent has been very interesting. Purslane is widely distributed around the globe and is popular as a potherb in many areas of Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean region.

If you’re a plant lover you’re likely to compare Purslane with a miniature jade plant. Yes, it looks like that.

The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick. But the taste is not the only reason to eat. Purslane has recently been identified as the richest vegetable source of alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid.

Scientific analysis of its chemical components has shown that this common weed has uncommon nutritional value, making it one of the potentially important foods for the future.

Health authorities highly recommend that we consume fish regularly to meet our bodies’ requirements of omega-3 fatty acids, as other sources are limited and do not supply nearly as much omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike fish oils with their high cholesterol and calorie content, purslane also provides an excellent source of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids without the cholesterol of fish oils, since it contains no cholesterol.

It is a rich source of potassium (494 mg/100 g) followed by magnesium (68 mg/100 g) and calcium (65 mg/100 g) and possesses the potential to be used as a vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acid. Consider this:  while 100g of banana offers 358mg of potassium, coconut water 250mg in the case of Purslane it’s an astounding 494mg.

Purslane flourishes in numerous biogeographical locations worldwide and is highly adaptable to many adverse conditions such as drought, saline, and nutrient-deficient conditions.

It grows well in orchards, vineyards, crop fields, landscaped areas, gardens, roadsides, and other disturbed sites. In fact, once it has taken it’s very difficult to kill it. Remember why it’s called a weed.

According to Dr Artemis Simopoulos, president of the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, who discovered Purslane while working at the National Institutes of Health that the plant has the highest level of Omega-3 fatty acids of any other green plant considers it as a “miracle’ plant.

Her research was first reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in the late 1980s, but it has taken time for nutrition awareness and food culture to catch up.

Purslane is very easy to grow, either from a cutting or seeds. While there are very many recipes to cook it, I take two branches of it along with the leaves, wash it, and chew it.  

As you bite into it, it bursts into your mouth and has a crisp, juicy texture and a bit sour.

While Moringa has got its due—also called a miracle plant— it’s time we recognize the importance of Purslane.