The Lotka trees in the forests of Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) are full of fruits—the branches and the trunk clustered with round to oval berries. Often sighted in the Nilgiri Hills there is hardly mention of it being found in North Bengal and Northeast India.
“Its first week of April and the trees here are full of them,” tells Pradip Kumar Ray, a former banker, an environmentalist and conservator of folk varieties of paddy seeds calling me early in the morning to talk about his find who chanced upon Lotka trees during vacationing. “They look like potatoes growing on trees.”
A small, translucent, orb-shaped fruit, langsah as its known in South India can be quite sour when unripe, but are perfectly sweet when ripe with a taste similar to a bittersweet grapefruit. It s flavor is sweet and lightly acidic like lychee, juicy and refreshing. The seeds are soft, bitter, and should be discarded. Even though this fruit’s demand skyrockets when it is in season, its rarely cultivated.
Each Lotka berry measures about 3.5 to 4 cm in diameter with the thick, hairy outer skin resembling potato. The leathery skin in raw unripe fruits emits clear milk-like resin.
The fruits ripen in the middle part of July. It’s offered to Lord Jagannath during the rath yatra which happens in the same month. In fact, there is a mad scramble to acquire them in the village fairs which leads to it’s high demand and becoming much dearer.
Fresh fruits are very good source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folates. These vitamins are essential since they function by acting as co-factors to help the body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Further, it also carries small amounts of minerals like calcium (19 mg), phosphorus (31 mg) and iron (0.9 mg). Being a juicy tropical fruit, it holds good amounts of potassium, an important component of cell and body fluids help control heart rate and blood pressure; thus, it offers protection against high blood pressure and stroke.
“It is a long erect plant, which begins to yield after about 4 years of plantation and continues to produce fruits for over 100 years, I’m told,” informs Ray. “Air layering is the best way to propagate them then from seedling.”
Lotka fruits are very refreshing if eaten while fresh. The fruits perish early and should be eaten early though it can be kept inside refrigerators for up to one week. As the fruit ages it tends to become bland.
Dry fruit peels and burn them to keep mosquitoes at bay as they emit an aromatic fragrance.