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.

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

Ad Banner

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

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

Mango Called Romance. You Read It Right. And Fruits Twice

Come summer when it’s sultry and the temperature goes south, reaching close to 40 degrees, I enter the mango phase. I dream, think of mangoes and nurse a desire to acquire mango varieties I have heard of or read about.

Every summer I come to know of a mango variety that I was not familiar with. Why summer? Because that’s the time people talk passionately, especially growers about their mangoes.

Mango lovers are very tradition-bound and unwilling to try hybrids. Like their parents and grandparents, they continue to live in the thrall of Alphonsos, Kesars, Himsagars, Mankurads, Langdas, Fazlis, Maldas and others. And this fascination is reflected in the growers preference too. He prefers to grow only those varieties that have a market. But there are mavericks too, who gather unknown or lesser-known varieties and grow them while keeping the fruits to themselves.

This March I discovered three varieties, all hybrids. In fact, I have made a promise to myself to seek out growers all over the country who are custodians of lesser-known varieties revelling in the diversity of Mangifera Indica.

It was through a professor and a farmer that I was introduced to Miraj-based Parmanand Gavane, a maverick who practices the ultra-high-density plantation system with 900 Kesar trees on an acre. He has a plantation of 3600 trees, spread on four acres.

Along with Kesar, Baneshan, Tommy Atkins he has a mango hybrid which fruits twice a year, named Al Rumania, Romania or just Rumani which he acquired from Tamil Nadu.

Gavane with a bunch of Rumani

Those in the 40s and 50s may have seen or heard about the Hindi movie, Thoda Sa Rumani Ho Jayen (1990). Yes, Rumani is romantic in Urdu.

Mostly grown in North Andhra Pradesh, the ripened mango skin of Rumani is yellowish-green with a red tint at the top. The pulp is sweet and golden yellow. Its pulp is sweet, juicy and with the least fibre. Rumani is mostly used as a table fruit and also for making mango drinks. The fruit is spheroid shaped and weighs around 250g.

According to Gavane when tender and raw it’s picked and used for making pickles. He has 500 Rumanis on 25 gunthas of land. Barely two years and six months old its maiden fruit appeared last year, once in November and now he is expecting another harvest in May. Those interested in Rumani grafts Gavane can be a good source.

Rumanis hanging from the tree

Rumani has a hybrid cousin, thanks to the union between Rumani and Mulgova. It’s called AU Rumani.


Whenever we think of Gujarat we generally think of two varieties, namely Kesar and Mulgova. A few days back I came to know of hybrid varieties which only connoisseurs are aware of. Only those living around Navsari are aware of Sonpari. Those who have tasted Sonpari don’t bother much about Alphonso, a variety favourite among those residing in Mumbai and Pune.

Sonpari arrives in April and stays till May end. Last year the season began with Rs 2,000 for 20 pieces and by season-end, it was still at Rs 1200 for 20! Developed by Mango Research Centre, Paria in Navsari it was released in 2000. As it takes close to six years to fruit there were hardly any takers for the variety initially. But those who did consider planting it now nourish it as their family jewel unwilling to put the fruit on sale and prefer to give it to friends and relatives as a gift. Horticulturist Ankush Patel tells me last year he could lay his hands on some. “Once relished its taste and aroma lingers for hours,” he explains.

Sonpari’s peel is very thin and does not adhere to the pulp which is firm and fibreless with attractive golden yellow in colour. The taste is excellent and resembles that of Alphonso.

Much before Sonpari’s debut one Dr R. I. Bhatt who was the Research Scientist (Hort.), AES, GAU, Paria had released Neelphonso, Neeleshwari and Neeleshan in 1986.

Neelphonso was developed by taking Neelam as a female parent and Alphonso is its male parent. Trees of Neelphonso are oval-shaped, moderately in growth with suberect branches and have dense foliage. This hybrid is moderate regular in bearing but a late bearing tendency. The tree bears fruits singly. The fruits are ready for harvest in July-August when most of the mangos have been harvested and eaten. Some trees have been found to ripen in September. Due to this, the fruits of Neelphonso get a good market price. The oval oblique shaped fruits of Neelphonso are medium in size weighing about 200g. The skin colour on ripening becomes apricot yellow while the pulp becomes orange-yellow. Due to thick, smooth skin, the fruits are not harmed by the rains.

Neeleshwari was developed by taking Neelam as female and Dashehari as a male parent. Like Amrapali. The trees of this hybrid are round shaped with dwarfing nature and sparse foliage containing lanceolate leaves. It bears narrowly oblong-shaped fruits moderately and regularly in bunches of two-three fruits. The fruits are free from spongy tissue disorder. The skin colour on ripening turns apricot yellow while pulp colour becomes yellow. The thin smooth skin adheres to moderately firm textured flesh. The non-fibrous juicy pulp is suited for the table as well as for making juice and has moderate keeping quality.

Neeleshan was developed by taking Neelam as female and Baneshan as the male parent. The trees of this hybrid are spherical or dome-shaped, sub-erect to spreading branches and moderate-vigorous in growth with dense foliage containing oblong leaves. It bears attractive obovoid shaped fruits heavily and regularly. Generally, the fruit bears singly or in a bunch of two. The fruits are free from spongy tissue disorder. The average weight of fruits is about 318g. On ripening the skin become cadmium yellow while the pulp becomes attractive golden yellow in colour. The fruit skin is thin, smooth, moderate adhering to the pulp with a firm and non-fibrous texture. The fruits are suited for table purpose and have very good keeping quality of more than 10 days after ripening.

Confessions of a Balcony Gardener During a Pandemic

Hiren Kumar Bose

As soon as the lockdown was announced, some of us went back to reading books or watching movies besides attending to our household chores. Some learnt new skills and others shot videos of themselves and their kids. I, for one, besides catching up on reading the books that had been lying untouched on my bookshelf for ages – started greening my balcony, despite knowing that our housing society is very inimical when it comes to having plants.

Yes, you heard that right.

The society has penalised residents for keeping tulsi plants, money plants and even an aloe vera in their balcony – on the grounds that they stain the building’s exteriors.

Regardless, I have been spending most of my time growing leafy vegetables and tending to the ornamentals (flower pots) in my balcony – the size of a suburban local seat with grills attached. For me, a weekend farmer, the experience has been like Messi dribbling on a field the size of a carom board. But I’m enjoying every moment of it though my play area has been drastically reduced.

At a time, when the residents are staying indoors for most of the time, I thought they won’t come to know of my indiscretion and hence, I started populating my balcony with planters and pots – made out of empty edible oil plastic containers, muesli jars, ice cream trays, and PET bottles.

However, as soon as I started, my wife warned, “I will not let you pay a single rupee more than the mandatory maintenance fee,” hinting at the society’s penalty clause.

I didn’t budge.

In the last four months, beginning March, I have grown green leafy vegetables like mint, spinach, coriander, fenugreek, sweet basil, lemongrass, wheatgrass, and chilli. I have also tried my hand growing microgreens like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, mustard, chia, and sunflower.

As I began, getting soil was the easiest thing – it was from the society’s park which also serves as an outdoor gym with its exercising equipment, a feature common in Thane.

Thanks to the seeds which I had earlier procured to sow in my farm, and thus I started turning my balcony green. Years of working with soil and making its yield its bounty, has taught me that the food we eat contains organic chemical compounds, which can also be used to cultivate the plant kingdom.

Hence, what we have in our kitchen is enough to nurture plants, and I used them too for my balcony garden. For example, coffee grounds for nitrogen, eggshells for calcium, banana and potato peel for potassium and so on. At times, I have stealthily used my pee which is nothing but urea – plants are hungry for it and respond with vigorous growth.

Balcony garden

Did you know that onion skins, which we consider as waste and throw in the bin, are a great fertiliser and contains calcium, iron, magnesium and copper? Its use increases the plant’s disease resistance capacity, enables growth, strengthens the stems, and ultimately assures productivity. Leave the onion skins in water for three days at a stretch in a container and your fertiliser is ready.

I wondered if the vitamin supplements can usher well being and health in humans, why not in plants? Hence, I have also used multivitamin capsules to revive my drooping betel (paan) vine, the maghai variety which has been accorded a geographical Index tag. Two leaves of maghai paan with gulkand and saunf has been our post-lunch indulgence for months now.

In the last three months, the mint plant has occupied a large space in my balcony. Growing it from stem cuttings is easy provided you know what horticulturists call rooting hormone (RH). If you don’t, simply make a paste with a teaspoon of honey and cinnamon powder and your RH is ready.

From the fruit peels which includes chickoo, banana, papaya, peach mango, custard apple, jackfruit I have made what we call garbage enzyme (GE). Yes, you read it right. It is very simple to make. Fill a plastic jar with fruit peels, add jaggery and water and leave it capped for three months and your GE is ready. You can not only use it as fertiliser but an organic cleaner for toilet and bathroom. Also called eco-enzyme, it’s a multipurpose liquid that is produced from the fermentation of organic waste. The idea is to cultivate enzymes into organic cleaners, from organic waste that normally goes into the garbage bins.

Like a conscientious citizen, I’ve substantially reduced my carbon footprints as less and less volume of garbage leaves my home for the landfills. By the end of the day, we are only left with non-recyclable stuff namely plastic wrappers, milk pouches, aluminium foil bags, used toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and so on.

I believe the ornamentals – madhu malati, passionflower, syngonium, ice cream creeper, shankhapushpi – have helped usher an ecosystem bringing in bees, butterflies and even birds to my balcony. Who knew that in a pandemic my balcony’s window grille will host sunbirds, starlings and house sparrows?

Although their appearance is brief, they have surely brought joy in the lives of self-incarcerated individuals like me.

My piece published in livewire on July 09.2020

15 Kinds of Okra And More

It was a chance visit to Anna University organised seed festival in 2018 that made Pavan Kumar become a seed collector and distributor. So much so that he resigned his job at Renault Nissan to promote and popularise traditional vegetable seeds. As he says “to make a difference” and make a living too.

“I was among thousands who worked at the automobile plant and didn’t feel will be able to make any difference,” says Pavan, a mechanical engineer by education.

Pavan monkeying with Elephant Okra

At the seed festival, there were farmers from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka beside Tamil Nadu displaying their collection of seeds. “I am familiar with Telugu, Kannada and Marathi so could converse with them and gather a lot of information including their contact details,” says the 24-year-old.

Tamil Nadu has a tradition of seed collection. Like Yoganathan, a farmer of Thinnakonam village, near Musiri in Tiruchirapalli who started collecting the seeds in 2008 with the objective of preserving native breeds of vegetables, fruits, millets and pulses. After a decade, he is now providing tonnes of seeds to farms and kitchen gardens through Agathiyar Farmers Producer Company, supported by NABARD. Then there is  S. Sultan Ahamed Kabir of Tirumalairayar Pattinam in Karaikal of the Union Territory of Puducherry. He has transformed agriculture from a vocation to feed people into a mission to conserve seeds of traditional paddy varieties for posterity. In the last 12 years, he has grown about 80 varieties of traditional paddy.

But what makes Pavan different is that he is a non-farmer and also he sells the seeds online.

Pavan with his seed collection

He has had a Facebook page devoted to selling  ‘eco gifts’ since 2016 and soon started sharing details about native seeds too. He has reached out farmers in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chattisgarh and Sri Lanka from whom he sources the seeds. According to him, there are lots of Tamil farmers in North Jaffna part of Sri Lanka who has shared seeds with him.

India, home to Moringa, has its traditional varieties and the introduced ones, like ODC 3, PMK 1 and 2, Rohit 1 and others. With his FB page, Pavan has introduced the Indian farmers to three native and one Sri Lankan Moringa variety.

Since he began in 2018 he has collected 130 varieties of seeds including leafy green vegetables, gourds, grounds, beans, climbers, fruits. His bouquet of seeds includes 15 types of okras, medicinals, nine types of brinjals, four types of moringa, maize and chillies each and 12 types of flowering seeds.

He shares seeds with farmers for multiplication entering into a buyback agreement. At times a farmer or two insists on advance payments. Which he gives. He advises farmers to multiply the seeds in a 100 sq ft plot and buys the processed seeds for a fee ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000. “They are willing to grow it because they too benefit from the deal,” says Pavan. He stores the seeds in plastic containers having treated them with cow dung ash.

At times people have offered him seeds without any pecuniary benefit, like a Mumbai couple who gave him a kg of Purple Sword Beans.

He has reached out to farmers in the North Eastern States too. “I have interacted with them using Google Translate and have been amply rewarded due to the biodiversity of seeds these States offer,” says the Chennai-based teenager.

Asked does he make a decent livelihood being a seed distributor and selling eco gifts. He answers: “Much better than what I was earning at Renault. More importantly,  I’m making a difference promoting country’s native seeds.”

You can reach Pavan  at or 8754445850

As Yellow Can Be

I never knew that coming to Hubli-Dharwad after a gap of three months would hold a surprise for me. In December it was the colour mauve and this time it was fluorescent yellow. Nature can hold so many surprises!

Riding in an auto rickshaw towards Hubli from Dharwad, my wife’s hometown and the place known for its chocolate-coloured pedhas, on a mid morning of March I chanced upon couple of trees standing at a distance glowing. Literally. The colour was bright, eye-catching, arresting as if someone has downed a can of colour.  The trees dressed in fluorescent yellow or electric Lime as it’s known—making the surroundings luminescent. I had never seen anything like this. Yes, I’m familiar with copper pod which also produces yellow flowers. But Yellow Tabebuia is in a different league altogether. Plant scientists know it as Tabebuia Argentea.

Yellow Tabebuia

Suitable for avenue planting Yellow Tabebuia is a quick growing tree, it attracts bees in hordes when it bloom between February and April. Originally from Brazil it can reach a height of 10m and become completely leafless when it blooms. Its foliage appears after it has shown its true colours, I mean post-bloom.

Planting Yellow Tabebuia on road sides would be a great idea providing eye candy to those travelling on the road and for the future of the bees.