Kafal a amazing wild fruit of Uttarakhand

Kafal is a wild fruit of Uttarakhand, too sweet in tase. "O!, mother-in-law Kafal has ripened. Burdened by the unending cycle of reaping, winnowing, sowing and weeding, shall I ever have enough of leisure to taste kafals in the jungle while traversing the trail that leads to my mother's home?" So sang a Kumaoni bride ages back and trapped in the quagmire of hard life when she lost her life untimely, she became a Magpie, a beautiful bird who, when the Kafal ripens in Himalayan jungles in the month of May and June often sings, "kafal pakko, meil ni chakkho" (kafal has ripened but I couldn't taste it yet).

Known to the botanists as Myrica Nagi Kafal is an uncultivated fruit of the Central Himalayas. In tourists towns like Lansdowne, Jaiharikhal, Pauri, Nainital  villagers may be seen sitting at road sides selling it for anything between Rs 100 to 200 per kg.

However, in the interiors small kids off from their schools, may be generous enough to offer it to you at the rate of just Rs 5 for a glass tumbler full. Besides Kumaon Kaphal (or Katphala) trees are found in North Punjab, Garhwal, Khasiya mountain and Silhat up to 2100 meters and also in Nepal and China.

Dr. Chiranjit Parmar, a Horticultural Consultant on Lesser Known Indian Plants, feels that this fruit has a potential of a new fruit crop.

It therefore deserves domestication and may turn out to be a new commercial crop. Never cultivated and propagated by the department of forest Kafal trees with dioecious flowers (individual plants having only one sex of flowers) have a symbiotic relationship with certain soil micro-organisms, which form nodules on the roots of the plants and fix atmospheric nitrogen.

Much of this nitrogen is used by other plants growing nearby. Ayurveda speaks of it as vedanasthapaka - pain killer, sita prasamana - relieves cold sensation on the skin, samjna sthapana restores consciousness, kanthya - beneficial for the throat, sandhaniya - a healing herb and sukra sodhana - purifies seminal fluids.

Susruta has mentioned it as visaghna - detoxifier and stambhana- astringent. Besides being useful in a wide range of ailments specified decoctions of its fruits, the stone they have and also its bark are claimed to be beneficial in cardiac debility, edema and haemoptysis.

A wax covering on the fruit is extracted by scalding the fruit with boiling water. Among the local inhabitants it is said to be used as an application for ulcer healing.

Candles made from this wax though are brittle but less greasy in warm weather and are quite aromatic and do not smoke when put out. Dr Prabhat Kumar from Pithoragarh, where it grows in abundance says that keeping an eye on its medicinal properties may become a "much sought after souvenir from hills.


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