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Healthy desi vegetables you may not have heard about Local Greens, Overshadowed By Popular Varieties, Reach Fewer Plates

Every monsoon, Sulekha Patkar follows a routine without fail. As soon as the first rains hit Mumbai, she places a call to her vegetable vendor, heads to the Goregaon market and picks up her booty of a fragrant, desi vegetable. Tender leaves of shevla or dragon stalk yam are then carefully chopped and put in deep freeze only to be brought out when her children come visiting in December.

"This time I am taking shevla to the US to my son. It is very nutritious and he loves the taste," says Patkar, 62, who has preserved the family recipe. But the trail of culinary knowledge stops with her, just as in most households in Maharashtra. As more people live on pricey beans and brinjal from supermarkets, the indigenous varieties of greens sold by lone vendors in markets or outside railway stations are finding fewer takers. And with their decline, what is also on the wane is the region’s culinary heritage that provides easy nutrition much better than any vitamin supplement.

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Early monsoon is when leafy vegetables like takla, phodshi, shevla and bharangi make their way from forests or green patches in and around tribal hamlets to city markets. Buyers are mostly the elderly who make a beeline for a few vendors based out of markets in Dadar, Goregaon, Borivali, Vasai, Virar, Palghar, Dahanu, Kalyan, Belapur and Panvel.

Jyotsna Vijapurkar, a recent convert to indigenous greens, knows her Panvel vendor’s name by heart so that she will part with more recipes and tips. "I saw new vegetables around three years ago. But I didn’t know how to cook them," says Vijapurkar, faculty at Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education.

Like Vijapurkar, many don’t know how to ready the vegetables without losing their nutrients. "You have to boil bharangi leaves and drain the water. I don’t know the logic but I follow my vendor’s advice," she says.

The decline in demand is fuelled by ignorance about the greens though they are priced marginally lesser than the popular varieties. "If plants like shevla are not cleaned well your mouth will itch. Many avoid these greens," says vendor Naresh Vartak, who buys his greens foraged from the wild by tribals.

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But lack of information never came in the way of popularising foreign greens like leeks and celery. "There is no marketing of these seasonal vegetables. Since many don’t know, they don’t buy the greens that are high in nutrition," says Amit Saraf, professor, department of botany, Elphinstone College.

A recent research paper says that a set of nine greens including kurdu, alu, takla and kavla from rural Kolhapur have been used for their cooling, digestive, laxative and diuretic properties. "These greens are the easiest way to improve nutrition in India, which has high levels of malnutrition. Many of them have medicinal value too," says Hemant Nitturkar, project development officer at The Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre, a non–profit. The local greens have lost out to the popular varieties that are commercially produced and available through the year. "The government policy is skewered towards cereals. You need to fill the stomach but you also need to ensure food diversity," says Nitturkar.

It would help if small patches of land are kept aside for growing these greens as urbanisation has eaten into cultivable land, says Vijapurkar. Meanwhile, it helps to keep your eyes peeled for the greens and preserve the heritage.


Source: Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education

Times of India
22 July 2013,

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