Wild Plants and Rice Fields of Assam – Notes | Media Pyro


On the first day of Bihu—the Assamese New Year, in April—I joined a group of women to graze wild plants. The goal is to collect 101 different wild, edible plants to celebrate the beginning of the new year of harvest. The oldest woman in the group, in her early sixties, can distinguish between edible and non-edible plants and knows most of them by name. She carries a small bag filled with various wild herbs, and continues to count the votes. We walk through the land between the houses, around the fields, and through the forest, passing through a wooded field adjacent to fields that will soon be planted with grass. We have our eyes on the ground. After the famous plants are put in the bags, we send new plants to them for approval. In about half an hour, we reach the number of plants needed.

We then add 101 herbs to many popular herbs so that they can all be used to make a dinner dish. The plants have been washed, and a team of four women is sifting through one of the backyards to sort out the ingredients. The hard bones are removed, then the herbs are gathered into bundles and chopped using curved knives. A few cloves of garlic are peeled, ginger is chopped, then a few potatoes are added, one of the women heats some mustard oil, she grinds the garlic, ginger and potatoes, then she Add to a large green bowl. She simply cooks everything until the greens are gone, and then she packs a small tube for each member of the family to have for dinner.

Wild herbs are a central part of the cuisine of Assam, a state in northeastern India. Wild leafy greens are eaten with garden vegetables and unlimited meat and fish. Here, herbs are more than food; It is also used as an herbal remedy in local healing traditions, voucher. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” In Assam, this is a real, quotidian practice. In addition, herbs are an important ingredient in local rice beer. People drink home-brewed rice beer as part of their diet, as nutrition, as medicine, as part of rituals, and for pleasure. In Assam, wild herbs are more than just nutritional supplements or even traditional medicines. They are central to local traditions, identities, and indigenous myths.

Area Plants

Northeast India, comprising nine states, is known for having some of the most diverse flora in the world. The state of Assam shares a border with Bangladesh to the west and is separated from Bhutan, Tibet, and Myanmar by a narrow strip of land belonging to the neighboring Indian states of Nagaland (east) and Arunachal Pradesh (north). Assam’s borders with Bangladesh and Nagaland are both crowded. Various areas of Assam city are frequently affected by conflicts related to land use. The state is home to many different ethnic and indigenous communities who often live in peace, but recent political turmoil has targeted Bangladeshi communities – mostly refugees – as outsiders, targeting other Muslims in Assam. Along the eastern border of Assam, Nagaland has been struggling for independence with both colonial and post-colonial governments, and there have been clashes between border villages. In recent years, “mainland” Indian politics has entered Assam; The political power of Hindus has increased at the expense of Muslims and other minorities and indigenous communities, which has caused conflict between different groups.

Just before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, and also in the spring of 2022, I was working in a field in northeastern India, near the Myanmar border and the border between Assam and Nagaland. The land between the Naga Mountains and the plains of the Foundation is a fertile land, and agriculture is an important life in the area. My fieldwork was conducted as part of a larger study on fodder and fermentation in Assam. I have recorded different cultures of beer fermentation of rice and nuts.

Fodder occurred in small forests between farms and rivers, and around people’s houses in villages. It was done by foot and the plants were gathered by hand with the help of a small manjo. Unlike most farms and plantations, these villages are gathered from uncultivated wild ingredients that are not cultivated in any way to grow. The most common fodder plants to eat are that’s right (fern), manimuni (pennywort), and who is (throw). It is eaten lightly boiled, boiled and/or fried with mustard oil, garlic, and ginger, or added to dahal and meat dishes.

Rice-millet farming is common among Hindu and indigenous communities in the region. Among these groups, rice beer is consumed by everyone, both men and women. It is valued as medicine, as a drink, and sometimes as part of rituals. Rice beer is not something that can ever be bought; It’s always home. Brewing beer requires an initial culture called brewing pitha, which is either made at home or purchased. The pitha It is said that it was made from 99 wild plants, and those who make their own food from new plants before preparing the element. Those who are highly regarded pitha those who do it are old men and women who can identify hundreds of wild plants and know their medicinal properties. They are able to select certain herbs to give the rice beer a unique flavor and medicinal properties. Different plants are also known to affect the preservation quality of pitha; for example, adding pepper pitha It is known to protect rice from rice pests.

The forests and fields that people like to graze in Assam are shrinking, due to land being privatized for development and urbanization. This leads to the loss of culture and identity.

Identification of Degradation

Wild plants have a spiritual dimension linked to identity. Communities from the Boro tribe of Assam say that “in the beginning” (of life, the universe), there was algae. Then a sijou (Indian spurge) tree rose. Over time, people came, but “they didn’t know how to live.” The gods then performed eighteen times to teach people things, such as sewing, playing flutes and drums, and making rice beer. Rice beer, then, is also sacred. At festivals, offerings of rice, fermented peanuts, herbs, and rice beer are offered. sit down as well as other gods and ancestors of other clans.

The local people I spoke with expressed concern that the plants are collected excessively and the land is treated carelessly, which can lead to the destruction of plants, trees and forests. They reported on the importance of worshiping the plants, and asking for forgiveness from the plants before harvesting them. An old woman explained that two consecutive batches of rice beer went bad, after she asked her son to consult an astrologer to see what was wrong. Analysts explained that plants were overused and unhappy.

Loss of foraging space has implications for identity. One of the people I interviewed explained: “If you lose your cultural connection to your forest, your environment, then you lose your identity. Now the ruling party has spoken about it openly so that everyone can hear it.” Plants are seen as central to identity, “who we are.” But knowledge of plants is being lost, in part because the people who know about them are aging; small and urban people don’t have the time or interest to forage for them. In addition, in India it is not only the food culture that is homogenized, with fodder plants that no longer have a role; the identity is also the same. The elimination of indigenous people and minorities through intimidation, conversion, and deportation of those without citizenship papers led to the continued elimination of indigenous groups and Muslim communities.

Food is not just food. It also involves stories, intimate relationships with the environment, and the politics of how we get sustenance. Questions about the modernization of destruction and the violence of construction are inseparable from the smell and taste of plants and fermented fruits.


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