Makhana, more of a medicine
The wetlands of Bihar are home to a unique food crop - makhana (Euryale ferox), the popped seeds of which are a popular non-cereal meal eaten on some religious occasions. "Though the medicinal value of the seeds is documented, the plant has been ignored by scientists," complains Vidyanath Jha of the botany department of C M Science College, Darbhanga. The medicinal properties of makhana are on par with lotus (Netumbo nucifera). It is used to cure stomach and circulatory problems, and is believed to increase hormone secretion.
However, conservation of aquatic plants has not been given any preferece in India. "Large scale denudation of the Himalayan vegetation is causing repeated floods in north Bihar, virtually rooting out aquatic species like makhana and lotus," says A K Kargupta of the botany department of L N Mithila University, Darbhanga. "Cultivators need to be provided with assistance and the medicinal properties need to be studied. Who knows, makhana may find a place in modern medicine?" But being vulnerable to a variety of pests and pathogens, the plant is also being threatened by the indiscriminate use of pesticides, silting of wetlands and the spread of weeds like the water hyacinth.
One reason why makhana has been ignored is per-haps because the fruit prefers to burgeon in stagnant and dirty water. Mithilanchal in north Bihar has many rivers flowing through the region. Flooding is a regular feature; therefore, stagnant water pools abound. The crop is grown in more than 2000 ha, contributing to 75 per cent of the total Indian production worth Rs 10 crore (2000 tonne).