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Rhododendron Can Help Manage Diabetes & Asthma; 3 Recipes Inside

When environmentalist and Padma Shri winner Dr Anil Joshi, and his team, visited Uttarakhand’s Ramadi and Pulinda villages, they came across a unique dish for the first time. Dark pink in color and sweet-sour in taste, this chutney had been made by the village people using buranshor Rhododendron.

The dish sparked an idea for economic change. Dr Joshi’s organization – the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO) – began training individuals and organizations in setting up processing units for the flower.

HESCO now regularly trains village women in making and selling buransh products. They claim the initiative helped bring buransh squashes and juices into mainstream tastebuds.

chutney and juice made with rhododendron flower found in uttarakhand
From juices to chutney, Rhododendron finds its place in many dishes (Source: Uttarakhand Tourism)

So what’s so special about this flower?

Besides being a beautiful ornamental plant known for its deep pink flowers, Rhododendron has immense horticultural value and is an integral part of Uttarakhand’s local economy. It’s an essential source of livelihood for women in particular, who regularly use it to produce a variety of juices, jams, honey, squash, chutneys, and more. It also finds immense value in traditional medicine, and its wood makes khukri handles, gift boxes, etc.

In particular, the R arboreum species is most prevalent in this region. Flowers bloom between February and April every year, and as per a report by Mongabay, 10-20 per cent of households in four Uttarakhand districts harvest and trade the flower.

Besides its peculiar color and taste, buransh also offers many health benefits.

The flower contains phenolic compounds (known for being vital in defense responses) quercetin, coumaric acid, saponins, and tannins. It is also replete with amino acids, vitamins, organic acids etc. In particular, ursolic acid (found in the leaves) and quercetin have anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-tumor, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties.

Buransh is a nutraceutical (protects against chronic diseases) food for diabetes and related complications. These compounds also provide the flower with anti-diarrheal and anti-allergy properties. They also help in the treatment of gout and rheumatism. In addition, the presence of flavonoids can help alleviate cough, cold, fever, headaches, etc.

The Rhododendron tree’s roots also have alkaloids, terpenoids, reducing sugars, and anthraquinones. Alkaloids are often used as anesthetics and for pain relief. Terpenoids offer similar relief and are replete with anti-parasitic properties.

The bark and the stem come with similar healing characteristics. One study says that the latter can help reduce the risk for excessive bleeding, hay fever, bronchial asthma, and cardiovascular diseases.

Like with any other food product, Rhododendron must also be used in moderation due to tannins, which, while known to prevent liver injury by inhibiting lipid peroxides, can also precipitate proteins and inhibit digestive enzymes and affect the utilization of vitamins and minerals. When consumed in excess, the flower can also have intoxicating effects.

A flower to elevate everyday dishes

Now that you’re aware of all the goodness that buransh offers, there’s a lot you can incorporate this sweet flower into—from squashes to mocktails and chutneys; the list is endless.

To get you started, we picked out a few recipes we’re sure you will enjoy:

Buransh Sharbat — a perfect respite from the hot, scorching summer

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Buransh petals
  • Sugar
  • Lemon
  • Black salt (optional)
  • Toilet

How to prepare:

  • Remember that all you need are the petals, so make sure you remove the stigma and stems. Wash the petals thoroughly.
  • In a vessel, add water and the petals, and cook on a slow flame for about 30 minutes after the water begins boiling.
  • Steep well, then let it cool for about 15 minutes. Then, strain the petals out so all you have is the juice, which would be deep red.
  • Add the sugar and lemon juice.
  • Continue slow cooking for about 20 minutes on a very low flame until the mixture becomes thick. Then, turn off the heat and let the liquid cool.
  • Store it in an airtight glass container. Whenever you feel like stirring up a glass of this refreshing drink, add two spoons of the squash, some lemon, black salt if you enjoy it, and water.

Buransh chutney — a sweet and sour accompaniment to rice, parathas, and more

Ingredients:

  • Five-six buransh flowers
  • One bunch of coriander
  • Half a bunch of mint
  • Two tablespoons of chopped onion
  • Two tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • One teaspoon of chopped ginger
  • Two teaspoons of lemon juice
  • Half a teaspoon of honey
  • salt to taste

How to prepare:

  • Wash the flowers, coriander and mint thoroughly.
  • Blend the ingredients well.
  • Toast the sesame seeds and add them to your blender.
  • Now add the onions and ginger, and continue blending until you reach a chutney’s consistency.
  • Move the mixture to a serving bowl, and add salt, lemon juice, and honey. Mix these well, and you’re good to go.

Buransh paratha — a healthy and beautiful twist to your favorite breakfast food

Ingredients:

  • Two cups of wheat flour
  • Half a cup of gram flour
  • Half a cup of buransh flowers
  • chopped coriander
  • Two tablespoons of chopped onion
  • Half a teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • One teaspoon of grated ginger
  • Chopped green chillies (optional)
  • salt to taste

How to prepare:

  • First, sieve the wheat and gram flours, and mix well.
  • Now add all the other ingredients — buransh, onion, turmeric, coriander, ginger, chillies, and salt.
  • Add water, and knead the dough till it becomes stiff.
  • Cook with ghee like a regular paratha.
  • Serve with dahi and pickle.

sources:

‘Buransh: The delicious and intoxicating rhododendron juice of Uttarakhand’: Published by Pooja Bhula for DNA
‘These flowers are likely to climb up the Himalayas as temperature rises’: Published by Sahana Ghosh for Mongabay, India, on 2 July 2020
Kumar, V., Suri, S., Prasad, R. et al. Bioactive compounds, health benefits and utilization of Rhododendron: a comprehensive review. Agriculture & Food Security 8, 6 (2019).
‘It’s The Season of Rhododendron’: Published by Ayandrali Dutta for Slurrrp, on 31 March 2022
‘The goodness of the Rhododendron arboreum’: Published by Surbhi Kapila for Media India Group, on 5 June 2017
Chung KT, Wong TY, Wei CI, Huang YW, Lin Y. Tannins and human health: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1998 Aug;38(6):421-64. doi: 10.1080/10408699891274273. PMID: 9759559.