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Tribals of India
Adivasi(adi- origin, vasi-dweller) or tribals are regarded as the foremost dweller of India. They are the indigenous people of India. They are spread across India.
The Constitution of India has recognized these tribal communities of India under ‘Schedule 5’ of the constitution. Hence, the tribes recognized by the Constitution are known as ‘ Scheduled Tribes’.
Although they are considered primitive, uncivilized, they exhibit great community feeling, rich culture, language, authentic food to name a few.
Six Superfoods Tribals Love But Others Might Give a Second Thought
You might wonder what tribals eat?
Tribals rely on vegetarian and non-vegetarian food like us.
Vegetarian foods consist of edible leaves, roots, vines, wild fruits, mushrooms ,flowers, tubers, yam, honey
wild rabbits, pigeons, porcupines, field mice, wild boars, water snails, snakes, red ants form non-vegetarian food.
The food is simple yet flavourful, less oily with minimum or no spices, rustic earthy flavours, and nutritious. You will be surprised to know, the tribal food is rich in micronutrients like calcium, protein, carbohydrate, iron, vitamins, and folic acid.
Let’s dive into their platter and see what they have to offer.
1.Edible leaves and flowers
Putkal (Ficus geneculata)
Leaves of plants like (Ficus geneculata) locally called phutkal are plucked from the trees by the woman folks. The main concern is Ficus geneculata are seasonal and people are not aware of it's health benefits. Young leaves and buds are either cooked and eaten or sundried for weeks. They are powdered and added to pulses, stew or make into curries to enhance their nutritional value. They are even pickled to be consumed throughout the year The green leaves are rich in calcium, iron, zinc, and dietary fibre.
They are believed to have antioxidant properties and are antimicrobial. They also act as a home remedy for ailments like diarrhoea, leucorrhoea, urinary tract infection, vomiting, and jaundice.
Jute flowers( Corchorus olitorius)
Jute flower ( Corchorus olitorius) locally called Sanei phool is widely eaten in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar. They too are seasonal in nature. When plastic and polythene bags were not common, packing was done in gunny bags and sacks made of patsan or jute.
The leaves of jute plants are rich in vitamins A, C, and E. The flowers are plucked and either eaten fresh or sundried and stored for a long time. Flowers can be cooked into curry by adding potatoes and spices to add flavour.
Moringa leaves( Moringa oleifera)
In ( Moringa oleifera), locally called munga, sahjan, both flowers and leaves are consumed either cooked fresh or sundried and powdered. Moringa is believed to have therapeutic properties. It is rich in iron and is a great laxative. They are believed to cure oedema, stomach ailments, fight bacterial infections, manage hypertension, nourish skin and hair.
The moringa leaves are sun-dried, powdered and made into a delicious stew by the tribals.
Moringa flowers- They bear yellow flowers which when plucked and cooked have a robust flavour. They too are sun-dried and stored for later use.
Pumpkin flowers (Cucurbita)
Pumpkin flowers (Cucurbita) locally called Kaddu, is an edible flower. Fresh pumpkin male flowers are plucked and made into fritters.
They are a rich source of vitamin B9 and are believed to increase sperm count and quality in men. and vitamin A enhances immunity and improves vision.
2. Edible shoots
Shoots of bamboo plants are one of the favourites of the tribal population. Tender bamboo shoots are locally called Karil. They are cooked and made into curries or simply saute'd and eaten.
When shoots are cut and fermented, they are called Sadhana pickles (bamboo shoot pickles). Bamboo shoots are sundried and cut into pieces and named harrua. Harrua can be enjoyed by mixing into a paste of roasted tomato, onion, chillies, mustard oil, etc.
They are rich in nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, fibres, etc. They are low in calories and rich in dietary fibres.
The health benefits include weight loss, manage cholesterol levels, and improve the immune system. They also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Edible Wild Mushrooms
Come monsoon, and there is a flood of mushrooms in the jungle. Tribals relish wild mushrooms a lot. They are aware of all the places where mushrooms can thrive-- be it loamy soil, streams and creeks, dying trees, burn sites,under the soil, etc.
For example, Baans khukhri (bamboo mushroom) are edible wild mushrooms seen only near bamboo shoots. They grow in plenty in the monsoon. They are considered the tastiest of the lot.
Java Plum or Indian Blackberry Mushroom
Jamun khukhri ( Java Plum or Indian Blackberry Mushroom)
Jamun khukhri (Indian blackberry or Java plum mushroom), is an edible wild mushroom. The mushroom doesn't look appealing to the eyes but ranks high in the tribal food list.
They grow abundantly in monsoon and is known to be a rich source of protein and found only in forest under the Jamun tree.( Syzygium cumini).
Rugra, puttu, (Lycoperdon spp.)
Rugra (puttu)- This mushroom is indigenous to Jharkhand. They look like puffballs or small camphor balls, rough-textured, with an outer shell with soft yolk black or white interior.
Rugra grows soon after the first showers of rain hit the thirsty soil followed by 3-4 days of sunshine and humidity. They grow under the soil in the canopies of sal trees. They are collected by tribal women, washed properly, and then cooked into curry.
It is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals. They are good for the heart and diabetic patients.
4. Wild Animals (Wild boar, wild Rabbit, Deer, Fieldmouse, Squirrel, Porcupine, Bat, Snakes)
Tribals prefer plant produce but at times wild animals are also hunted for flesh. The animal is hunted with axe or bow and arrow, roasted and cut into small pieces and cooked in community kitchen and enjoyed by the people.
The tribals hunt field mice, snakes, wild boars, wild rabbits during special occasions like marriage, the birth of a child and even death.
Nowadays, as hunting or poaching is restricted, fewer native people indulge in killing wild animals now.
5. Birds (Crane, Sparrow, Mynah, Pigeon, Baby crow, Parrot)
Tribals are good at skills like using bow and arrow, catapult, axe, etc. A catapult hunts down birds. It would be interesting to know that the tribal kids or adults can hunt down the exact bird they aim for. Such is their precision.
Birds like a baby crow, pigeon, sparrow, etc are caught, cleaned, roasted, and then cooked. Pigeon’s meat being hot in nature are believed to cure asthma.
6. Water Snail,Mussel, Demta( Red Ants)
These creatures add to the special culinary diet of tribals. Water snails and mussels are reared and fished out, boiled, and later cooked into a meal. Water snails are rich in iron, vitamins, calcium, which improve the immune system. They are believed to make one’s vision sharp and strengthen the eye.
Mussels are rich in omega3, DHA, proteins, zinc, folate and iodine.
Red Ants (Demta)
Red ants locally called demta are seen crawling in trees or land. The ones who reside on trees are considered edible. These ants make nests with the help of big leaves of trees and lay eggs in them. Red ants, eggs and larva are considered a delicacy in tribal cuisine.
The ants taste sour due to the presence of formic acid they can be eaten raw but tribals prefer salt and a lot of chillies. They can also be made into fine paste or chutney.
To conclude, I would like to say though the food of tribals come directly from forests they make sure they do not exhaust the natural resources for sustenance. They make sure all the food resources, which they obtain from nature, are balanced. For this, they keep planting more trees, rear more animals and protect the wildlife from extinction.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Poonam Francis