Synonyms: Furcraea cantala
Common names: Bombay Aloe, Cantala, Cantala Fibre, Cebu Maguey, Manila Maguey
Local name: Desi Ramban (देसी रामबाण)
Desi raambaan plants can be seen growing in wastelands and farm borders almost everywhere in mid hills of western Himalayan. It is an evergreen, succulent, perennial plant. At the first glance this seems to be a useless plant and not many know that it could provide food.
The shoot buds of this plant are edible and can be cooked as a tasty vegetable and also pickled for off season. In old days, it also served as a famine food during the times of food scarcity.
It may also be quite surprising for local people to know that desi rambaan, which they find so familiar, is not from India. It is believed to have originated in Mexico. As it is a xerophyte, so it can grow in very poor soils and under quite tough conditions.
Desi rambaan seems to be very sensitive to water logging. If grown on soils which are not well drained, the growth remains stunted.
Desi rambaan plant:
A robust, monocarpic, xerophytic perennial herb, 4-8.5 m tall when flowering, producing subterraneous stolons (rhizomes) and suckers, and numerous, crowded leaves in a rosette; stem 30-60 cm long.
Leaves sessile, often sub recurved, linear-lanceolate, 1-2 m x 6-10 cm, thin, widest above the middle, channelled towards the base, margins straight with erect black spines 3-6 mm long of which the tips are upcurved, spines 2-3 cm apart but reduced or lacking toward apex, apex ending in a sharp black spine up to 2.5 cm long, flat to concave-convex, dark blue-green, rough to the touch below, young leaves firmly appressed against each other (initially cylindrically inrolled) leaving impressions.
A plant of desi rambaan
Inflorescence a panicle on long peduncle, 3.5-8 m long, many-flowered; branches spreading, more or less flattened; flowers 6-8 cm long on short pedicel, protandrous, rich in nectar; perianth funnel-shaped, separated from the inferior ovary by a constriction, widened at the apex, with 6 equal lobes; tube 12-17 mm x 15 mm, grooved; lobes oblong to linear-spatulate, 2.5-3 cm long, yellow-green, tinged purplish or reddish, on the inside of the apex with a tuft of hairs; stamens 6, inserted above the middle of the tube, filaments 5 cm long, anthers slender, purplish; ovary conical but 6-ribbed, 3-4 cm long.
Fruit not well known, apparently very rarely produced.
After anthesis numerous bulbils are produced on the inflorescence.
Shoot buds of desi ramban are edible. These are famous as famine food. Shoot buds are eaten as a vegetable during main courses. Buds are also pickled to preserve them for off season..
Shoot bud vegetable:
Chopped shoot buds, 1 kg; mustard oil, 3-4 table spoons; coriander powder, 1 table spoon; fenugreek powder,1 tea spoon; cumin seed, 1 table spoon; turmeric powder, 1; table spoon. red chillies, 2-4; medium sized chopped onion, 1; chopped garlic cloves, 4-5; green coriander leaves (chopped), half cup amount; ginger paste, 1/2 table spoon; tomato puree, 2 cup amount; branded garam masala,1 tea spoon; salt, according to taste.
Remove skin of shoot bud and cut into small rectangular pieces. Then add coriander powder, fenugreek powder, red chillies and cumin seed in sequence in hot mustard oil. Mix it well then add paste of onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric powder and tomato puree. Sauté this mixture in slow flame for 5 minutes and add chopped shoot buds and mix properly. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes till they become soft. Add garam masala powder and garnish with chopped green coriander leaves before serving.
Pickle of desi ramban shoot bud :
Chopped shoot buds, 1 kg; mustard oil, 7-9 table spoons; fenugreek powder, 2 table spoon; cumin seed, 2 table spoon; turmeric powder, 1; table spoon. red chillies, 8-12. mustard (rai ) powder, 4 table spoon and salt, according to taste. .
For preparing pickle, peel off skin of shoot bud and cut into small rectangular pieces. Place these pieces boiling them for 5 to 10 minutes and dry in full sunlight for 5-6 hours. In hot mustered oil saute dried pieces of desi ramban with roasted seed powder of fenugreek , cumin. and red chillies, then add to this turmeric powder, mustard (rai) powder and salt, according to taste. Keep this mixture in a ceramic jar. After 15-20 days the shoot bud pieces will develop a sour taste and will be ready to eat.
Seek advice from a professional before using this plant medicinally.
The leaf sap of desi ramban is used in the treatment of wounds.
Desi rambaan plants are often planted as a hedge along the roadsides and in gardens and also used for checking soil erosion along rivers and brooks. It is traditionally grown as live fence and helps inhabitants to keep livestock and other animals away. It also serves as boundary mark in farmlands.
Fibre obtained from the leaves of this plant is made into baskets, hammocks, bags, sandals, carpets, rugs, doormats, sacks and cordage.