Synonyms: Rhododendron arboretum var. arboretum; Rhododendron puniceum, Rhododendron windsorii
Local names: Buraans (बुरांस), Braah, Buras, Bras or Barah ke phool.
Burans is an evergreen tree in temperate forests of Himalaya between an altitude of 2300 to 3500 metres. It bears very attractive bright red flowers. The flowers, which are edible, appear from March to May. Sometimes, when there has been drought during this period, a second bloom of smaller intensity may also appear during July or August. But this is not very common.
A burans tree in full bloom
Burans grows all over India. It is national flower of Nepal. It has been declared the state tree of Uttarakhand. Its name, Rhododendron has been derived from Greek word rhodo which means rose and dendron meaning tree. Considering the beauty and utility of Rhododendron flower, a postal stamp was also issued by the Indian Postal Department in recognition of this flower.
The honour of being the tallest burans tree, measuring 108 feet, in the Guinness Book of Records, is held by a tree growing in Nagaland.
A much branched evergreen tree, upto 14 m, having girth upto 4-5 m.
Leaves oblong lanceolate, 6-12 cm long, 2.5 to 4 cm wide; upper surface glabrous, lower silvery-scaly.
Flowers showy, in dense, globose cymes, corolla tube spotted; bell-shaped and are held in trusses of 15 to 20 flowers; colour of the flowers varies considerably, from white to shades of pink or red; some of the white and pink forms sometimes having deeper coloured spots which add to their interest and beauty; nectar pouches at the base of the flower; blood-red forms generally considered to be the most tender.
Fruit an oblong and curved capsule
Seeds minute, compressed and oblong.
Burans trees usually grow on shady slopes in the forests.
Burans flowers are best harvested from spring season to the beginning of summer season. Flowers have high commercial market value, so plant is facing a high risk of over exploitation. As edible part of plant is flowers which are means of regeneration, So, flowers should be sustainability harvested by rotating habitat of collection and plant need to be cultivated for ensuring sustainable development.
Burans flowers are edible and are used in many ways by people. These are also used commercially for preparing a squash from the juice. This is bought in large number by tourists visiting Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. This has a vey soothing and cooling effect during summer months.
Flowers of burans
As the flowers taste sour, so a chutney is also made from them. These are made into Kachru and pakoras.
Here are recipes for some burans preparations.
Fresh or dry Burans flowers petals, 250 g; fresh mint (poodina) leaves, 150 gm; anardana (Punica grnatum), 100 gm ; red chillies, tirmire young leaves (Zanthoxylum armatum), 50 g; 5-8; medium sized chopped onions, 1-2; sugar.1 tea spoon and salt, according to taste.
Chutney is normally prepared from fresh flowers petal known as barah ki chutney in local dialect, but can also be prepared from dried flower petal during the off season.
For preparing chutney, grind all the ingredients in a mixer except sugar and salt. Take out this mixture in a deep container then add salt and sugar. Now barah ki chutney is ready to serve.
For commercial preparation of Barah ki chutney seller prepare dried flower powder and mix it with mint leaves, anardana and other spices and serve chutney throughout the year in their Dhabas.
Burans butter milk:
Dried flowers are powdered with mint leaf,black pepper, sugar and green chilies. This powder is mixed with butter milk plus salt and served in summers as a cooling agent.
Buraans ka kachru:
For preparing a kachru, ingredients required are 1/2 kg besan (black grampowder) or corn flour. 1 cup amount fresh coriander leaves,1/2 table spoon ajwain, 3-5 green chillies, ½ table spoon turmeric powder, 2-3 chopped onions and salt according to taste. Make a paste of flower petals, besan or corn flour and spices. Heat some oil on a flat heating pan. Put this paste over a pan and cook for 15 to 20 minutes then kachru will be ready.
Kachru made from burans flowers
Burans juice a very common and pleasant drink served as sherbet in various local functions or festivals. It is also prepared from burans flowers. Juice is extracted with a common household juice extractor which is used for citrus fruits. Those villagers who do not have a juice extractor, local extract juice by boiling flowers. This juice is given orally as a blood purifier and to check nose bleeding.
Squash made from burans flowers
Commercial fruit canning units prepare squash from this juice. It is sold in large quantities in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
One hundred grams of fresh flowers of Burans contain, moisture, 82.2% ; protein, 1.6% ; fats, 0.6% ; carbohydrates, 1,7%; minerals,1.3% ; fibre, 1.3% ;energy, 40 kcal; phosphorus 2.5 mg. (Kanwar, et al ; 2010)
Burans tree has also many uses. This plant also occupies a special place in the cultural & economic life of the people of Himachal Pradesh living in hilly areas. Burans flowers offered in temples & religious places for decoration purposes. Flowers are offered during worship on Sankraanti (संक्रांति) of Hindu calendar.
Seek advice from a professional before using this plant medicinally.
The young leaves are poisonous. They are also medicinal and applied for forehead for headache.
The petals are dried and ground into a powder. This powder is stored and used in future. This powder is used as a sniff to treat nose bleeding and is said be a very effective cure against frequent nose bleeding.
Its wood is used to make tool handles, boxes, posts and furniture. The wood is termite safe. Leaves are poisonous when young and applied to forehead for headache. Extract of leaves, stem and bark is useful to get rid of rats. Tree is also exploited for fodder and fuel.
Burans as a source of income:
Burans flower is a good source of income and livelihood option for poor people. Children collect flowers from forest and prepare bouquets of flowers with 10 to 15 flower sticks and sell these bouquets to visiting tourists by standing on roadside. The bouquets are bought for 20 to 50 rupees each by tourists.
People also sell dried Burans flower for 100 to 200 Rs per 250 to 500 gm packing.
Some people extract juice from the flowers with simple hand operated juice extractor. This juice easily sells at the rate of 100 rupees per bottle.
Burans chutney is prepared in large scale by professionals and can be sold throughout the year. 250 g chutney is sold at the price of Rs 160 by visiting door to door in villages and town.
There is also demand for dried flowers and these sell 400 to 500 rupees a kg.
Burans flowers being sold at Mandi town
Burans also facing danger of extinction:
People are harvesting burans flowers ruthlessly. There is no regulation on this from State Forest Department. The flowers are removed by just cutting the branches. This causes injury to trees. Secondly very less flowers are left of trees which are affecting natural regeneration of this tree. No new trees are being added and their natural population is therefore declining every year. This need to be checked otherwise this useful tree may not be seen after a few decades.
Kapoor, A., Anwar, P. and Gupta, R.(2010): Traditional recipe of District Kangra of Himachal Pradesh, Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge. Vol 9(2), April 2010,pp.282-288.