Rajshri Shyamlal Bais, 27yrs, is a talented young woman from the Mahara community from Andhra Pradesh and is based in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. She did her Masters in Anthropology from the Women’s College, Jagdalpur, Bastar University. She aspires to do a PhD on tribal life and food in the Bastar region and has been living in a village in Bastar district for several years. During this fellowship she is going to do a detailed study of forest herbs and medicinal plants in Bastar.
Sachin Ganesh Rathod, 26yrs, is a young Mahua enthusiast from the Banjara tribe of Kinwat Taluka, Nanded District, Maharashtra. He is doing a Masters in Political Science from Baliram Patil Arts Commerce and Science College in Nanded. He finished his Bachelor of Arts from the same institute. During the MAH fellowship, he is going to conduct research on the economic potential of the Mahua tree and aspires to take this as his PhD research topic after his masters.
Rajshri presents a herb from Manjipal in Bastar, that is found as commonly in India’s cities as its deep jungles, underlying continuities of all kinds. From treating stomach ailments to eye diseases and respiratory issues, this herb is widely used by forest based communities as everyday medicine.
Scientific name: Argemon mexicana / Common Name: Satyanashi, Mexican prickly poppy
Sachin starts his journey discovering the world of mahua by focussing on this tree located in Rajgad Village, Kinwat taluka, Nanded District, Maharashtra. He will provide more information of the different aspects of the tree and help us understand how it is connected with the socio-economic lives of the people who live in its vicinity.
Rajshri presents another medicinal herb from Manjipal in Bastar, that too is common across urban sites in India. As a perennial the milky sap from the leaves, roots as well as the flower are taken into use by the locals. Their leaves are considered beneficial for swelling and pain. The latex from crushed leaves is used in the treatment for skin ulcers, itching, rashes and more.
Scientific name: Calotropis gigantea / Common Name: Madar, Aak
Rajshri’s second finding is also a medicinal herb. An annual plant, Bhui Neem is widely used as a blood purifier, to help maintain a healthy body weight and against stomach worms. Like most medicines, this too is bitter to taste.
Scientific name: Swertia chirayita / Common Name: Bhui Neem, Chirayata
Sachin Rathod followed the story of this particular tree, located in Vadoli village, five kilometers from his home in Maharashtra. This year it shed around 90 kilograms of Mahua flowers over the months of March and April. The yield produced around 90 litres of Mahua spirit providing a supplementary income to the Shedmakke (see photo below) family who were its prime collectors and spirit makers. They collected Mahua flowers between 5:00 am and 9:00 am everyday, sun dried the flowers, fermented, distilled and sold the spirit by the glass in local weekly markets. Sachin’s research will continue to follow the trail of similar mahua makers and examine the steps required to increase the income of such families through mahua and other forest produce.
Sachin retuned to the village 'Vadoli', to meet and interview Bhimrao Jaita Shedmakke. He makes mahua liquor every month of the year.
Bhimrao lives with his family, which includes his wife, two sons, and a daughter. His daughter is disabled, one of the sons is a mechanic, and the other helps out in the mahua distillation. Bhimrao does not own any farmland, nor does he work in others' fields. He supports his family solely by brewing, distilling, and selling the mahua liquor.
They collect and store the mahua flowers during the summer months. Each batch of flowers is then fermented for about 3-4 days. It takes them 3-4 hours daily to turn 15kg of flowers into 12.5 liters of liquor.
Bhimrao sometimes buys mahua flowers from other Adivasi people and also sells them further if there is demand. He uses 5-liter oil cans for the distillation process and adds 100 grams of alum and jaggery to every 3kg of flowers. His mahua liquor sells for Rs. 50-60 per glass.