Herbs and Habits
With great excitement, I took some exotic ingredients from Calcutta to introduce them to the girls at Selim Hill. I carried galangal, lemongrass and kafir Lime leaves.
With greater pomp and show, I told the girls about the nature of the ingredients and how they should be used. Looking confused and baffled they asked me to follow them.
My arrogance was completely shattered when they showed me an entire mountainside of galangal or aam adrak as they know it. The lemongrass that I had brought is used and grown in abundance at any tea garden. It is a natural pest repellent and so it is planted amid tea bushes at regular intervals. The leaves of the Gondhoraj, which grows in our backyard, are extremely similar to the Kaffir Lime. I had fallen into the trap of - Lets civilize the natives!
It was time to reverse the process and learn from the natives. I learnt how langurs (not monkeys) love hibiscus flowers. In fact, they showed me how a group of 30 langurs came and ate only the hibiscus flowers all around. They did not bother with any fruits and vegetables.
The rabbits that come at night to munch on our delicious astors, marigolds and petunias, never touch lavender or jasmine flowers. The smell repels them. On the other hand, the bees love them and make sweet honey from them. A constant reminder of how one man’s food is another man’s poison.
While monkeys partake of our produce regularly, the plant they are not interested in is the chilli. Can’t blame them! The tiny, round, red, hot chillis look like small berries but if you happen to put them in your mouth, they will “burn you through and through”. Native to the region, a special chutney is made from them to be eaten with momos.
The other chutney we regularly have is the mint or pudina chutney. Plucking the fresh leaves, almost as a flashback, I was reminded of the Pudin Hara which was the remedy for all stomach ailments. Never had I realised the actual origin of the simple solution. These fresh green leaves are as fresh as notes from the mint.
A delicate clover look alike herb grows all over and can be found in abundance. I have never seen it anywhere before. It is called Oxalis. If you are a health freak, enjoy it in a salad. If you have a spiritual bent of mind, it goes very well with spirits and a guest has made his own cocktail with it. I like chewing on it just like that, almost as a mouth freshener.
Needless to mention are the beautiful Selim Hill Tea Estate tea bushes, putting out their bounty on acres and acres of land. From birth to death, from marriage to divorce, from meeting to greeting, from winning to losing, from party to party…… the one thing that is common, is a cup of tea.
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