Chyura or Indian Butter Tree (Diploknema Butyracea), largely found at an altitude of 1600 m is one of the most economically important but lesser known and underutilized multipurpose tree of the Himalayas. This Kalpabriksha or Kalpavriksha as it is known in Uttarakhand has an ancient association of spiritual and cultural importance with the indigenous communities of the Himalayas.
The Chyura tree was traditionally used for beekeeping by the natives. This tree serves as a source for many products such as seeds for oil, flower nectar for honey, edible fruits that have medicinal properties, wood for small timber, fuel and furniture and leaves for cattle fodder. However, the seeds and flowers of Chyura have changed the rural economy opening up a whole new dimension of organic and traditional farming with value-added products.
Chyura grows extensively in the area of Pithoragarh and Kumaon as well as the adjoining districts of Almora, Bageshwar and Nainital. These trees have a tendency to grow in shadow valleys or on riverine settlements. Chyura trees start yielding fruit generally between five and nine years of age. The fruiting happens in the month of April – July. The innermost core of the Chyura fruit contains a thin but hard brown seed with a glossy coating and within it rests its kernel. These seeds are used for oil extraction while the seed residue acts as a potent mosquito repellent.
The oil is extracted from the kernel of the Chyura seeds. This has been prepared in the age-old method for generations by the locals here. Oval-shaped fruits are picked from the ground after dropping off naturally. The fruits are deseeded and the seeds are cleaned and boiled to soften their covering after which the kernel can be easily removed by simply pressing them on the floor. As the seeds cannot be stored for more than a week, the process of removing the kernel needs to done quickly to avoid deterioration. The dried kernel can however be stored for two to three years.
After the almond-shaped white kernels are obtained, they are dried in the sun to remove any moisture and then roasted. The roasted kernels are then pounded using a grinding stone known as okhal. The pounded kernels are then boiled in water. After the water cools down, a paste begins to form which is taken out carefully. This paste is kept in a white cloth and pressed by hand till drops of oil trickle down. The paste is again dried, crushed into a powder and kneaded continuously to give it a soft texture. Lukewarm water is poured on it and ghee forms which is skimmed out when cool. This ghee known locally as the ‘poor man’s butter’ is the solidified Chyura oil. This butter or ghee is largely produced for domestic purposes but surplus is sold in nearby towns. This ghee is said to have great nutritional and medicinal value.
The entire traditional process of oil extraction is labour intensive. Locals say that about 15 kg of kernels will yield about 8 – 9 litres of oil. Chyura oil extraction is an important house practice of the indigenous communities. It is used by almost every household as cooking oil for vegetables and paranthas. The slightly bitter or overpowering flavour of the oil renders the food a unique taste.
The mechanical system that is widely used these days removes the seeds with a decorticator machine. The seeds are then cleaned, dried and pounded into a fine powder using a traditional pounder called dhiki. The powder is steamed on a perforated plate over a boiling pan. Oil is then extracted using chepuwa, a traditional oil expeller.
Chyura ghee has immense potential in a wide range of industries like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, confectioneries and others. The Government along with many self-help groups have ventured into Chyura soap making as an additional income-generating opportunity. The Chyura honey is also another excellent product that can be marketed as organic. There is scope to use this oil for making candles, ointments, lip balms and other beauty products. Locals say that the flower nectar can be used to make jaggery. Biodegradable plates and bowls can be made from the leaves of the Chyura tree and the bark and root of the tree is known to have many healing and medicinal properties.
This tree generally grows wild but is now being actively cultivated in certain parts of the state to enhance its utilization and create awareness of the products that can be churned out into a sustainable cottage industry for the locals.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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