Cucumber is said to have been cultivated by many indigenous communities in India for more than 3,000 years. Cucumber has been grown by tribals in Nagaland for centuries. It is one of the most important crops of the North Eastern states and Nagaland ranks fifth in area under cultivation and third in production.
The districts of Mokochung, Mon, Wokha, Kohima and Peren produce some of the best varieties of cucumber in the world. A wide variety of cucumber is grown in different parts of the state by different Naga tribes. Konyak tribe produces an excellent quality cucumber called Maikoh that is not only the most awaited fruit for their people but also for those in surrounding states. Maikoh derives its name from koh meaning give and mai meaning mother. It is said that a group of young men accidently discovered this fruit in the jungle. Upon tasting it, they found it to be juicy and delicious and decided to share it with their loved ones. This variety has been grown in Nagaland ever since then.
Jhum cultivation is practised by the locals and generally, the farmers grow cucumber in the kharif season. However, farmers have started growing cucumber in the off season as well to meet rising demands using indigenous irrigation techniques. The cucumber grown in the off season especially in Mokokchung district is very popular within the state. Some tribes like Konyak grow cucumber throughout the year depending on the soil health of the jhum land. This is primarily grown as a cash crop along with paddy, chilli, tomato and others.
The seeds are sown during full moon, new moon or at the end of the month starting from February till end of April. The entire farming process is organic. Seeds are preserved for subsequent sowings by extracting them from healthy fruits during the second harvest. The extracted seeds can be preserved for about two years but, locals say that extracted seeds preserved for 6 – 7 months give the best produce.
Harvesting starts after three months from the date of sowing and should be done as soon as they reach maturity. Cucumber can be smooth or warty, yellow or green and of varying length and weight. Naga cucumber differs in taste, shape and size from those available in other parts of India. Some of the local varieties are known as Entsu Mastu (reddish and beautiful), Ngarep (reddish with a thick round), Tongten Mastu (bigger in size) and Mastu (commonly found) to name a few. They are largely classified into two types namely closed and hollow.
Koh-angya of the closed type is called the Queen of Cucumber by the Konyak tribe for its juiciness, softness, sweetness and distinctive green colour both internally and externally. Koh-sah and Koh-khe are the other types of the closed variety. Koh-kha is the locally grown hollow type that is available in every part of the state.
Naga cucumber is low in calories and high in Potassium and water level content. Traditionally, cucumber has been used by the indigenous communities for medicinal purposes to treat constipation, jaundice, headache and diabetes and improve the immune system to name a few.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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