As plants, like Rakhal, receive scientific and commercial attention we need to rethink the way we source and use these species to safeguard these food futures.
Apr 29, 2021 · 2 min read
Himachal has a varying topography which has blessed the state with diverse vegetation. In the 2100-3200 meters elevation range, this special super tree called Rakhal (Taxus Wallichiana) is found. It is a medium-sized tree with thin bark, dark-reddish gray branches which are horizontal and spread out wide. It is native to the Himalayas from East Afghanistan to Western Yunnan in South Western China.
The bark of the tree is known to contain an alkaloid known as Taxol which is said to be a cure for cancer. The local people of Himachal, for generations have made tea out of this healing bark.
The first time I found out about this species was when I observed the people of a village stripping down the bark of an entire tree. I was very surprised and enraged when I saw this happen. After some research on the species I found out about the medicinal properties and the extensive exploitation that have left the species vulnerable.
Major exploitation of the tree has been recorded in the past couple of decades. What the locals do not know is that once the bark is taken off, the tree basically dries out and then dies. This is a major problem and a decline in these species has been observed. This tree has even been added to the protected species list of trees.
There has been some major poaching across China and India due to the idea of this anti-cancer tree. Such medicinal stereotyping is very harmful to our environment, especially in such a case.
As plants, like Rakhal, receive scientific and commercial attention we need to rethink the way we source and use these species to safeguard these medicinal food futures.
Gaurish Shyam is a native of Kotgarh, a remote village in the Upper Shimla region of Himachal Pradesh. He has been born and brought up in Shimla. He is currently enrolled in the Culinary Arts program of Manipal University, Karnataka, and is very keen on exploring the local cuisine and indigenous ingredients found in Himachal. He has traveled across the state to learn the cuisine and has received training as a kitchen intern in various food establishments including a cheese factory.