Burash (Rhododendron arboreum) is a beautiful evergreen wild tree found in the higher altitude areas of Himachal Pradesh. The tree bears flowers in the months of March to May which are of intense red/crimson or pink colour. These flowers are edible and have anthocyanins and flavanols in abundance.
The flowers are citrusy and tangy with slight astringency. Traditionally, the hill people use these flowers to make chutney with mint, coriander, sometimes even anardana (dried pomegranate seeds).
The flowers are soaked in warm water which seeps the colour out of the flower and the liquid is then used as a colouring agent. When the flower is in season, the locals extract a fresh juice out of the flowers or eat it just after plucking it from the tree.
Walking by the burash trees and collecting all the fallen flowers was always a treat for us during our childhood. We would get very excited after looking at our forage and would walk back home with the same feeling one would have after a successful hunt. Sometimes, even the elders would accompany us and then it would turn into a picnic for the kids.
Commercially this flower is used to make beverages such as juices or concentrates by various cottage set-ups. A special local wine is also made from the flower called ‘sur’ which is said to prevent high altitude sickness.
After some experimenting with this flower for winemaking, I realized that with a small amount of extra sugar, it has the right acidity and tannin content for a good wine. I have always had dried burash flowers at my house and these have been used for various preparations. My curiosity, and a successful experiment of making vinegar with these flowers, prompted me to try wine with them. I had to add more sugar and yeast to start the fermentation and the initial batches were not so good, but after a couple attempts, I finally have an idea of how to make a good burash which can easily be compared with a good grape wine.
Burash has gained popularity as a commercial product over the years. Burash tea is not so popular with the locals but has a good potential for commercial use and is coming up as a new product in the market.