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Conservation and Society
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Conservation and Society
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Year : 2005  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 224-230

Traditional Uses and Conservation of Timur ( Zanthoxylum armatum DC.) through Social Institutions in Uttaranchal Himalaya, India

G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora 263 643 (Uttaranchal), India

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Chandra Prakash Kala
G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora 263 643 (Uttaranchal)
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Date of Web Publication11-Jul-2009

How to cite this article:
Kala CP, Farooquee NA, Dhar U. Traditional Uses and Conservation of Timur ( Zanthoxylum armatum DC.) through Social Institutions in Uttaranchal Himalaya, India. Conservat Soc 2005;3:224-30

How to cite this URL:
Kala CP, Farooquee NA, Dhar U. Traditional Uses and Conservation of Timur ( Zanthoxylum armatum DC.) through Social Institutions in Uttaranchal Himalaya, India. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2005 [cited 2023 Jun 7];3:224-30. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2005/3/1/224/49312

   Introduction Top

THE COLLECTION of timur (Zanthoxylum armatum DC.) for food, medicine, and barter has been a part of the culture of Bhotiya transhumant pastoral communities in the Uttaranchal Himalaya (Farooquee 1994). In the hill areas of Uttaranchal, different social groups and geographical regions have adopted different strategies for their acquisition of timur. The Bhotiyas of Pithoragarh district of Kumaon region use timur fruit, while those of the Chamoli district of Garhwal have developed the collection and trade of timur sticks to pilgrims visiting the shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. As a result, they neither compete with each other, nor do they exert too much pressure on available resources in the wild, and, at the same time, they continue the barter of timur with each other. This relationship between these two communities still exists, but in recent years, some pharmaceutical companies have started purchasing timur fruit in bulk from this region, leading to competitive commercial activity among the villagers. Although there is scattered information on the distribution and indigenous use of timur (e.g. CSIR 1989; Gaur 1999; Den Hertog 2000; Kala et al. 2004), the current commercialisation trend, the impact of trade on the traditional harvesting mechanisms, and rising disputes over ownership of timur among various sections of the society have not been adequately documented. This study was undertaken to (i) analyse the indigenous knowledge of local people on different uses of timur, (ii) the impact of trade, (iii) and the role of traditional panchayat institutions in regulating harvesting limits for conservation of timur in the Uttaranchal Himalaya.

The state of Uttaranchal in India is located in the western Himalaya, spanning over an area of 53, 485 km 2 , and is inhabited by a population of 84,79,562 of which 78% fall under the rural category (Census of India 2001). This study focused on two districts: Pithoragarh (29 0 27' - 30 0 49' N and 79 0 50'81 0 3'E) and Chamoli (30 0 18' - 31 0 25'N and 79 0 50'- 81 0 3'E). Both districts are well known for their rich biodiversity, ethnic communities, and indigenous knowledge systems along with diverse culture, traditions and mythology (Kala 2004). The Bhotiya tribal community residing in this region and the Hindus Scheduled Castes often live together in the same village (Upadhyay 1990). In fact, only these two groups are directly involved in the collection and barter of timur.

is a shrub belonging to the family Rutaceae. It is found in the warmer valleys of the Himalaya, ranging between 1000 and 2100 m above sea level. It also grows in the Eastern Ghats in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh at 1200m, and the lesser Himalayan ranges in the northeastern part of India (e.g., Naga Hills, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Manipur). Hooker (1875) has described eleven species of the genus Zanthoxylum in India, of which 6 occur in the Himalayan region. The Uttaranchal Himalaya harbours 4 species of Zanthoxylum, namely, Z. armatum DC., Z. acanthopodium DC., Z. oxyphyllum Edgew., and Z. budrunga (CSIR 1989).

During field surveys, the participant observation method was employed to understand techniques used to harvest and process timur fruit and shoots. Additionally, interviews were conducted with 88 households in Kumaon and Garhwal to understand the amount of timur harvested, the time each household spent in collecting timur, the age/gender composition of those collecting timur, and the incomes that each family received from such activity. Quantitative data on total collection of timur were collected using a structured questionnaire for households. Sampling was done in such a manner that every section of the village society (e.g., caste, sex, age, educational and occupational categories) was fully represented in the household surveys as well as in the interactive workshops conducted with people in both Chamoli and Pithoragarh districts.

Uses of Timur

The Bhotiya tribal community uses timur more than any other ethnic group in Uttaranchal due to its availability near their winter settlements. They use timur fruit in the form of condiments, spices and medicine. In the preparation of certain traditional dishes, the use of timur as a flavouring agent or spice is very popular. During winter, a soup made from the dried fruit (known as hag) is consumed by the entire family to keep warm. A chutney (like a sauce), locally known as dunkcha, is also a popular food item.

Timur is used in curing various common ailments such as toothache, common cold, cough, and fever, as it is believed to give warmth to the body. To cure toothache, a fresh or dry fruit is pressed over the affected tooth and is kept in position till it loses its pungency. Young shoots of timur are used as toothbrushes. Recently people have also started to use powder made from the dried fruit for cleaning teeth. Common stomach complaints are treated with timur soup. The Bhotiya community also brew liquor from timur, but the resulting liquor is palatable only to those highly addicted. Most members of the community consider the tree to have religious significance and magical properties. Walking sticks are made out of its branches. In recent times however, the use of timur in alcohol, as a spice and as a leech repellent appears to have declined [Table 1].

Over the years, the Bhotiya community in the region has evolved a social mechanism for the exchange and distribution of timur to villages and people in areas where it is not found. In return, they get cereals, millets, pulses, and fruits which do not grow in Bhotiya villages or other items such as woollen garments. Such reciprocity exists even with people who have moved out of the mountains and are living in far off towns and cities.

With the entry of pharmaceutical companies in the timur business, it has become a profitable non-timber forest product (NTFP). The pharmaceutical companies generally use timur fruit for making different types of toothpaste [Table 2]. Prior to commercial tapping, timur was sold at Rs12 to 15 per kg in villages and in local markets. In the year 2000, the price in the local market was Rs 45 per kg, whereas the prices of timur in the plains during the same year increased to Rs150 - Rs 200 per kg. As a result, average household incomes in Munsyari and Dharchula blocks of Pithoragarh district in Kumaon region were around Rs 700 in a season due to the sale of timur. About 4 hours of work in collection earned over Rs 50 per head per day, which was more than the minimum wage rate in the State at that point of time (Rs 77 per day for 8 hours work). The collectors were mostly women, children, and old men who were otherwise economically unproductive. Villages possessing timur recorded significant cash flows; for example, Talla and Malla Dumor villages together earned around Rs 82,620.

Harvesting Timur

The collection of timur fruit typically starts in the first week of October, when the fruit ripens and turns dark red, and continues till the early part of November. In the past, it was collected only for domestic consumption, and this was done primarily by women and children. With the increase in the commercial value of the fruit, men have also joined in, and collection methods and harvesting times have also changed. Currently, harvesting begins almost a month in advance, and as a result even unripe fruit is plucked. Hand-picking of ripe fruit was the traditional method and the process of plucking the small fruit off the thorny branches was difficult, but some fruit remained on the tree and this sustained the species. The current practice is to lop off entire branches, leading to the destruction of many of the trees.

Timur harvesting is less in Garhwal than in Kumaon [Table 3]. The timur fruit growing in Garhwal is considered less pungent than that in Kumaon and this is the main cause of the lower harvest. However, in Garhwal, people harvest the entire plant from April to October for making walking sticks, which are in high demand in local markets and in religious pilgrimage sites in the region. As a traditional practice, whole timur bushes are also harvested for fencing cultivated land in the Garhwal region.

Harvesting the entire plant even before it has flowered can adversely affect the regeneration of the species. The lopping of branches for fruit collection in the Kumaon region has negative effects on the plant and also on the production of fruit in subsequent years. Sometimes it takes as many as three to five years for the recovery of fruit production. Moreover, in the last few years, commercial harvest of the fruit has led to indiscriminate collection from the wild and the destruction of timur.

Impact of Trade in Timur

With the advent of commercial interest in timur, conflicts have started between outsiders and villagers with regard to its collection. The outsiders are people from neighbouring villages or from the same region who are basically traders or contractors who have the means to hire manpower. As a result, those who have less manpower have also started hiring daily wage labourers for timur collection with the hope of earning more money.

The increasing harvest of timur has also increased the conflict amongst its various users, since it grows in community land or land belonging to the Revenue Department of the government. In the case of common land belonging to a particular village, the claim of that village is upheld, whereas in the case of land belonging to the government, other villagers can also claim the right to collection. Thus, the disputes are strongest with regard to revenue lands followed by those in community forests.

Until the beginning of the commercial harvest of timur, there was no involvement of the panchayat (village council) in its regulation and management either from community forests or from revenue land. The increase in the demand of timur fruit by the Indian pharmaceutical companies has led to an increase in prices and has drawn the attention of the village councils towards management of timur grown in community forests and revenue land. Following this, in most of the timur-rich villages, community members have started to devise a mechanism for future regulations, management, and equitable sharing of timur yield. For the last four years, panchayat institutions at the village level have started to regulate and monitor the collection strategy to avoid conflicts. In this regard, some of the common steps taken and enforced in some areas include restrictions on outsiders on the collection of timur from community forests and revenue lands, restrictions on villagers for collection of timur before community forests and revenue lands are declared open, and bans on destructive modes of harvesting. Violation of these rules entail paying a fine to the panchayat. This regulatory mechanism has been successful because the rules and regulations are formulated by the collective decision of members of the community under the supervision of the traditional village council.

   Conclusion Top

Timur is not a fast-growing species and has low population sizes. The proliferation of woody weeds such as Lantana in timur-growing areas is creating problems for the survival of this native species. Some of the mechanisms of collection adopted by the local people are harmful to existing populations. However, the main question is whether timur shrubs can be conserved when the race for commercial tapping of its fruit is escalating, and when maximising income is the chief concern of local harvesters. Recognising the current demand, timur plantations can be developed as a viable source of income for resource-poor villagers. Timur can be grown on marginal and unproductive land, and also in forested land as an understorey shrub. A proper agronomic study is required to assess the viability of economic gain by farming timur.


We thank the villagers of Pithoragarh and Chamoli for co-operation during the fieldwork. Mr. Jagat Singh Martoliya is thanked for his help during field surveys.[9]

   References Top

1.CSIR. 1989. The Wealth of India: Raw Materials -Vol. XI. Publications and Information Directorate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Census of India. 2001. Provisional Populations Totals: Uttaranchal. Office of the Registrar General, New Delhi   Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Den Hertog, W.H. and K.F. Wiersum. 2000. Timur (Zanthoxylum armatum) production in Nepal: Dynamics in non-timber forest resource management, Mountain Research and Development 20:136-45.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Farooquee, N.A. 1994. Transhumance in the Central Himalaya: A Study of its Impact on Environment. Ph.D. thesis. H.N.B. Garhwal University, Srinagar, Garhwal.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Gaur, R.D. 1999. Flora of District Garhwal, North West Himalaya, With Ethnobotanical Notes. TransMedia, Srinagar, Garhwal.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Hooker, J.D. 1875. Flora of British India. Vol. I. L. Reeve & Company, London.   Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Kala, C.P. 2004. Revitalizing Traditional Herbal Therapy by Exploring Medicinal Plants: A Case Study of Uttaranchal State in India. In: Indigenous Knowledges: Transforming the Academy (eds. B.L. Farmer, A. Maretzki and L. Semali), pp. 15-21. Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Kala, C.P., N.A. Farooquee and U. Dhar. 2004. Prioritization of medicinal plants on the basis of available knowledge, existing practices and use value status in Uttaranchal, India. Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 453-469.  Back to cited text no. 8    
9.Upadhyay, H.C. 1990. Harijans of Himalaya. Gyanodaya Prakashan, Nainital, India.  Back to cited text no. 9    


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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