‘Seabuck thorn’ - Magic plant of Gilgit-Baltistan (Published in The Nation dated September 11, 2002)
Syed Shams ud Din
Nature has endowed Pakistan with vast resources and ‘seabuck thorn’ is indeed, one of them. For its stupendous ingredients, it is considered an elixir. This plant is found in abundance throughout Gilgit-Baltistan, hence its popularity and maximal growth on scientific lines can work wonders in eradicating poverty from the region. Following its fruitful experimentation, the neighboring China and Russia have reportedly converted all the natural growth areas of ‘seabuck thorn’ into nurseries spreading over thousands of acres of land. China got it planted on a large scale in certain backward regions some three decades knack that helped catapult them economically to unimaginable heights.
The stupendous characteristics associated with this plant lately prompted the western countries like Finland, Belgium, Germany and Sweden to undertake ‘seabuck thorn’ transplantation. India hosted an international conference on ‘seabuck thorn’ in Delhi at the end of 2000.
Gilgit-Baltistan abounding it is in the natural forests of ‘seabuck thorn’ for centuries. The tracts like Astore, Hunza, Nagar, Bagrote, Ghizar, Diamir and the whole of Baltistan have all mushroom growth of this plant.
This can also be seen in Chitral and Upper Swat. According to an estimate, the total area under ‘seabuck thorn’ is put at some 7000 acres – mostly along the river courses, watered wastelands and nullahs. It is greatly instrumental in preventing soil-erosion and hence serves as the most effective natural embankment to water courses. Its abundant growth can be witnessed mostly along the flooded parts of land in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The height of ‘seasbuck thorn’, on full growth, can be up to seven meters. It is said to comprise both male and female species. During autumn, all its branches get bedecked with reddish, beans-like fruit. In Baltistan, it is called ‘zhoq’ while the Hunzakutz call it ‘shung’. In Gilgit region, it is named ‘buru’ while in Wakhi, it is named ‘zakh’. The plant primarily becomes classifiable into its four natural varieties, and one of them is to be found in Gilgit-Baltistan. However, in parts of Kashmir, another of the kind ‘Hippophae salicifolia’ is reportedly in natural growth.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, its growth in abundance remains a centuries-old natural phenomenon albeit its medicinal utility always shrouded in mystery save only that the native people took its highly pricking thorny nature, precluding any intrusions.
It has nonetheless, been a source of fodder and fuel wood as well. During 1995, the federal ministry for food and agriculture first prepared a development plan for popularizing this plant. Pursuant to this scheme, thousands of kilograms of ‘seabuck thorn’ seeds were purchased from the farmers of Gilgit-Baltistan that threw open new income generation avenues to them. This seed was then used for its oil extraction by both government and nongovernmental organizations. In the meantime, its fruit came to be utilized for making jams, jellies and biscuits. This was followed by its use for making as many as twenty eatables.
This is in addition to a number of cosmetics – shampoos, creams etc, it is used for. In homoeopathy, it is now widely used for curing all diseases like cancer, hypertension besides various capsules and elixirs made for cough relief.
And for the preceding few years, the ministry of agriculture in collaboration with a private firm – institute of acupuncture and medical science – started researches on ‘seabuck thorn’ quite hectically. In various cities of Pakistan, its jams, jellies and oil became rapidly popularized. These products are reportedly used for coronary ailments, cough, stomach disorders and other diseases as aforesaid, while a number of dismayed women too, get advised to use these products.
The wonders associated with the plant prompted the ministry to set up a ‘seabuck thorn’ oil extraction plant at Skardu in Baltistan, in collaboration with ‘Pakistan Council for Scientific Research’ (PCSIR), Peshawar, which will become operational soon.
The ‘seabuck thorn’ seeds contain more oily ingredients as compared to others. If Pakistan becomes well poised to meet the growing demands abroad, it would certainly bring about a prosperous socio-economic change.
Europe, Canada and America etc, are struggling hard to have this plant in abundance while alongside gearing up efforts to develop more varieties. It is said that the botanical scientists of Siberia first started research work on having varieties of ‘seabuck thorn’ as far back as 1930s. These researches eventually led them to have about 30 varieties of this plant, which have already reached the farms. The new varieties reportedly give fruit larger in size than the natural ones. These are also said to be dwarf besides having less thorns with the apparent advantage being easy collection or harvesting of fruits.
For the last two decades, China has been working on a number of varieties which resulted in the addition of nine more varieties. One visiting the Chinese graveyard at Danyore in Gilgit would find such a plant bedecking the monument which substantially differs from the indigenous ones. This could have been popularized but it seems that the relevant authorities have not taken note of it. However, one such variety has also reportedly been introduced in Pakistan by the agriculture ministry. It is to be seen that all ‘seabuck thorns’ of Pakistan are natural while the yield is put at 162 kilogram per care.
This, therefore, calls for researches on this plant on the line of other countries for a remarkable boost.