The bio-diverse forests on the mountainous slopes of Manipur are home to an astounding diversity of wild fruits & flowers. The sheer variety of them that can be foraged and used for culinary or medicinal purposes is impressive! To the untrained eye it is difficult to ascertain which of the wild fruits or flowers are edible, but for the locals it is not such an impossible task. Some of these edible varieties are more commonly known and used in traditional medicines or cooking in the regions they grow.
One such fascinating plant from the wild is Litsea cubeba. Litsea, commonly known as mountain pepper or may chang, is an aromatic evergreen shrub or small tree that is native to Northeast India, China, and some Southeast Asian countries. It has a citrusy aroma and small berry-like fruits, which turn black on ripening, thus the name mountain pepper. While it features in regional cuisines - the fresh green fruit is used for culinary purposes like salad preparation, chutneys, pickles etc., - it is more popularly known for its medicinal properties and has been widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. The essential oil extracted from the fruits and leaves of the tree are commonly used in aromatherapy, perfumery, natural body care, and these days bold chefs are even experimenting with it in their cuisines.
Ofcourse, it is Litsea’s medicinal properties and uses which are truly remarkable and something that we are interested in. Litsea possesses therapeutic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal as well as anti-inflammatory properties. It is used for the treatment of colds and flues and is also known to be a nerve tonic which induces a feeling of relaxation. In traditional Chinese medicine it has also been used for cardiovascular and musculoskeletal ailments. Those are pretty impressive credentials for the wild Litsea!
Another well-kept secret from the forests of North East is wild tea. The tea that we are familiar with is cultivated in vast tea gardens. But tea is also found growing wild on trees in the forests without any human intervention. They are of the same variety, Camellia Sinensis, as tea cultivated on plantations but in the wild these trees can grow up to thirty feet tall and live for more than a century! As these are mostly older unpruned trees, they have deeper root systems which helps absorb more nutrients and minerals from the earth. Not to mention, the forest soil is healthier. The fact that wild tea grows in a pollution-free environment nurtured only by nature makes it beyond organic.
Wild teas are more complex in flavour, richer in anti-oxidants and more potent than the garden variety on account of growing naturally in a forest eco-system without any use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides. They come in many forms -White, Oolong, Green, and Black tea – and they all have their distinct benefits ranging from anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to aiding in weight loss, and building immunity.
Tea leaves growing in the wild are skilfully foraged by native tea-pickers. They trek several kilometres into the forests, covering difficult mountainous terrain on foot, to reach these trees to pluck and harvest the leaves and carry it back to their hamlets for processing. Indigenous techniques are employed during processing which helps retain the uncrushed whole leaf and its whole nutrients. It is an intense and intricate process that can be accomplished by the skilled few.
Wild teas can be consumed either in a pure or blended form. In their blended form they are fortified with potent indigenous ingredients that further enhance the aroma, flavour & complexity of the brew as well as its wellness benefits. Some indigenous herbs and spices are difficult to drink by themselves. Blending makes it possible to combine the flavours and benefits of these ingredients with a complementary wild tea. Thus, blended teas carry hints of different flavours and taste depending on the ingredients combined with wild tea leaves. For tea beginners or non-tea drinkers, blended tea is a good place to start.
At Beyondarie, we’ve prepared a blend that combines the subtle lemony, spicy tang of the wild Litsea with the bold, woody notes of the wild black tea. The flavours complement each other well and the brew offers the combined benefits of two amazing wild produce. You can enjoy the harmonious flavours in a cup of wild black tea with Litsea and let it work its magic!