A tree of chharma
Synonyms: Hippophae turkestanica
Other names: Suak, Tirkug, Sirna, Tasru, Tsarna, Tsermang.
Chharma is a plant of very cold regions of the dry temperate areas. It grows in Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau at altitudes between 2100 – 2600 m. Theplants mostly grow along riversides.
A thorny deciduous shrub growing upto 6 m by 2.5 m; crown irregular with rigid and silvery twigs and leaves.
Leaves linear to lance-shaped, alternate, 2-6 cm long, covered on both sides with silvery-white scales, undersides of leaves with brown dots;
Leaves of a chharma plant
Dioecious; flowers inconspicuous, yellow, borne in clusters and appear before the leaves.
Female flowers of chharma
Male flowers of chharma
Fruit reddish orange spherical berry, 5-12 mm wide.
The plants flower in June and the fruits are ready in September-October.
The fruits are soft, juicy, rich in oils and edible. They are nutritious, very acidic and unpleasant to eat raw. The juice of berries can, however, be mixed with sweeter substances such as sugars and apple or grape juices. The juice is rich in vitamin C. One fruit processing company has developed a chharma juice based fruit drink and is marketing it under the brand name “Leh Berry” in India. It is also being marketed by another company under the name “Laddakh Berry”. The market for this juice is estimated to be 60 million Indian rupees (1 US$=60 Indian rupees) in India. The Chinese market is estimated to be 170000 million Indian rupees. Chharma fruits can also be processed into preserve, jam and squash.
In Lahaul and Spitti region of India which is adjacent to Tibet and where chharma grows in large number, the fruits are eaten by tribal people. These people consider them a tonic, aphrodisiac and a medicine for tuberculosis.
The twigs and leaves have astringent and vermifuge properties. Medicinal oil obtained from fruits is used in the treatment of cardiac disorders, healing of burns and eczema. The fresh juice is used in the treatment of colds, fever and exhaustion. The berries are very rich source of vitamins and minerals. Ample amounts of vitamins A, C, E and flavanoids have been reported.
Chharma plants are very hardy and can tolerate a temperature of about -25°C. However, they require sunny sides for proper growth.
The plants can be propagated through seeds, suckers and stem cuttings. The seeds are sown in spring in the sunny locations. Cold stratification for three months considerably improves the germination percentage. The male seedlings can be easily differentiated from the females in the spring as males have very prominent axillary buds.
The plants produce suckers, which can be used as a planting material also. The stem cuttings of half-ripe wood can also be used for propagation at the end of autumn or very early in the spring.
Dr. Anil Kumar Thakur
Associate Professor of Botany
Government Post Graduate College
Solan H.P. 173212 INDIA