Kashmir’s famed Kala Zeera ‘re-discovered’ in wild after 18 years

Team of scientists based at Pampore elated at find, say saffron farmers should grow it in their fields

Shopian: A group of scientists who run the Saffron Research Centre at Pampore have rediscovered the famed Kala Zeera or Shahi Zeera (Bonium persicum) in Kashmir after eighteen years of work on the project. Dr Ghulam Hassan Pir was among the scientists deputed for the project and he spoke to Kashmir Reader about the importance of the “re-discovery”.
Bunium persicum is a famed herb that is used as a spice, in manufacturing of medicine, and as a stimulant and fragrance agent. According to scientists, the herb had disappeared from the hilly regions of Jammu & Kahsmir such as Wasturwan, Chinab valley, parts of Budgam, and Drass.
“It will be an economic boon for the valley. It took almost eighteen years for the Saffron Research Centre to locate this herb and now successful tests have been conducted on it at SKAUST (Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology). Seeds have also been given to farmers for trial of the crop,” Dr Pir said.
Dr Pir said that cultivation of the herb had stopped since many years but it was occasionally spotted in hilly areas in the wild. However, it disappeared even from the hilly regions about eighteen years ago.
Apart from saving this indigenous herb from extinction, the scientific project to find Bonium persicum had an economic objective as well: to provide an alternative to saffron farmers. The herb is suited to saffron fields as a second crop. The two crops can be sowed and harvested in different seasons on the same field.
“It would serve as an alternate crop for many saffron growers, many of whom are now switching to horticulture. If they get this herb to sow on their fields, it can be greatly profitable for them. I think they should not convert their land to horticulture for now. This is like a diamond for them,” Dr Pir said.
The herb fetches a handsome price in the market. “It is being sold at Rs 4,000 a kilogram,” Dr Pir said.
Unlike the common Zeera, Bunium persicum, especially its indigenous variety, can only be grown in the Himalayan region, particularly in Kashmir where saffron is grown.
The herb also has medicinal properties. “It has qualities that can cure thyroid, depression, and many other diseases,” Dr Pir said.
Scientists who worked in the project said the fragrance of this indigenous Zeera is breathtaking. They said that growing this crop will not only boost Kashmir’s economy but also make its kitchens fragrant.

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