Ethnobotanical Leaflets 10: 109-112. 2006.
Notes on Traditional Uses of Khair (Acacia catechu Willd.) by Inhabitants of Shivalik Range in Western Himalaya
K.N. Singh* and Brij Lal
Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology
Palampur-176 061(H.P.), India
Issued 6 April 2006
The article deals with the importance of Khair (also known as Catechu) in the life of rural and tribal communities inhabiting Shivalik range in western Himalaya, India. Catechu, a multipurpose tree species is widely used by the inhabitants for fodder, fuel, building material and in health care. Information on traditional uses and socio-economic importance of A. catechu were provided with reference to natives inhabiting foot-hills of Shivalik range in western Hiamlaya, India.
Key words: Traditional Use, Catechu, Shivalik range, western Himalaya
Acacia catechu Willd. (Mimosaceae), locally known as Khair, is a medium sized deciduous tree with crooked and forked trunk. It is found growing in both natural and plantation forms in most of the parts of country up to an elevation of 1300m above mean sea level.
In Himachal Pradesh, catechu is widely distributed in Mandi, Hamirpur, Kangra, Solan, Sirmaur, Una, Chamba, Shimla and Bilaspur districts below 1300 m elevation (Chowdhery and Wadhwa, 1984 and Chauhan, 1999). Generally, A. catechu forms pure patches of Khair forests but it is also found in association with Acacia modesta, Pinus roxburghii, Mallotus phillipensis, Dalbergia sissoo, Zizyphus and other species (Champion and Seth, 1968).
In India, there are 3 varities of A. catechu namely, Catechu, Catechuoides and Sundra. Catechu is commercially used to obtain Katha (a concentrated filtered extract) in North India. It is found widely distributed in Jammu, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Andra Pradesh and Orrissa. Catechuoides is found in terrai region of Sikkim, Assam and West Bengal, whereas Sundra, generally known as Lal Khair (red catechu) is found in Deccan, Gujrat, Rajasthan and southern Maharashtra (Brandis, 1984).
A. catechu is a multipurpose tree species. The heartwood of the tree is mainly used for extracting Katha and Cutch (decoction obtained after filtration) which are sold in the market. Katha is commonly used in ayurvedic preparations. Besides this, it serves as one of the major components in masticatory i.e. chewing of betel leaf (pan) in India.
A. catechu is a valuable bioresources and has been exploited commercially in tannin and Katha industry for decades (Annon., 1985). Besides its commercial importance, it is equally significant for the people particularly rural communities living in the vicinity of catechu forests as it is a subsidiary source of income to them. To a certain extent, these people are dependent on this plant to fulfill their day to day need of fuel, fodder, building material and others. This is the reason that catechu has become an integral part of socio-economic and cultural life of the people inhabiting the Shivalik range.
Though, information on traditional uses of catechu has been reported earlier by some workers like Kirtikar and Basu (1975), Jain (1991), Chatterjee and Pakrashi (1992) and Singh (2000), but, information on indigenous uses of catechu tree from Shivalik region has not yet been reported. That is why the present study was undertaken.
The present work is confined to Sirmaur and Solan districts of the state Himachal Pradesh in western Himalayan region. The area comes under Shivalik range, located at 31o11/ - 35o57/ north latitude and 76o52/ - 77o20/ east longitude between the elevation of 500m–1200m amsl.
In order to document Khair associated traditional knowledge, various field surveys were conducted in Khair dominating forests in different localities like Nallagarh, Subathu, and Solan areas of Solan and Dhaulakauan, Poanta Sahib, Markanda and Nahan areas of Sirmaur districts. While interacting with rural and tribal people (Gujjars) during field studies, information was gathered through interviews following Jain (1989). Observations recorded on different traditional use are enumerated categorically and the lesser known uses are marked with an asterisk (*) mark.
Building and Furniture Material
House Hold Articles
Besides traditional utility, A. catechu is widely utilized commercially for extracting Katha from the heart wood which costs around US $ 4-6 per kilogram in Indian markets. Cutch is used as adhesive in plywood industry and it is also used in preparing polishes and paints.
From the present study, it is envisaged that A. catechu has a great socio-economic importance as it is widely used for different purposes by the natives of Shivalik range. Besides, traditional and commercial importance, it has tremendous ecological significance. Because of its leguminous nature and soil binding abilities, it could be a suitable species for wasteland development.
Authors are thankful to the Director, Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, Palampur, for the facilities and motivation.
Anonymous. 1985. The wealth of India. Vol. I, CSIR Publication, New Delhi, India.
Champion, H.G. and Seth, S.K. 1968. A revised survey of the forest types of India. Manager of Publications, Delhi, India.
Chatterjee, A. and Pakrashi, S.C. 1992. The treatise on Indian medicinal plants. Vol.II. CSIR Publications and Information Directorate, New Delhi.
Chauhan, N.S. 1999. Medicinal and aromatic plants of Himachal Pradesh. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi, India.
Chowdhery, H. J. and Wadhwa, B. M. 1984. Flora of Himachal Pradesh: Analysis. Vol. I-III. Botanical Survey of India, Dehra Dun.
Jain, S.K. 1989. Methods and approaches in ethnobotany. PID, New Delhi, India.
Jain, S.K. 1991. Dictionary of Indian folk medicine and ethnobotany. Deep Publications, New Delhi, India.
Kirtikar, K.R. and Basu, B.D. 1975. Indian medicinal plants, vol. II. Periodical Experts, New Delhi, India.
Singh, K. N. 2000. Variation studies on katha content in relation to different forms of khair (Acacia catechu Willd.) trees. M.Sc. dissertation (unpublished) Dr. Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Solan, India.