Wild fruits were an important source of food for mankind before the dawn of civilization and the domestication of the present day fruits. Cavemen in the forests also depended on these fruits and passed on valuable information on the utility and choice of wild species of fruits from generation to generation. Thus, the present day horticulture came into existence. Also, the wild varieties of plants, yielding edible fruits, growing throughout the Himalayas, contributed directly to the cultural heritage of India. Even today, these fruits are eaten in plenty by the local people, as they are commonly available in abundance in their habitats.
Among these wild fruit trees are Rubus ellipticus Smith, Rubus niveus Thunb, Flacourtia sapida Roxb, etc, producing small juicy fruits of excellent taste. They can be utilized for juice-making. The fruits of plants, e.g. Aegle marmelos Correa and Berberis aristata DC. are known for their medicinal properties. Besides, some of these fruits such as Myrica nagi Thunb, Emblica officinalis Gaertn, Punica granatum Linn are marketed in huge quantities, thus contributing to the economy of the region where they occur.
The trees yielding edible fruits also provide firewood, serve as wind breaks and fences, supply leaf fodder and act as raw material for many useful medicinal preparations. Valuable traits of these wild fruits, such as resistance to diseases, winter-hardiness, resistance to drought, and possession of superior vigour can be incorporated into their cultivated relatives with a view to improving them. Wild plants yielding edible fruits are also important in the three-dimensional forest farming, producing food, fodder and fuel, besides providing environmental conservation.
Unfortunately, the information available on these species is rather scanty. Therefore the scientific and systematic harnessing of these plants has not been possible. In the absence of such information in the form of hand book or manual on wild fruits, the farmer and orchardist feels greatly handicapped and is reluctant to extend the cultivation of such unusual fruits. Till today, the reference to wild fruits is either available in the botanical floras or in encyclopedic works like George Watt’s Dictionary of Economic Products of India, the CSIR’s Wealth of India or a few similar other volumes. These books are not easily available everywhere. Moreover, these are expensive for a common man. Difficult to refer and also lack in comprehensive information.
In the present work, the authors have endeavored to bring out detailed information on various characteristics of morphological, taxonomical, economical and horticultural importance. This information was collected during the course of investigation carried out by them on 26 plants found growing wild in the sub-Himalayan tract yielding edible fruits in an attempt to evaluate these wild fruits from economic and commercial standpoints. To make the work more comprehensive and useful, the authors also consulted various other sources including the translations of ancient Sanskrit texts on Ayurveda for compiling all the available information on the medicinal properties and other uses of these plants. The treatise, therefore, carries a detailed information on the phenology, flowering and fruiting seasons, chemical composition, medicinal properties, yield, utilization, scope etc., in respect of each fruit.
It is hoped that the treatise will prove useful to the students and researchers in horticulture, forestry and botany as it is for the first time that such a detailed information has been placed under a single comer. A glossary of different medical, botanical, Hindi and Sanskrit terms used in the text, is also given at the end of r the convenience of readers. An index, including all the Indian names of these plants has also been compiled and provided at the end for the convenience of these readers who know these plants by their local names only.
The authors are grateful to Dr. R.V. Singh and Dr. P.K. Khosla for their valuable suggestions during the course of investigation and compilation of this manuscript. We also owe our debt of gratitude to late Dr. K.S. Bedi, Retired, Joint Director of Agriculture (Research and Education), Punjab, for critically going through the manuscript and suggesting improvements.Chiranjit Parmar
Department of Horticulture
Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University