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afghan plants

Afghan plants

(1) Published by Scientia Bonnensis, (2010) ISBN 3940766305, 9783940766304. In Kabul, a reference copy can be read in the AREU library.

In Hazarajat, I recently met a team of botanists from Kabul University and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, one of whom, Tony Miller, had studied with Professor Hedge as a young PhD student in the 1970s, helping classify and name the plant specimens Hedge had brought back. The Kabul/Edinburgh team was working with a group of very enthusiastic botany and agriculture students from the universities of Kabul and Bamian. They had just spent several days and nights in the Koh-e Baba, the mountains that run through the centre of Hazarajat, staying in mountain villages overnight and learning/teaching practical fieldwork skills. The new field guide was in use.
Breckle and Rafiqpoor’s book is illustrated with pictures of more than 1200 of Afghanistan’s flowering plant species. The book gives the Dari common names, where they exist, along with distribution and aids to recognition. There are also practical introductory chapters on Afghanistan’s physical geography and climate, information on conservation and plant collecting techniques and many maps, photos and diagrams.

Afghanistan is particularly rich in flowering plants. This may be counter-intuitive, given how relatively dry the country is, but there are far more species and sub-species here than, for example, in damper central Europe which is much more favourable for plant growth. 4500 flowering plants have been identified so far in Afghanistan and many more, it is believed, are yet to be found and named.
AAN’s Thomas Ruttig, points out that Afghanistan is part of a ‘Vavilov Centres’, (2) one of eight regions of the world where crop plants were first domesticated. For plant breeders, having access to the wild relatives and related species of a crop is important. (3) The plant crops domesticated here include wheat, peas, lentils, chickpeas, sesame, hemp, onion, garlic, spinach, carrot, pistachio, pear, almond, grape and apple.
Among the hundreds of containers bound for Afghanistan which were impounded for over a year at Karachi docks because of a trade dispute were copies of a ground-breaking book on Afghanistan’s plants. S W Breckle and M D Rafiqpoor’s Field Guide Afghanistan: Flora and Vegetation, (1) is unique, the result of decades of work by several professors – Afghan, German and British – and written in both Dari and English. It is both scholarly and accessible and intended for practical use. The book has finally found its way to Kabul, more than a year after it was published, and more than 4000 free copies are finally being distributed to Afghan schools, universities and research institutes. AAN’s Kate Clark has been leafing through the book and hearing from botanists as to why Afghanistan’s plant life is quite so exciting – it is, they say, a globally important centre of biodiversity.
(2) Named after the Russian botanist, Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, who developed the theory. The region stretches through Punjab, Pakhtunkhwa/North West Frontier Province, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and western Tian-Shan (China).
(4) Dittmann is also the chair of the prestigious Arbeitsgemeinschaft Afghanistan (AGA, or Afghanistan Research Group – (ARG)), an association of German scientists who work on Afghanistan. Its website, although inactive since AAN’s former Advisory Board member Bernt Glatzer’s death in 2010, still links to many resources on Afghanistan. The website is in German, but much of the linked material is in English.

A second blog will look at the rangeland of Hazarajat and the importance of the wild plants which local people gather for food, fuel, fodder and medicine. AAN has put together a top ten of the forage plants of the Koh-e Baba. They include rhubarb, wormwood, giant hogweed, liquorice and caraway.

Plants of Afghanistan 1: Centre of Global Biodiversity Kate Clark • 10 Jun 2012 5 min Share Among the hundreds of containers bound for Afghanistan which were impounded for over a year

Afghan plants

4 Gheghu,(2) umbuliferae ferulus. This fodder plant is a genus of plants from the aromatic umbuliferae family (which also includes carrots, turnip, parsley and hemlock – the name refers to their umbrella-like flower arrays). The ferula genus includes fennel/jawani badian, asafoetida (number 7 on this list) and galbanum. Gheghu is a perennial. Growing with leafy stems and masses of yellow-coloured flowers, it is gathered to feed livestock in the winter.

9) Zira-ye Kohi, Caraway, Carum carvi This is another delight of the carrot/umbuliferae family, a delicious spice, used in Afghanistan for flavouring rice and in other dishes.
5 Baldarghu, giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum. Also from theumbulifera/carrot family, this plant can grow to well over one metre and has masses of white flowers. Peel the stems and eat them raw, or steam and eat. In Hazarajat, people also pour boiling water on the seeds and drink the liquid to reduce high blood pressure. Handle the plant with care: touching the leaves when it is sunny can result in blisters and getting any of the plant’s sap in the eyes is dangerous.

2 Chukri or rawash, wild rhubarb, Rheum ribes. Each spring, the perennial rhubarb rhizomes push up stalks which have, to English eyes, unusually wrinkled, warty leaves. Rhubarb stalks are peeled and usually eaten raw with salt, or in salads. Chukri is delicious, a member of an old Kabuli family told me, cooked with samaruk – wild mushrooms – or with spinach (see a recipe from Helen Saberi’s Afghan Food & Cookery: Noshe Djan at the end of this blog.) I also ate it recently with duck and it was a deliciously sharp and aromatic foil to the rich meat. Rhubarb eaten as a savoury food is a revelation to the English palate, although of course, cooked European-style, sweetened in crumbles and pies or made into jam with ginger, it is also delicious.
(2) There is no single English common name as this is a genus, rather than a single species. However, in my grandfather’s area of England, Westmoreland, people also do not differentiate between the various whiteumbeliferae of the hedgerow; the dialect word for all of them is keck.
1 Talkhak/rawana (deleted: ghuzba), wormwood, Artemisia leucotricha. This family of shrubs, which are scented with aromatic oils, grow in dry places. In Hazarajat, (amended: the plants of two species of Artemisia are gathered – talkhak for fodder and rawana for fuel.) Given the paucity of trees,rawana (deleted: ghuzba) is an important fuel plant. Later on in the year, it is common to see children and adults out on the mountains, gathering and carrying home what look to be impossibly large loads of the dry and twiggy shrub whose woody roots are particularly good for slow burning. Ghuzba is stored for winter fuel and for baking – when it gives a pleasant flavour to bread. The ghuzba root is also used for making brooms.
2 tablespoons powdered dill weed
For communities living in the Shah Foladi region, there is a long history of managing the resources they intimately depend upon. The vast pastures and small areas of irrigated and rain fed agriculture are the basis of communities’ dominantly agro pastoral livelihoods. In this region, there are established norms, rules, and decision making mechanisms that deal explicitly with natural resources. The relatively intact and conservation-worthy condition of the area today is a testament to these natural resource management traditions.

The UN Environment Program aims to address land degradation in part through supporting regional livelihoods and conservation initiatives. To achieve these aims it is important to first understand existing the conditions, threats, and natural resource management traditions…

Plants of Afghanistan 2: the Koh-e Baba Foraging Top Ten (amended) Kate Clark • 11 Jun 2012 6 min Share Wild rhubarb (chukri or rawash) is surely one of the delights of the Afghan