Adventures in Ethnobotany, aka Bungle in the Jungle

Yesterday morning I sat down with Ranbir and showed him a list I had of potential dye plants. He thought he might recognize a couple of the local names, and consulted with a neighbor sitting on the roof next door, but we didn’t get very far. We thought it might help to look up pictures and see if he recognized the plants by sight, since the lists I had were from different areas of the Himalayas and he might know things under different names. This was much more successful, and we came up with about a dozen matches. The neighbor kid was over, and every so often would run off to grab a sample of a plant he recognized out in the yard. I was the most excited about locating a local indigo, Indigofera dosua, known here as “kathi.” So in the afternoon, we took the goats and headed up to the jungle (which is actually a pine forest above the town). Ranbir was sure we would be able to collect leaves, but his sister said the leaves wouldn’t come until next month. In the jungle, we stopped to ask villagers gathering firewood if they had seen any kathi growing. They pointed us to some trees, which hadn’t yet leafed out. I was skeptical–I was pretty sure we were looking for a small shrub, not a tree. But everyone kept insisting yes, this is kathi. When we got back home I looked it up again, and found that there is another indigo (I. heterantha) which grows 2-3 meters tall. In the evening, a “brother” (actually cousin) stopped by, and we told him about our kathi quest. He happens to work in forest conservation, and was able to tell us some plants which produce dyes. He said that the leaves of the kathi will produce greens, and the flowers will produce purples. So…maybe promising? But we’ll have to wait a month or 2 to try.

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