We were intrigued by the board that announced ‘Spice Garden Tour’ ahead and decided to make an unplanned stop and check it out. We were not sure what to expect when we signed up for the spices garden tour for a small fee of Rs.100/per person on our way to Munnar.
Our guide Anbu, who works in the spices plantation and is part of the adjoining store that sells the garden spices and some handmade products, accompanied us in the dense spice garden which covered about 45 acres and had a number of interesting and common place spice varieties.
The first spice that we saw was Nisha Gandha or the insulin plant, which is very good for people who have diabetes. The leaves, which had a strong but pleasing aroma, are to be immersed in boiling water and the extract is to be taken for 40 days continuously and would help keep the sugar level in control.
We also saw some of the spices more commonly used in our kitchen every day. Pepper, cloves, bay leaves used in biriyani, cardamom, cinnamon, asafoetida all of which form an integral part of every Indian kitchen. But surprisingly knew little about how the plant looks like, what part of the plant we are eating, how and where is it grown and how it is processed to attain the form we see in our spice box.
I was surprised to know that asafoetida is processed from the sap milk of the asafoetida tree, cocoa grows on the tree bark, Cinnamon and bay leaves are bark and leaf of the same tree, cardamom grows near its roots and pepper grows in beautiful bunches.
The garden also had cocoa which were just post the harvest season. The cocoa trees had some small flowers growing in its barks which then grows big and matures to become cocoa.
We also saw the rudraksha tree with the fruits.
Rudraksha is the nut of the fruit of the tree. Only on splitting open the fruit can we know what type of rudraksha is found inside the fruit. The price of a rudraksha is determined by its size and the number of edges also called the faces of rudraksha. The one faced rudraksha being the rarest and the 5 faced being the most common can be found in the same tree. The rudraksha occupies a very special place in the hindu mythology where it is believed to have originated out of the tears of lord Siva and has many mystical powers.
Rudraksha purifies the energy field of the place/person and was used in the ancient times by the sadhus living in the forests to distinguish between consumable and poisonous plants. A rudraksha rotates clockwise when spinned on top of a food with positive energy Eg: Lemon, anti-clockwise in the presence of food containing negative energy eg: brinjal, meat and oscillates when the energy is neither positive nor negative. Eg: potato.
We also saw mango trees of over a hundred years which looked beautiful and majestic. The garden also had Silver Oak trees, which are omnipresent in the tea gardens. The specialty of an oak tree is that it absorbs water during the rainy days and discharges them slowly during the dry season, as a resultant it keeps the plantation around it healthy and green, unlike Eucalyptus or Sandalwood, which are more parasitic in nature and tend to suck all the water in its surroundings causing the farmers to avoid having any of them near their crops.
The garden also had a sandalwood tree which was about 225 years old. Best time to harvest a sandalwood tree is when it is between 35 – 40 years in a natural environment. Farm Harvesting of sandalwood almost halves the maturity period. Trees older than the harvesting period lose a lot of its incense quality and are generally show pieces like the one in this garden. We tried to smell the bark and it had a faint sandal smell.
What I was most impressed about was the vanilla plant which was a humble looking creeper plant, which needs careful maintenance and an expert care. Our guide told us that vanilla pods contain a male and a female flower which needs to be manually pollinated before 8 AM every day for 5 continuous months for it to be successful. This is a very intricate process, right from identification of the gender of the flower to the manual pollination process and requires experts all through the way.
The 30 minute tour around the spice garden gave me a very good appreciation of the little ingredients that add spice to our food and life. It is amazing how much work goes into each of them and how little we know and appreciate it. Kudos to the farmers and all those involved in the process of bringing the spice into our food.
1) The tour is called The Chirackal Spice Garden Tour and is located in a town called Poopara in Thekkady road towards Munnar.
2) You may buy your tickets in the shop outside the Spice Garden and will be allotted a guide.
3) You may find a variety of spices from the garden and many more sourced locally. Tea leaves are an interesting buy.
1) Each of the spices have a different bloom season and it is very unlikely that you see all the spices at the most appropriate times, which is just before harvest.
2) Please check if your guide can speak a language comfortable for you to follow as much of the detailed explanations are verbal.
3) Please consult your doctor or make your own research before you take any remedy suggested here for your ailment.