G is for Gulbakshi

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. Most of the herbs written in this series are those I have seen or used. Today’s herb is one that I had seen many moons ago at my grandmother’s home and I am sure most of you would have heard about it or seen it. 

G is for Gulbakshi which is the Marathi local name for a pretty trumpet shaped flower called Mirabilis jalapa or the Four O Clock Flower. It belongs to the Nyctaginaceae family. Though a native of Peru, it is quite common in India and seems happy here! It is said to be a herbaceous perennial with ovate leaves. The showy flowers bloom late in the afternoon (which may explain its common name) and stay open till the next morning. Strangely, one plant may bear flowers of more than one colour. 

The blooms have a long ‘stem’ hence they can be braided together to form a floral garland without using a needle and thread! Try it the next time you have more than three Gulbakshi flowers!

Some flowers bloom at a specific time of the day and here is an interesting article about using blooms to create a living flower clock! 

Gerbera is yet another herb with flamboyant flowers and is popular with florists. They are long lasting and lend themselves to arrangements of many types. This is native to South Africa. 

The pink bloom in the centre is Gerbera

We are nearing the end of the first full week of the 2016 blogathon and its been a hectic time so far. How about you?
Happy blogging!

F is for strawberry!

Its my fourth attempt at the April AtoZ Blogging challenge and I am writing about herbs.

How can F be for strawberry? Simple, because botanically strawberry belongs to a genus called Fragaria. The most popular recall for this yummy fruit is strawberries and cream… Supposedly a summer favourite. Strawberries are freely available in most Indian cities and they must be handled and stored with care. 

Punekars (folks living in Pune are fondly referred to by this name) are lucky as Mahabaleshwar is only a couple of hours away by road and it is a major strawberry grower. Come summer and we have strawberry festivals held in the city and almost everyone who visits Mahabaleshwar comes back kilograms of fresh strawberries. The Mapro Food Park is a major attraction especially for its Strawberry and Cream. Some farms encourage visitors to go strawberry picking. Besides jams, preserves, Mahabaleshwar farmers have made strawberry wine as well!

Getting back to our herb, strawberry is an introduced crop in India but some varieties are native e.g. Duschesnia indica, Fragaria niligerrensis . Strawberries belong to the Rosaceae family (Rose family). To see this plant one has to visit a farm or grow it in the garden. its not very tall and sends out runners that can give rise to new plants. The white flowers have a yellow centre. We did try to nurture a plant in a pot but it did not survive for long, obviously the habitat was unsuitable 🙁

Strawberry plant with flowers

Freshly harvested strawberries

Some other familiar foods from this family are apple, cherries and almonds! 

Its understandable if these images inspire you to head off to your refrigerator or the super market and get yourself some strawberries. 

I am heading to my kitchen for some strawberry crush to make myself a strawberry milkshake.
Cya around!

E is for Euphorbia rothiana

I am posting AtoZ herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge. For E I have two herbs, one indigenous and one that has been naturalised in India. The more important aspect is that I could independently identify both of them! 


Euphorbia rothiana which is also known as Common Hill Spurge is a native herb that caught my eye on a trek in the Western Ghats. Its unusual green flowers were a sight for sore eyes and very intriguing. The stem oozed a milky juice when a branch was accidentally broken off which may possibly explain its Marathi name – Doodhi. E rothiana grows up to an altitude of 1200 m. 

Clue: A milky exudate from the plant suggests that it may belong Euphorbiaceae, Apocynaceae, Asclepiadaceae, Sapotaceae, Papavaraceae or Moraceae families of the Plant Kingdom. One must correlate with other plant features to eliminate and arrive at some possible identities. This herb belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family.


Entire Plant

Yet another very pretty almost prostrate herb that I spotted on my morning walks is called Vishnushnakant in Marathi and botanically it is Evolvulus alsinoides. It has very pretty purple flowers that almost beg not to be stamped upon. That’s because the herb grows almost along the ground in my part of the world and folk often walk all over it – possibly out of ignorance or just not noticing it. It has several medicinal uses – though I admit I prefer to enjoy its natural beauty.

I have to rush off, there are several blogs to read…

D is for Dhania

Its still early days of the 2016 April AtoZ and I my posts are about herbs. I have tried to write about herbs that I have seen and identified, those that I use in my cooking.

D is for Dhania which is the Hindi word for Coriander or Kothimbir (in Marathi). This is my favourite seasoning and is an integral part of Maharashtrian cuisine. Almost every savoury dish is transported to a new level when garnished with chopped coriander. It lends a refreshing flavour and I find it reduces the heat in a spicy dish. While coriander is freely available almost all year round in Pune, the same was not true years ago in Punjab when we were posted there. This herb is mainly a winter plant and cannot stand the harsh summers. In North East India, we used a herb called Nagdhania (Eryngium foetidum of the Apiaceae family) as a substitute for regular Dhania during the summer. 

Besides a wonderful flavour, the feathery Dhania leaves are extremely pretty and often used as part of salad decorations. The botanical name is Coriander sativum and it belongs to the Apiaceae family (Carrot family). Tender stems can be used to make chutney and the seeds are an important spice in Indian cuisine. However the leaves tend to lose flavour once the herb flowers. Seeds of this plant are used as a spice. 

The Coriander inflorescence is said to be an Umbel. Umbel inflorescence is a characteristic of the  Apiaceae, Asclepiadaceae and Taccaceae families. Identifying the inflorescence type in the field will help narrow down the search for species id.

Here is an image of tender shoots of Dhania in my fledgling herb garden!

herbs, kothimbir, coriander

As my bio says, I am a reluctant cook and I am sharing my Mom’s recipie of Kothimbir Vadi- a delicious snack or starter or meal accompaniment. It uses both leaves and powder of Dhania seeds.

Coriander leaves in the market

Close up of coriander leaf


  • Dhania patta (Corinader leaves)- one bunch
  • Besan (Chick pea flour)- 2 or 3 teaspoons
  • Hing (asafoetida) powder – half teaspoon
  • Dhania and Jeera powder- half teaspoon
  • Salt, chilli powder – to taste
  • Water- if required – one fourth cup
  • Cooking oil- two teaspoons and to line steaming tray


  • Wash leaves well and drain on a towel for 10 minutes. 
  • Chop as finely as possible and mix in the spices, salt. Add besan one teaspoon at a time. The leaves tend to leave water hence additional water may not be required unless the leaves are totally dry. Continue to add besan as necessary till you get a sticky dough. Pour some oil over it and let it rest till you complete preparations for the next step.
  • Prepare shallow steaming trays with a coating of oil. 
  • Spread the dhania and besan dough so its about one centimetre thick.
  • Steam in a cooker for about 10 minutes
  • Cool, cut into squares. It can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
  • The vadi can be consumed at this stage but it tastes better when shallow fried till crisp.

Recipe feedback welcome!

C is for Choices

I am posting herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ my post title for today itself suggests that is has been tough to choose which herb to describe. 

And, the winner is Chavar or Indian Arrowroot which belongs to the Zingiberaceae family. The botanical name is Curcuma caulina. The reason why I chose Chavar over others is that I saw this pretty herb after a really long hot trek up to Raireshwar plateau and the glorious flowers were almost a visual balm for me. Almost reminded me of William Wordsworth’s poem Daffodils!

April AtoZ, Raireshwar

This species is endemic to the state of Maharashtra in India. Despite being locally abundent in its area of growth, the IUCN Red List classifies it under the Endangered list. It faces threats from grazing, mining, soil erosion, agriculture, harvesting of rhizomes etc. The root powder is used as food in some parts. 

Here are the competitors seen on Pune hills who lost out to Chavar…. I took the easy way out for identifying these namely ask friends! 😉

Commelina, Pune, Hills, flowers
Commelina species
Monsoon flowers, Pune, hills
Cleome species
Monsoon, Pune, Rain
Cynotis species

Whenever travelling to a new destination, its a good idea for field botany enthusiasts to make a general Google search about flora in that area. City authority websites, travel blogs, botany related websites will give an idea of what to expect. Few cities have city-specific books (e.g. The Trees of San Francisco, Trees of Delhi, Trees of Pune) that mark out tree locations which is a tremendous boon for tree lovers.

Hope you have enjoyed the offerings today!

See you around

B is for Biophytum

I am writing about herbs in the 2016 April AtoZ blogging challenge and its only the second day. Here is what B has in store…

Walking up to the hill near our home is a part of my regular exercise, and observing the plant life there has been an addition over the past couple of years. 2015 saw less than normal rainfall which meant I could enjoy the hill during the monsoon months as well. The weather did allow for plenty of herbs to grow and I was happy to spot several as they bloomed. A few tiny plants (only about 8″tall) with brilliant yellow blooms caught my eye and when I tried to examine the leaves, they ‘closed’ as do the leaves of Touch Me Not (Mimosa pudica)! Whoa… these leaves were sensitive to touch, a wonderful surprise indeed!

This made it easier to identify the plant. My research shows that the herb is of the Biophytum genus and is either Biophytum sensitivum or Biophytum reinwardtii of the Oxilidaceae family. The difference seems to be in the leaf arrangement and leaflets and flowering season. I am happy to have narrowed down my search to the genus level. I would need help to zero down further… 

I have used an app called Flowers of Sahyadri to shortlist species for identification solely using flower colour and season as the filters.

It is said that the flowers of B sensitivum are an important part of the Pookalam which is a rangoli made with flowers in the state of Kerala in India (where this plant is called Mukkutti).B reinwardtii also grows up to an altitude of 1000m. Both these species are native to India. 

What plants have you noticed in your neighbourhood? 
Tomorrow is a Sunday, our first ‘holiday’ in this AtoZ… 
Hope to catch up on many interesting blogs out there.
Take care!

A is for Asparagus

Hello and welcome. The first post is possibly the most difficult in a challenge- a long one will discourage readers and an uninteresting one will drive them away…

I am using my 2016 April AtoZ Blogging challenge to identify herbs and in the process increase my knowledge about herbs. The chosen ones will be herbs I have seen (in my city or in my travels) or used (as medicine or in cooking).

My memories of Asparagus are ancient dating to my school days (trust me, thats a long time ago) when we were served Asparagus soup at some hotel and I remember liking it a lot. Over the years, I have had to choose between umpteen soup varieties but the asparagus soup has never appeared before me again! Asparagus is now fairly commonly available in the bigger super markets in Pune but the price is discouraging. Growing them seemed to be a good option. This meant giving up some of the prized (sunny) spots in my balconies which are occupied by my Bonsai. A decision I dont regret as we now have source of fresh, chemical free herbs. 🙂

Here are a couple of images of my Asparagus.

The growing plants
Tiny seedlings from Asparagus seeds

Asparagus officinalis or Garden Asparagus is said to be native to the Middle East and the Mediterranean but is now naturalised in India. It has thread like delicate leaves and I am waiting for my plant to flower. According to this website, the flowers are small and hard to see and are attractive to bees. Asparagus officinalis belongs to the Asparagaceae family. Here is a link to the key to the Asparagaceae family .

Another variety is the Asparagus racemosus also called Shatavari. This has huge medicinal properties especially for women’s health.

Here is a Pasta and Roasted Asparagus made by a dear friend. She says that Asparagus is an easy vegetable to cook with and needs minimum preparation. Just blanch/ steam / saute it and add sauce. Alternatively roast in the oven and season as desired. Viola, a healthy tasty meal for you! 

Pasta and Roasted Asparagus by Vishakha

Aerva lanata is a yet another “A” herb that I was able to identify – also called Mountain Knot Grass. I have seen it in Orissa and was flowering in mid January. The white flowers stood out against the almost bare soil and this is what it looked like…

April AtoZ, herbs, aerva lanata

Do you have an Asparagus recipe to share?

Tomorrow, I have an interesting herb for you.
Till then, Happy Blogging!

2016 April AtoZ Theme Reveal

Its my fourth attempt at the AtoZ Blogathon, one that I plan to use with a purely selfish purpose… Let me give you a brief background..

My theme for the 2015 April AtoZ posts was Gardens in Pune. It took me around my city and I got the opportunity to discover some relatively unknown fantastic gardens. I am really glad that these posts helped me guide a few friends to visit and enjoy some of these gardens. Yet another positive development was a Times of India report dated 16 November 2015 about a proposed study by the Physical Education Department of the Savitribai Phule Pune University to survey major public parks in Pune to develop a plan to maximise use of open spaces in the city. Wow! My survey had revealed that some parks already had or were in the process of installing exercise equipment which folks can take benefit from… 

I have realised that 26 April AtoZ posts need a lot of research and I stand to benefit if I choose a topic that about which I want more knowledge. I have been observing trees for a few years and the most important aspect of identifying a tree is to be humble. 

Look Down. 
Fallen leaves, flowers, fruit provide vital identification clues. It was under these trees that I noticed carpets of beautiful flowers on tiny plants. What were their names? When would they bloom? Are they native plants?

I have decided to use my 26 posts in the April 2016 AtoZ to try and identify such plants. Botanically speaking they are herbs – which means the plants are small, they bear seeds and its parts are not woody. However generally speaking, the word herb refers to ingredients used to flavour food like spices and condiments.  

This means that a herb can be a spice but a spice need not be a herb!

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal 3-21-2016

Without much fanfare, as you may have already guessed… my theme for the 2016 April AtoZ is Herbs. I have taken the liberty to use either their botanical names or local names to comply with the AtoZ theme. At my stage in the study of field botany, I am happy and satisfied to be able to narrow down the identity of a plant to the genus level. Its been a journey that has been eye-opening and humbling as it literally got me on my knees…. as I had to reach down to photograph, observe the specimens. Majority of the chosen herbs are only a couple of feet tall and the flowers are about the size of a finger nail. 

Obviously there are several species for every alphabet but I shall write about only one and mention a few more. Most of these are ones seen in and around Pune or during my travels. Where ever possible, I shall include my source for identification or a clue about identification in the field. 

As usual, some alphabets have been a huge challenge… 

There is so much beauty to be enjoyed if only one looks.

Do join me as I embark on a herbal AtoZ this April!


April AtoZ Challenge 2016

Its that time of the year when I begin worrying about my blog.
Reason: the April AtoZ Blogging challenge has been announced and I have signed up.

I guess I can be a ‘veteran’ as I have participated in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 challenge yet the task of 26 posts almost in a row is daunting. What should I write about? Suddenly everyone and everything around me seems to become a subject for a blog post.

Experience has taught me that its a good idea to stick to a theme and I shall certainly be doing that in 2016 as well. I would like to take this opportunity for a focused study of some topic. The question is which one??

My topic search is on and I hope to end my dilemma soon and get down to scheduling posts. This way I will have time to read some wonderful blogs from around the world.

What about you? Do you blog regularly? This is a good opportunity to reconnect with your blog and your readers… This is the AtoZ challenge list and you can sign up on the same page.

Go on.. what are you waiting for

I am staking claim to the AtoZ Challenge with the Blogchatter community.

Good luck and see you around.
Take care!