Growing guggul in Rajasthan

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Guggul has long been heralded in Ayurveda, although to look at it you may wonder why: the plant itself is a small grey tree that grows in the Thar Desert of North-West India and Eastern Pakistan; and for much of the year has no leaves, making it difficult to tell whether the shrub is dead or alive.

However, guggul’s true value lies within its twiggy branches: peel back the bark and you find a sticky golden aromatic gum. Guggul is a closely related species to the resin that was famously given to the baby Jesus by one of the three wise men – earning guggul its nickname, Indian Myrrh.

Numbers dwindling

Guggul is used in Ayurvedic practice today for a whole host of health issues. As one of the early Ayurvedic texts says. "Disease cannot appear in sun light and [guggul] is the best medicine, because it develops through the rays of the hot sunlight. It removes the disease, like that of a deer that runs away on seeing the horse.”

So effective is guggul that its popularity has now spread rapidly around the globe. But sadly every ‘yin’ has its ‘yang’, and as a result of the plant’s commercial fame and unsustainable harvesting practices (which damage the tree), guggul’s numbers are dwindling. Its population is in steady decline, and it is now listed on the Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) Red List as a threatened species.

Slow process

To support the sustainable production of guggul, we’ve tied up with local partners in a remote area of Rajasthan. They had the foresight to begin a guggul cultivation project in 2004, planting organic guggul saplings in their natural environment, tending to these saplings, and growing them into strong guggul shrubs ready to harvest.

Conservation that works

Believe us, it was no small undertaking: it takes seven to eight years before a guggul plant starts producing its famous golden goo, after which each shrub can only produce 100g of resin every two years.

Despite this painstaking process, our guggul project is making a real (if slow) difference. Every plant we harvest is one less plant harvested unsustainably in the wild, and a few more grams of sustainable guggul brought into people’s lives to keep the living tradition of Ayurveda alive.

More evidence, if ever any was needed, that conservation works. 

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Meet the author

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Ben Heron, Sustainable Herbs Manager

My main responsibility at Pukka is to make sure the herbs we source are Pukka – in other words, that they are grown, collected and processed in ways that meet our sustainability, quality and Fair for Life standards. This means that I spend a lot of time visiting and working with our suppliers, and am often behind the camera taking photos and videos for the website. With a background in plant conservation, I am passionate about driving Pukka’s vision of ‘conservation through commerce’.

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