By Kiran Badola
In ancient times, the local dwellers of Uttarakhand made clothes out of Bhimal plant fiber. Grevia optiva, locally known as “Bhimal”, is a perennial, evergreen tree which is 45 feet tall and 4.5 feet in girth. Its leaves make good fodder for livestock, bark of branches gives a Bast fiber made up of Sclerenchyma tissue, which upon maturing comprises dead cells with heavily thickened walls containing lignin and 60%–80% cellulose, which provides structural support.
The Bast fiber is used for making ropes to carry large Bamboo baskets, “Kandi”, and cattle leash, while the harder inner part of branches make fuel wood and the sap of the bark is used as shampoo. The tree pulp can be used for making paper. Its fruit (“Phalsa”), is Stomachic and a rich source of Moisture, Carbohydrate, Calcium, Phophorous, Potassium, Vitamin C and A. A 2011 study published in Der Pharma Chemica found that Phalsa fruit and leaves exhibited significant anticancer activities against breast cancer cells and liver cancer cells.
Seeds of Grewia optiva can be used for extracting natural dyes. These dyes can be used for dyeing fabrics of cotton, silk, wool and jute by using alum, ferrous sulphate, copper sulphate, potassium dichromate and stannous chloride as mordants.
Bhimal grows abundantly near cultivated land in Chamoli and Pauri districts of Uttarakhand, found from lower Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas to 7000 feet. It is a farmer’s area specific economic growth tree which is also environment friendly.
Bhimal is useful in its entirety, its roots hold the soil and leaves provide shade as well as cool the air and purify it.
Villagers extract Bhimal fiber by a process called Retting, during which the branches of the tree are cut in winter and lowered in water for a month. The soaked branches are beaten to extract the fiber. Extracted fiber is a rich but an under utilised resource for weaving textiles including Area rugs, Carpets, Yardage, Lamp shades, Upholstery, Shoe uppers, Jackets, Coats, Hats, Spectacle cases, Pouches, Bags, Table linen, Kitchen linen and Bed spreads.
All swatches woven and designed by Kiran Badola
Properties of Bhimal fiber characterise high tensile strength, biodegradable, insect barrier, antimicrobial, antifungal and fairly long filaments with a natural yellow hue.
The Bhimal fiber blends well with other fibers and is beneficial as a health fiber, used by doctors for patients in dressing supplies such as bandages and gauze, sleeves, clothing and masks for the Medical industry.
Considering the qualities of Grevia optiva trees, it sure is a boon to the local population of Uttarakhand. The Rural Development and Industrial Sector of Uttarakhand Government must take keen measures to uplift the livelihood of hardworking crafts people, who are skilled and devoted. Bhimal is superior to Jute and can contribute to voluminous uplift of the youth of Uttarakhand.