Study on Some Indigenous Under-utilized Spices of Bangladesh


Spicy food is the tradition of Indian Civilization from the time immemorial. Flavoring food and making it tasty by adding different plant parts during cooking or making paste or salad is a very common practice everywhere. Spices are the symbol for aristocracy, health, tonic, immunity, vigor and stimuli. A Bangladeshi cannot think a meal without use of spice.

Underneath the taste and flavor the spices posses immense nutritional and medicinal value which is proved by the today’s scientists. The Arabians and the western traders realized the value of Indian spices and trading began thousand years back. Global trade in spices is expected to attain higher levels due to anticipated advances in the global food industry, and is posed for a major leap in the 21st century (Singh, 2002).

The widely used spices are onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chili, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, coriander, cumin, mints, fenugreeks, fennel and tamarind etc. Besides these, there are many more spices are used by the people of different locality. Spices are the plant parts may be the whole plant, bark, stem, leaf, root, rhizome, flower, fruit, and seed. Spices contain alkaloids, flavoproteins, carotenoids, oleoresins, steroids, and oils etc., which are the sources of flavor, color and stimuli.

The commercial products of these spice crops are whole spice, ground spice, spice oil oleoresin etc., and find applications in flavoring and coloring food, pharmaceutical, perfumery and cosmetic industries.

Now-a-days spices are valuable trade commodities in the world. They are expensive but widely used, demand and supply gap is also increasing. Although a proper statistics of production and consumption is not available but it is true that a good quantity of spices is being imported every year to meet the huge demand of 160 million people of the country at the cost of foreign currency and simple estimate reveals that a daily expenses is about BDT 40 million for spices only. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics the production and import of spices for the fiscal year 2000-2001 is given below. Spices become agenda for politics by creating crisis in the market during the festivals like Ramadan, Eid, Puja and Christmas etc.

Table No.1. Production and yield of spices and the value of the produces for the year 2000-2001

Spices Area
X 1000 Hector Production X1000 M.T. Yield Kg/Ha. Value BDT
Chillies 177.3 (438 Acres) 141 790
Onion 34.0 (84 Acres) 127 3,730
Garlic 13.36 (33 Acres) 39 2,910
Others 28.74 (71 Acres) 87 3,020
Total 253.4 (626 Acres) 394 1,550 12,572,000,000

Table 2. Import of spices in the year 2000-2001

Commodities Import value BDT
Pepper 29,190,000.00
Nutmeg, Mace, Cardamom 22,131,000.00
Vanilla 82,000.00
Cinnamon 158,740,000.00
Clove 6,320,000.00
Fennel, Anise, Coriander 38,076,000.00
Ginger, Saffron, Turmeric, Bay leaf 111,015,000.00
Onion, Garlic, Fresh Chili 471,599,000.00
Total 837,153,000.00

Source: Agricultural Statistics: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics 22nd Edition-2001

As it is the food habit, it cannot be ignored the increasing demand with the increasing population. To meet this demand, supply should be ensured by production or by importing sufficient quantity. It is true that our researchers are trying to develop techniques to grow more spices, although it is not yet sufficient. Mass production of superior quality planting material, exploitation of biotechnology, productivity improvement, disease management through biocontrol measures, multipronged approach towards transfer technology, special program for export oriented production, infrastructure for value addition and scientific storage are the few areas should immediately be look into.

However, to improve the situation following options are remain:

1.0 Production of more spices
2.0 Change of food habit
3.0 Search for alternative spices

1.0 Production of more spices

Production of spices depends on:

1. Availability of suitable land: Production from agricultural land must be economically maximized to reduce the need for further exploitation of agriculturally marginal and fragile ecosystems and areas where remaining irreplaceable biological diversity must be conserved. This is very important in the present times of shortage of land due to pressures of human population, and the need for more production from the rural areas to feed the urban high population. Moreover, industrialization, housing and various other activities of diverting the agricultural land are also increasing the pressure and density on the land. Above all, the land under perennial tree crops like, fruit trees, coconut, areca nut, bamboos etc. are committed for a longer time at least for 40-60 years. There is a lot of scope of utilizing the horizontal and vertical spaces as well as inputs and natural resources efficiently. Since most of the farmers are small and marginal holders, it is not safe to depend on one crop, which very often suffers due to fluctuations of prices and also suffers from calamitities, and thereby farmers get low income. Hence there is an urgent need to switch over to sustainable system and spices can provide sustainable income over a period of time. Most of the spices can grow as inter or mixed crop maintaining multistoried farming systems. Therefore, their lies enough space especially in homestead areas to grow more spices and thus proper utilization of land can also be ensured. It is important that specific spices are identified to growing areas based on endowments and suitability. It is essential to identify the high productivity zones for each and every spice crops.

2. High yielding variety: Very wide variation in the productivity in spices is observed in different areas. Yield is one of the important factors influences in choosing the crop. As the yield is directly proportionate to the productivity and high yielding varieties can meet the growing demand easily, selection of spice crop should be done accordingly. The present low productivity of spices can be overcome by technological interventions like integrated plant nutrient management, integrated pest and disease management, soil conservation and efficient water management. High production technology aiming at reduced production cost has to be implemented.

3. Acceptable quality: As the spices are the additives used in food preparation or take with the meal to improve the taste, nutrient value and appearance etc. it is utmost important to ensure the acceptable quality. With a growing consciousness for health, there is an increasing demand for green spices, and in the emerging scenario quality is becoming an important criteria. Besides physical characteristics, macro-cleanliness; microbial loads, mycotoxins; trace metals; and pesticide residues etc. are becoming barrier in trade. Therefore, there is a need for developing mechanism to ensure the quality to match the international standards. In view of promoting trade, minimum acceptable quality requirements needed for quality improvement.

4. Growing time and frequency: Production of most of the spices is limited by the growing time. The period between planting to harvesting is critical. Some need dry condition during planting and harvesting but wet monsoon for growing e.g. ginger and turmeric etc. but some need absolutely dry weather e.g. coriander and fennel etc. Some are annual and some perennial, the ones with short span cropping period and grow throughout the year, can increase the production.

2.0 Change of food habit

Spices are important ingredients of food items and their use in this subcontinent is very high. It is now food habit and tradition. But, their use varies locality-to-locality, race-to-race, tribes to tribes and among the group of people even with the age. The children and the pregnant women sometimes do not like spicy foods. Therefore, change of food habit can reduce the consumption of traditional use of the spices a lot, and there lies an opportunity to use alternate spices that can grow easily.

Search for alternative spices

As mentioned earlier, the use of spices differs with the community, locality, age group etc., and different community, tribes and indigenous people use alternative spices. There are some important spices are available which can easily be propagated and widely be used. Among them 6 important spice plants are studied which are:
1. Agyajal
2. Gennum
3. Sugandhi Batali (Pakphai)
4. Tonigok and
5. Polao pata.
6. Sinduri Beez

All of them are edible having attractive spicy flavor and have medicinal value.

1. Agyajal (Eupatorium sp. Family: Compositae): This plant is also called as Agijal by the people on Sylhet and Mymensigh and the Hilly Monipuri people call it Laikhaman. It is a perennial herb grows about 1 m to 1.5 m height with heptastecheous leaf large simple arrangement around the stem. Young leaves and twigs are the edible parts. A fully-grown leaf is 25 to 30 cm long and 5 to 7.5 cm wide with serrate lamella. Leaves are almost sessile, lanceolate and dorsiventral. Usually 10 to 15 leaves of the terminal shoot remain soft and are used as spice either in raw in salad or in cooking. The leaves become harder with the age and gradually die off form the lowest one, as usual.

The plant usually grows upward but lateral branches develop when the twig or stem is broken or damaged. Inflorescence is a spike. Propagation through seeds, root suckers and branch cuttings. The roots are thick and fleshy and anchor the plant strongly.

Agyajal grows in partially shaded places on humus rich moist soil but it cannot withstand in the water-logging situation. Watering is required in the dry season. A long terminal inflorescence comes out from every shoots in January and February and the seeds mature within a month and dispersed with feathery wings. Seed germination takes place naturally on the clear ground in the wet monsoon.

Agyajal is a valuable medicinal plant especially for the mother of a newly born child. Its decoction or soup is taken by the mothers to get recovery from leucorrhoea, anaemia and sickness. It is used as tonic and decoction for fever.

2. Gennum (Allium tuberosum, Family: Amaryllidaceae): Pata Rasun (Leaf garlic) or Garlic Chives grows in the hilly homestead areas of Sylhet especially in the Monipuri villages. The leaves are used as substitute of garlic in curry, salad and Barta preparation. It is a very potential spice for common and wider use. Moreover, it grows throughout the year and leaves can also be collected for food preparation. It is partially shade-loving and a good suitable crop for the kitchen garden.

Gennum is a bulbous leafy herb grown by the Monipuri people in the homestead area. A stock of 10 to 20 plants is enough for a family to meet the demand for garlic throughout the year. Leaves and flowers are like common garlic but leaves are fleshier and remain softer longer period than common garlic. Gennum usually flowers in March/ April and in August/September and produce seeds like common garlic seed. It can easily be propagated by sawing seeds and also vegetatively by planting bulbs. Allicin, alltin, allisatin sativins, anthocyanin are the chemicals present in Gennum. Gennum is commonly used to cure blood pressure, fever, cough and intestinal diseases. It is also a good tonic and is used in leucorrhoea.

3. Sugandhi Batali: Persicaria sp. (=Ampeligonum chinense Syn. Polygonum chinense var. pakphai; Family: Polygonaceae): Pakphai, Sugandi Agra grows in the homestead areas of Sylhet especially in the Monipuri villages especially in shady wet soil.

It is an erect or partially scandent stout herb with many stout branches. It is a perennial herb grows about 0.5 m to 1.0 m height with heptastecheous small leaves with simple arrangement around the stem. Young leaves and twigs are the edible parts. A fully-grown leaf is 10 to 12 cm long and 2.0 to 2.5 cm wide with complete lamella. Leaves are almost sessile, lanceolate and dorsiventral. Usually, 30 to 35 leaves of the terminal shoot remain soft and are used as spice either in raw in salad or in cooking. The leaves can also be used as a substitute for betel leaf. The leaves become harder with the age and gradually die off form the lowest one, as usual.

Propagation through seeds, root sucker and branch cuttings. Roots develop at the base of the lower branches when soil is given at the base of the plant. These rooted layers are cut off as closely as possible to the base and are lined out in a new place. The rooted branch removal is usually done in the beginning of the wet monsoon.
It flowers in October and November.

Plant is rich in flavonoids. It contains a 5,6,7,4’-tetrahydroxy-methoxy-flavone, batalifolin, and essential oil. Leaves contain polyphenolic substances, ellagic, gallic and 3-O-methylellagic acids, Beta-sitosterol, kaempferol, kaempferol glocosides and quercetin.

Plant is used as tonic and antiscorbutic. Paste is applied for healing wounds.

4. Tonigok ( Piper longum Var. tonigok, Family: Piperaceae): It is an edible plant with a pleasant smell, semi-erect creeper, like betel leaf, grows in shady places of Sylhet, Mymensingh and Chittagong. It is a perennial herb grows about 1 m to 1.5 m height with heptastecheous leaf large simple arrangement around the stem

Leaves are the edible parts. A fully-grown leaf is heart-shaped, 10 to 15 cm long and 8 to 12 cm wide with round lamella. Leaves are simple, stalked, pale greenish and dorsiventral. Usually, 10 to 15 leaves of the terminal shoot remain soft and are used as spice either in raw in salad or in cooking. The leaves become yellowish with the age and gradually die off form the lowest one, as usual. Leaves are used as a sex stimulant and extract of leaves exerts anti-tumor activity in cancer. It is also useful against leucorrhoea and is diuretic and vermifuge. It is a symbol for long life as believed by the Monipuri people. Leaves contain alkaloids and phenols like chavicol, arakene, and diastases.

It flowers in March and April. Petals are white and fruits are small berries produce on a long spike in clusters.

It can be propagated through seeds as well as vegetative parts. But vegetative propagation is easy and quicker. Vegetative propagation can be made from runner shoots and rooted branch cuttings.

5. Polao pata ( Family: Pandanaceae): Small Keya or screw pine like plants. It is a shrub with long spiny-margined sessile leaves. The leaves have pleasant Polao fragrant and are used as flavoring agent for cooking Polao. The plant has also medicinal properties used for curing rheumatism and relieving headache and earache.

It is a perennial herb grows about 1.0 m to 2.0 m height with long leaves with simple arrangement around the stem. Young leaves are the edible parts. Leaves are with spadix covering the stem, long spiny margin and dorsiventral. It grows in wet places almost all over the country. It can easily be propagated with root and stem suckers, stem bits and slips.

6. Sinduri Biz: (Bixa orellana, Family: Bixaceae) It is also known as Rakta Beeza, Bilati Haldi or Monkey Turmeric, Chinese dye tree etc. It is a medium sized tree, occasionally planted in the hilly areas of Chittagong, Sylhet and Mymensingh. It is also planted as a decorative tree for its attractive copious pink colored flowers and red fruits. Leaves are simple, alternate, heart shaped and dorsiventral. Edible red dye can be extracted from the pericarp of the seeds and contains coloring constituents e.g. bixin, bixol and orellin.

To obtain dye, mature seeds are soaked in what water and kept for a few days in a wooden container. After filtration the water is kept for about a week to settle the dye ingredients. Then the filtrate is dried and preserved and used for dying foods especially, for coloring Ghee, Polao, oils, butter, curry and sweets. It has also medicinal value also. Leaves are used in fever, dysentery and jaundice. Seed is astringent, anti-dysenteric and diuretic and the pulp is prescribed in epilepsy and skin diseases. Root bark and seeds are a good remedy for gonorrhea.

As the Sinduri Beez is easy to grow, its propagation should be expanded and its use should also be popularized to avoid synthetic chemical dyes in foodstuffs, which cause detrimental effect to our body.

Conclusion: As mentioned earlier, people use many spices in different localities traditionally with their food as per food habit. The quantity required for the 160 million people is really great; many of the spices are imported, as the local production is not sufficient to meet the huge requirement. Therefore, it is very important to think about the situation, and to popularize the use of indigenous spices, which can easily be grown and be available throughout the year. The spices described here are chosen considering their cosmopolitan nature, Buy Acomplia growing facility in the homestead areas even in the partial shade with little care. They possess enormous medicinal value and very easy to grow, propagate and maintain. As a homestead crop, all members’ participation for care and upkeep, organic culture and availability in fresh condition without any adulteration can be ensured.


  • Bhattacharya, S., 1989: Chironjeeb Bonoushodhi, Ananda Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Kolkata, India.
  • Ghani, A; 1998: Medicinal Plants of Bangladesh; Chemical Constituents and Uses, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Dhaka.
  • Singh, H.P., 2002: Strategies for augmenting production, productivity and export of spices; In Indian Spices Production and Utilization, Editors: Singh, H.P., Shivaraman, K. and Tamil Selvan, M.; Coconut Development Board, India, Publication No. 108, Kochi, India.
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Director, CGEC International University of Business Agriculture and Technology Bangladesh

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