Plants are sessile in nature and capable of growing in extreme harsh environments. These environmental conditions encourage several morphological and physiological changes in the plant. In addition, some species synthesize special biochemicals which help them to survive in these extreme conditions. Till date, many plant species have neglected and underutilized, but they are used in certain traditional practices. Many kind of underutilized plants have certain multipurpose applications such as medicinal, flavor, oil, beverages, food and others.
Many plants can survive and grow profusely in dry land and high saline soils. These plants which are able to grow at high pH and high salt concentration are known as halophytes. Some of these plant species are used by local people for various applications. One of the halophytic species Salsola stocksii or Haloxylon stocksii is the most commonly found in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In India it is mainly found in different tahsils of Sri Ganganagar districts such as Karanpur, Raisanagar, Anupgarh, Vijaynagar and Suratgarh. It is locally known as Sajilana or Kharilana. It is a perennial halophytic shrub species that belongs to the Amaranthaceae family (Fig. 1). The Sajilana is exclusively found in saline soils but it can also grow on sandy and sandy loamy soil. It is mainly cultivated by local farmers for the preparation of saji and choa (The details of saji and choa are discussed in the further section of the article). The seeds of sajilana are sown by broadcasting and it takes around 16-18 months for complete growth. Its flowering time is September to October while the seeds mature between November to January. The plant is usually harvested every year in December. The growing of this plant does not require any expenses from farmer such as application of fertilizer, fungicide, pesticide, irrigation and other crop care practices. It is highly resistance for insect, pest and diseases. It contains high amount of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, most of the insect-pests and Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocemelus) which is a major problem does not eat it. Its high sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate constitution would make it unpalatable to most of the animals unless they have a spatiality matching metabolic system. Its ability to grow at high temperature and high salinity makes it an excellent candidate to grow in extreme weather conditions. Its structural and morphological features make it to survive under these extreme environments.
Various applications of Salsola stocksii
1. Source of saji and Choa
It is mainly grown for the purpose of preparation of sajii and choa. It is harvested in the month of December and kept for drying for around one month in the field. The semi dried plants are burned in a circular pit and its juice is collected at the base in two parts; one is known as saaji while other is known as choa. The detail procedure for the extraction of saaji and choa extraction has been described by Rathore et al. 2012. These sajii and choa are a source of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate which is used in ‘pappad’ and ‘namkeen’ for enhancing its taste. Due to the presence of sodium carbonate and bicarbonate it enhances the taste of namkeen and pappad. Prepared saji and choa are available at Indian council of Agriculture Research-Central Arid zone research institute (ICAR-CAZRI), Jodhpur. Various factors such as type of soil, salt condition in the soil, climatic conditions and others affect the quality of saji. Apart from Salsola stocksii other haloxylon species are also used for the preparation of saji and choa in different parts of Pakistan and. Farmers of the different tehsils of Sriganganagar district used to sell the sajii and choa to Bikaner district of Rajasthan which is very famous for namkeen mixtures and papad. Farmers are getting a profit of around 20,000-40,000 Rs per ha through the cultivation of it. Therefore it is a very beneficial shrub species which provides good returns to the farmers.
2. Phytoremediation of salt affected soil
Phytoremediation is a way of reclamation of salt-affected soil by growing of plants. Reclamation of salt-affected soil is one of the major challenges in the current agriculture scenario. Various chemicals and plants can be used for the reclamation of salt-affected soil. Sajilana can grow in a high saline soil where no other crops such as cotton, chickpea, wheat, Brassica can be grown. It can grow on saline soil, under severe dry conditions and at high temperatures. It can accumulate high amount of salt in its stem part. Because of all these properties, it is considered as good option for phytoremediation. If it is growing continuously on land then it improves the organic matter and pH of the soil. After a few years the pH of the saline soil reaches a suitable pH which can be suitable for other crops cultivation. Therefore, it provides an alternative and easy way of phytoremediation. Along with phytoremediation, it also provides a regular source of income to the farmers.
3. Washing of clothes
Sodium carbonate which is obtained through it can also be used as an alternative of soap by cloth industry. Earlier the plant extract was used for washing of clothes but now farmers are getting a good price by selling saji and choa so most of the farmers now prefers to sell the saji and choa directly instead of using this for washing of clothes.
Future applications and Conclusion
It is an excellent option for the discovery of novel genes that can be used for both abiotic like salinity, drought and heat. Further, the other products of it such as sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate are an excellent source of discovery of new metabolic pathways.
Underutilized and neglected plant species that have been traditionally used by farmers are having certain applications. Salsolla stocksii is one of the plant species which has been neglected and underutilized till date however it is grown by farmers of the Sri Ganganagar district for sajii and choa preparation. Apart from these, it can be used as forage for camel also. It may contain certain beneficial phytochemicals that need to be studied. These kinds of plant species might contain useful genes which may have great potential in future agriculture.