Friday, October 12, 2012

All About Chitra

Chitra has many names, including “daruharidra,” “Indian barberry” and the “turmeric tree.” With 12 or so species in the Berberis genus growing in Insia, it’s common to confuse chitra with any one of them, particularly with the goji berry. Adding to the confusion, many of these fruits grow within the same region but at varying altitudes. Indeed, the country is filled with gorse barberries, koehne barberries, and large-flowered barberries, among others.

Origin of Chitra
Chitra originates in the Himalayan mountain range, where it continues to thrive in oxygen-thin altitudes. Like the goji berry, however, chitra manages in a number of unique climates. Bushes bearing the small red fruits appear in temperate and tropical regions throughout Europe and Asia. In Sri Lanka, chitra grows in the country’s wetlands.

Other species thrive throughout South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

Berberis Lyceum, a cousin. Taken very
clearly from

Availability of Chitra in India
Chitra grows wild near the Nepal border by the Himalayas at an elevation between 1650 to 3400 meters. In Himachal Pradesh, the fruit thrives in Chamba, Kinnaur, Sirmour, Kullu, Mandi, and Shimla. Uttarkhand and Jammu and Kashmir are additional states growing chitra in their cooler, higher regions. Chitra is also found in the Nilgiri hill stations in South India.

Production figures for this fruit are nearly impossible to determine, as any commercial efforts occur on a decentralized, micro level in rural areas.

Chitra’s growing season is short, lasting only from mid-May through July, but the fruits appear for a second season from August-September.

Where to find Chitra in India
According to the book, “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Himachal Pradesh,” chitra grows wild near remote streams, villages and abandoned buildings. Increased agricultural activity in the area has caused locals to raze the shrub in favor of more commercially viable crops.

The best place to find the berry is in the villages of the hills in which they grow: vendors often sell the fruits outside of schools.

Ayurveda and natural health food stores sell chitra as a health supplement in. The fruit and root extracts appear as tablets, teas, and tinctures.

ENVIS Center on Medicinal
Plants map

Checking for Ripeness in Chitra
When ripe and ready for plucking, plump chitras are red or purplish blue. Unripe fruits are greenish yellow. Like bignay, chitras do not ripen uniformly on their thorny shrub, and thus they require careful picking during the fruiting season.

If buying a package of dried fruits, it should be free of dust, reasonably pliable and easy to chew. Ideally, the package has a clear expiration date: Given its local production, however, such standardized packaging practices are unlikely.

When buying any chitra supplement, choose a reputable brand and ensure the bottle is sealed with a protective cover. Unlike dried fruits, supplements must have a clearly listed manufacturing date and an expiry date.

Unripe Berberis aristata

Taste of Chitra
Though chitra’s primary reputation is for its medicinal qualities, the fruits are edible enough to use in recipes. The juicy berries taste sweet, but also acidic, sour, bitter and astringent. Chitra’s bright, tart flavor prevents most from eating the fruit out of hand. The fruit does, however, add zest and sharpness to various drinks and dishes.

Nutritional Value of Chitra
Though no formal analysis has been conducted on Berberis aristata. The nutritional value for closely related barberry (Berberis vulgaris), however, is as follows:

69.25kcal per 100g
6.52% reducing sugar
10.32% Protein
9.42% Cellulose
.84% Oil
1.12% Ash
3.10% Acidity
256.48mg Ascorbic acid
789.32mg/100g Total phenolics
931.05mg/kg Total anthocyanin
19.4% Soluble solid matter

2009 study published in the “Journal of Food Processing and Engineering.”

Health Benefits of Chitra
Ayurvedic practitioners have used chitra for centuries, and the fruit shines for its extensive, powerful list of health benefits. Indeed, some of the earliest texts mention the potent healing properties of the fruit. According to the book, “Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Bio-Medicine,” “chitra offers the following benefits:
--Like the cranberry, chitra combats urinary problems.
--The fruit and bark, when boiled and strained repeatedly, form “rasaut.” This paste has several applications and acts as a laxative, spleen enlarger, febrifuge, carminative, and treats hemorrhoids. This paste also improves skin issues such as acne.
--A tincture made from chitra treats malaria symptoms, and is also used as a tonic, cholagogue, antiperiodic and stomachic.
--Ayurvedic applications also include chitra as a wound healer, diaphoretic, tooth ache remedy, ear infection remedy, blood purifier, jaundice treatment, and fever reducer.

The medical community has confirmed the following benefits of chitra:
--A group of researchers in India found that the fruit lowers serum glucose levels, and thus holds potential as an anti-diabetic agent.
--The same study also found the chitra raises HDL levels, an effect which indicates heart-protecting benefits.
--An Indian university discovered that chitra may be a good supplement for the chemotherapy drug, Cisplantin. While this common medication has the ugly side effect of renal problems, the bark of chitra protected the liver from the medication’s side effects.
--A 2008 study published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science found that chitra’s alkaloid extracts significantly reduced inflammation of the eye.
--UK researchers at the University of Leeds found confirmation of the berry’s antiosteoporosis activity after measuring the bone health of rats given chitra extracts. Chitra, then, may assist postmenopausal women with maintaining bone health.
--The Global Journal of Pharmacology published results concluding that the fruit has cytotoxic activity (anticancer properties) against colon cancer cells.
--The Department of Parisitology in Egypt’s Ain Shams University in concluded that berberine sulphate, a compound in chitra, treats some fungal and microbial infections as effectively as the drug, metronidazole.

--The International Journal of Pharmacology published a study revealing that the leaf extract of the bush effectively treats five types of ear infections.

How to Prepare Chitra:
For dried barberry, spread the fruits on a white background, such as a white cloth or paper towel. Then, sort through the fruits and remove any rocks, leaves or dirt. Next, place the chitra in a colander with a bowl underneath it. Spray the fruit and let the water in the bowl fill the colander. Soak the fruit for five or ten minutes. Lift the colander containing the fruit, and rinse out the grit and residue from the bowl. Repeat the process until no dirt remains in the bowl after soaking.

Soak chitra for five hours before using in recipes to restore the moisture and plump the fruits.

Keep dried chitra in an airtight container in a cool, dry environment. If the kitchen is hot and humid, place the container in the refrigerator. In these ideal conditions, the dried fruits will keep for a year. Expect the fruits to lose their reddish color as they oxidize over time.

Place fresh chitra in the refrigerator, where the fruits will keep for two weeks. Otherwise, transfer barberry to the freezer. Whole frozen fruits will keep up to a year.

Chitra Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Locals use the fruit as a dessert and an alcoholic beverage.
--Given their pungent taste, they can work well as a cranberry substitute: make jams, add to breads, or make a tea.
--To make candied chitra, boil 1 pound of the fruit with 1¼ cups of sugar. When drained and soaked, roll the fruits in powdered sugar.
--Make chitra compote by adding 4 cups of the fruit with 3 cups of pomegranate juice or orange juice. If desired, add a spice bag of cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and anise. On low heat, bring the mix to a simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the spice bag, and blend half of the concoction until pureed. Transfer back to the saucepan, and stir and add additional sugar, juice, and a pinch of salt if necessary.
--Make pickled relish by placing the fruits in a saucepan along with vinegar and sugar: use 4 cups of vinegar and 2 cups of sugar for every 1 pint of barberry. Add additional seasoning like cinnamon, lemon rind, anise, clove, mace and nutmeg. Boil until the texture is desirable, then transfer into jars and cool in the refrigerator.
--Add plump dried fruits to Persian rice dishes, biryani, curries or tagines

--Fold the dried fruits into bulgur wheat, couscous or quinoa salads.

Medicinal root

Flavor Complements:
Fruits: Apricot, bignay, citron, orange, cranberry, cherry, jamberry, jamun, lemon, pomegranate, raspberry, mulberry, plum, roselle, sea buckthorn, strawberry, blueberry

Herbs, spices, and oil: Sugar, cinnamon, clove, anise, nutmeg, saffron, orange juice and zest, lemon juice and zest, pomegranate juice, rose water, cumin, saffron, turmeric, mustard, black pepper, cilantro, rosemary, basil, peppermint, ginger, almond, pistachio

Scientific Name:
Berberis aristata

Other Names:
Indian barberry
Tree turmeric
Nepal barberry
Chitra (Hindi)
Mullukala (Tamil)
Maramanjal (Malayalam)

Darhaldi (Bengali)


  1. its pahadi name is kirmodi

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