Monday, February 26, 2018

Jimbu – Nepalese Allium (Herb)

Jimbu  जिम्बु  – Nepalese Allium or Himalayan Aromatic Herb

Jimbu, pronounced (jim-bu), is a dried, aromatic, perennial herb that is virtually unknown outside the Himalayan region. It's common name is “Nepal aromatic leaf garlic.” It is also known as jamboo/faran in Uttarakhand, India and jhiku-cha in Newari language. In scientific journals, jimbu is called Allium Hypsistum Stearn and comes from the family Amaryllidaceae. 

While researching jimbu, I found a well-written article by David Borish which describes more on this perennial herb.  He writes, "Jimbu is one product that is native to the North Central mountainous region of Nepal, and is of high value to Upper Mustang Nepalese (Nepal 2006). Jimbu refers to two species of Allium, A.hypsistum and A. prezewalskianum (Nepal 2006).  Both species are perennial and bulbous flowering plants part of the Amaryllidaceous family (IUCN Nepal, 2000)."

Harvesting of Jimbu - The local villagers and their family members travel several hours to the wild areas of the mountain regions in which jimbu has been growing in abundance for centuries.  The villagers carefully hand-pick the green and tender foliage from the jimbu plant.  Although they collect both flowering and non flowering parts of the plant, they believe the best flavors come from buds that are not fully opened. It is harvested between July to September.

After collection, the green jimbu is brought back to villages and spread on dry mats in a well-ventilated covered shady areas.  Jimbu harvesters believe that drying in direct sunlight makes poor quality jimbu without color and flavor. The herb is dried for several days until all the moisture has evaporated. This is the most traditional, simplest, and least expensive way of preserving the herb in the remote areas. 

Picture of two of the most authentic Nepali spices – L. Jimbu herb and R. Szechwan pepper, Sichuan pepper, Chinese pepper, Nepal pepper (Z. armatum)
टिम्मुर, तिम्बुर - (Timur, Timmur, Timbur)
The flavor of the herb is weakened or nearly lost in the drying process.  Jimbu also loses its green color and starts to looks like a brownish-green dried grass.  By the time it hits Nepali markets, jimbu is commonly sold in dried strands. The herb has a distinct flavor which is somewhat similar to garlic and shallots. The distinct aroma of the herb is nearly lost in the drying process, but can be brought back to maximum flavor by browning it in hot oil until fully fragrant before using in a dish.   Generally, a small pinch of jimbu is sufficient to flavor a dish and should be used with discretion. It is mostly not used in its raw form.

Mr. Ram Chandra Nepal in his research paper (use and Management of Jimbu – a case study from Upper Mustang) writes, “Jimbu collection is a very difficult job. People have to walk far away from the village (in an average 4.4 hours from the village) in dry, sloppy and difficult areas where water is scarce. Sometimes people needed over night camping on the sites. Further, people complained about headache when they were engaged in collecting jimbu for several hours.” 
Nepalese have a remarkable fondness for this herb and they use it as a tempering spice (jhanae masalaa) to flavor lentil dishes (daals), stir-fried vegetables, salads, and pickles. The aromatic herb also acts as flavoring agent for preserved pickles (achaars). Traditionally, jimbu is fried in clarified butter (gheu) or mustard oil (tori ko tel) to maximize its flavor and the infused oil is poured into a prepared dish before serving. The fried herb lends texture and visual appearance to any dish. In some recipes, Jimbu is added in the beginning stage of cooking process, whereas in some recipes, they are added at the end to the prepared dish. 
Freshly cooked black lentil (maas ko daal) tempered with jimbu
Tomato chutney tempered with jimbu
Fermented radish pickle tempered with jimbu

If jimbu has been stored for a long period of time, it becomes crisp and crumbly and starts to lose its flavor and get stale quickly. It is recommended to purchase only in small quantities at a time.

People from upper Mustang region use jimbu plants for medicinal purposes. It is used for stomach ailments, cough and cold, flu and high altitude sickness. Many villagers believe that jimbu has some medicinal value.

Jimbu is not often available outside Nepal (Indian grocery stores, Asian or Western markets). As a substitute, some people use the dried roots of the garlic bulb.  But this alternative will not produce the same flavor as jimbu. Recently, there are some imported jimbu available online and in some Nepali food markets outside Nepal.

Here are some useful links about Nepali Jimbu that you may want to check it out:

Ram Chandra Nepal - Use and management of Jimbu (A case study from Upper Mustang) - ( )

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