The northeast region of India, considered as "hot spot‟ of biodiversity, having unique ecological environment with hot and high-humidity conditions, has given rise to the world’s hottest chilly, "Bhut jolokia" or "Bih jolokia‟, which is at least two times hotter than Red Savina Habanero in terms of Scoville heat units (SHU). The Assamese word “bhut” refers to the typical large pod size of the plant, while the term “bih” means “poison” indicating the high hotness in the fruits of the plant.
It is extensively grown in North Eastern region of India, predominantly in the states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram since ancient time. The main pungency principle of Bhut jolokia is capsaicin (8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide) and its analogs collectively known as capsaicinoids synthesized in the epidermal cells of placenta of the fruit, and possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities.
Capsicum is an herbaceous plant belonging to the family Solanaceae. The genus Capsicum comprises over 200 species among which five common cultivated species include Capsicum annuum L., Capsicum frutescens L., Capsicum chinense Jacq., Capsicum baccatum L., and Capsicum pubescens L.
Bhut jolokia mainly belongs to the species Capsicum chinense Jaqc. It was earlier thought to be a hybrid of Capsicum frutescens and Capsicum chinense on the basis of randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) analysis. However, it has recently been described as a distinct species (Capsicum assamicum) on the basis of morphological properties, molecular phylogeny of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region and differential proteomic analysis.
The traditional "Bhoot Jolokia‟ or "Naga king‟ chilli has several vernacular names like "Naga Jolokia‟, "Bih Jolokia‟, "Dorset Naga‟, "Raja Mirchi‟, "Borbih Jolokia‟, "Nagahari‟, "Ghost chilli‟, "Naga Viper chilli‟, "Poison chilli‟ etc .
Bhut jolokia is a self-pollinated plant, however, considerable cross pollination (up to 10%) may occur when insect population is high. It behaves as a semi-perennial herb if grown under optimal condition. The plant grows to a height of 57-129 cm at 6 months. Under semi perennial situation it may grow even taller. The stem is green with anthocyanin (dark color pigments) pigmentation on the nodes. Leaves are ovate in shape and the surface has the characteristic crinkle look. It has pendant, with creamy white corollas, often with a touch of light green and has clustering flowering habit with 2-3 flowers per node but at maturity there are rarely more than two fruits per node. The panthers are blue while the filaments are purple. The elongated fruits are 5 to 7 cm in length, 2.5 to 3.0 cm in diameter, with an undulating surface. There are at least three distinct colours found in Bhut jolokia like light red, dark red and orange.
The following trends have been recorded such as
- Young light green coloured fruits turn orange at maturity
- Young dark green coloured fruits turn dark red at maturity
- Young green coloured fruits turn light red at maturity
- Young dark green coloured fruits turn dark chocolate at maturity
The fruit possess 4-5 hollow locules and bears about condition, in a single season a plant produces around 15-20 full sized fruits and 10-14 smaller fruits.
- Bhut jolokia can be grown under diverse soil and climatic conditions. However, for optimum growth, it requires well drained sandy loam, clay loam or laterite soils.
- Seeds should be extracted from completely matured fruits and dried. It is advisable to wear gloves during manual extraction of seeds. After drying, the seeds can be immediately germinated. However, the germination of seeds take long time (about 15-20 days) so it is advisable to treat the seeds with fungicides and insecticides to avoid damage of the seeds due to fungal or insect attack during the germination period. The dried seeds should be stored in air tight containers/polythene packets under refrigeration as the germination percentage decreases rapidly in high ambient temperature.
- Seeds should be sown in seed beds established in sunny areas. Normal treatments of the seed bed should be followed. After 30 days, the seedling should be transplanted in the main field prepared with the fertilizer doses of normal chilli.
- In North Eastern region there are two planting time, kharif and rabi. Kharif cultivation, practiced in the hilly states, starts in Feb/March and harvesting is done from May- June onwards. In the plains, it is grown as rabi crops during Sept-Oct. The productivity and pungency of rabi grown crop is generally more than kharif crop.
- During the crop growth several diseases infest the plants in the North-East. The most common diseases are ‘die-back’, ‘anthracnose’ and ‘leaf curl’ for which adequate plant protection measures should be taken.
- The chilli pods are picked when they are bright red/bright orange in colour. As in other chilli, several picking has to be done for complete harvesting.
- In the North East, the Bhut Jolokia is mainly traded as fresh fruits and only a limited portion is traded as dried products. Drying of this chilly is easier because of its thin flesh and 4-5 sun drying is enough to dry it completely. The chilli retains its lustrous colour even after drying.
- The average fresh fruit yield of this chilli is around 80-100q /ha under rainfed condition while dry weight ranges from 10-12 q/ha.
Traditional medicinal use
Traditionally the fruits are mostly used for curing many human ailments. It is consumed as green or fully ripe fruits, either raw or cooked with vegetables.
- Asthma: The hot principal of bhut jolokia, Capsaicin can reduce asthama. Clinically it has already been proved that capsaicin has the ability to dilate blood vessels thus giving relief in chronic congestions. But it should be consumed regular in low quantities
- Gastro-intestinal abnormalities: Capsaicin stimulates the secretion of saliva and gastric juice and also protects the mucous membrane from the mechanical and chemical damage. Here also regular consumption, but in small quantity is practiced.
- Toothache and muscle pain: Hot infusions of the fruits are used for toothache and muscle pain as the hot principal of capsicum has the ability to alleviate the external pain in muscle. But the infusion should never be applied on injured tissues.
- Removal of puss from boils: The tender leaves are ground to a fine paste and applied as thin coat over boils. This helps in easy removal of puss from boils.
- The leaves of the plant are also used for the aliments like headache and night blindness.
- Arthritis: Paste of leaves is applied locally for the treatment of arthritis.
Besides having medicinal uses the fruits are sliced and made into pickles and preserved easily for months. It is also used as a remedy to summer heat, presumably by inducing perspiration.
Benefits of Capsaicin
The capsaicin found in capsicum species has been reported to have various pharmacological activities and some of the clinical applications are as follows
- Pain relief
- Anti-inflammatory property
- Anticancer activity
- Weight reduction
- Hapato protective effects
- Bactericidal effect
- Cardiovascular activity
- Antioxidant effects of Capsaicin
- Antidiabetic activity
- Anticancer activity
- Gastric ulcer protective activity
- Anti-arthritic activity
Source: Assam Small Farmers’ Agri-Business Consortium