Origin: The Ban Phula raw honey, locally also known as Bon Phool, is the greatest treasure of Sundarbans Mangrove Forest of West Bengal. This honey, amazing in taste and aroma, is a nutritious alternative to satisfy your food cravings and taste buds. This powerful natural ingredient gathered from the Nature’s lap is enriched with multiple vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Its slightly bitter and woody taste makes it distinct from the others.
About Sundarbans Mangrove Forest: Our trip to the world’s most dense mangrove forests, i.e., Sundarbans Mangrove Forest to collect the Ban Phula Honey became an experience to cherish for a lifetime. The chaparral looked like a child had splashed blue, white and green colors on a blank canvas; a blue band of sky, white strip of sweltering bubbly clouds and an enormous green canopy stretching beneath. In the captivating silence of the forest even the sound of gulping could be herd clearly. The dark silhouette of the voluminous trees and puzzled bushes had become the structure of the forest. The trees stood proud and tall as protectors of the exigent grounds, as the impregnated bushes that had consumed the hard regions of the forest, concealed the land from beneath the vibrant portals of the open sky. All was mesmerizing, incredibly beautiful and delightful.
There are two most accepted theories for the origin of the name, Sundarbans. The first one proposes that it is derived from the words, sundar, means ‘beautiful’ and ban means ‘forest.’ The second theory suggests that the region is named after an abundant mangrove species called Heritiera fomes, commonly called the Sundari tree. This vast forest region of Sundarbans is rich in floral dirversity dominated by Gewa (E. agallocha), Goran (Ceriops decandra), Keora (Sonneratia apetala), Ora (S. caseolaris), Passur (Xylocarpus mekongensis), Dhundul (X. granatum), Bain (Avicennia alba, A. marina, A. officinales), other rhizophores, and Hantal (Phoenix pelludosa) plants. The Sundarbans are home to a large variety of animals also. It accommodates about 50 species of mammals, about 320 species of inland and migratory birds, about 50 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, and about 400 species of fish. In addition to the enigmatic Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) this thriving ecosystem is also inhabited by crocodiles (Crocodilus porosus), water monitor lizards (Varanus salvator), king cobras (Ophiophagus hannah), Gangetic dolphins (Platinista gangetica) and olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea). The wild giant honeybees of the area collect the nectar of flowers and produce honey. The honey collectors around the India use to come Sundarbans in March & April month to collect the honey along with Mouwalis / Moule (local Honey collectors) in a traditional fashion.
About Moules/ Mouwalis: These are honey gatherers, locally known as mouli or moule. The honey collection is a source of income for them when fishing is prohibited. Eking out a living for these Moulis is challenging in the barbarous, unforgiving mudflats of the Sundarbans, but they have little choice. If they don’t enter the forests, they won’t be able to feed their families. Friction with wildlife is inevitable, but due to a lack of substitutes, the Moulis knowingly put their lives at risk every day. They always travel in groups, armed with primitive weapons such as axes, tangis, ballams, bows and arrows to face any unwanted threat. During the expedition, the moulis eat and sleep on their boats, which are stocked with food, fuel, water, vessels, mosquito nets, basic medicines, and tools required for collection.
Honey Origin: In Sundarbans usually Indian giant bees are found and among them Apis dorsata comparatively makes more hives and honey. Honeybees tend to favour trees that are found in the deep forest, with horizontal branches that are a few feet above high tide water levels. Finding the bee hives amidst the dense foliage of thick forests requires experienced eyes and ears. The moulis use the sound of bees to locate the hives. The best honey from the Sundarbans is believed to come from bees that have gathered nectar from the khalsi flower (Aegiceras corniculatum). Locally, this honey is known as Padma Madhu (Lotus Honey).
Harvesting Process: We took permission from the forest department before venturing into the forest to collect the honey. Our team under the guidance of experienced mouls, visited from one island to another island for about three weeks in the creaky boats to collect honey, prepared by some of the largest and most aggressive bees in the world. The basic ration of about one month was stocked before sailing in the deep forests. Before setting sail, some rituals were performed. Prayers were offered to Bonbibi, the revered jungle deity of the Sundarbans, to protect us from the tiger. The boats were anchored close to each other, for safety not only from Dakshin Rai but form pirates also who have become a big menace in Sundarbans. They patrol the jungles in boats and hide in the creeks. Taking advantage of the waterways they travel to and fro, between the Indian and the Bangladesh sides of Sunderbans. After alighting, once again Puja was offered to Bonbibi. Our team members entered in the thick chaparral beating drums and taking ‘mashals’. Deep inside the dense jungle near khalsi Flower enriched area, one of our team member soon spotted a huge beehive on a tree branch. It was at least four-feet wide, with tens of thousands of giant wild bees nesting. The head moul of our team, Mr Zafar asked every team member to cover his face by ‘gamchha’. After cautiously reaching the beehive, torches made up of leaves and twigs were lit up to create smoke. The smoke forced the bees to fly away but a few of them attacked those who weren't holding a torch. One member of the team climbed up the tree and started cutting the honey combs. We could see the golden syrup flowing through the comb. The pieces of bee hives were collected in a ‘bamboo basket’. While some members were busy in honey gathering, others were on guard and were bursting crackers and blowing buffalo horns to scare away any tiger in the area. Harvesting honey from a hive requires a high level of skill. Combs are cut without hurting the parts of the colony that contain the queen bee and larvae, thereby facilitating faster recovery for the colony. The entire process of honey collection was completed quickly as it was dangerous to stay longer in the forest. As we were returning, the moulis started singing folk songs praising the Sundarbans for giving them livelihood.
Tales & Rituals: There are many interesting rituals associated with traditional honey gatherers of Sundarbans. They offer prayers to Bonbibi who is originally a Muslim deity, sent by Allah to protect all beings of the Sundarbans. According to mythology, Bonbibi is the daughter of Ibrahim, a fakir from Mecca. Ibrahim married Golalbibi, as his first wife Phulbigbi couldn't bear a child. However, to keep a promise made by Ibrahim to his first wife, he left the pregnant Golalbibi in a forest. She soon gave birth to two children named Bonbibi and Shah Jangali. She abandoned Bonbibi as she was unable to raise two children. The girl, Bonbibi was raised by a deer. Later the family reunited when Bonbibi and her brother went to Medina where they consulted Fatima, a holy woman about their future. After hearing Bonbibi’s story, she blessed her with the ability to save forest people whenever they would seek her assistance. Bonbibi and Shah Jangali came to India where they were to become lords of the swampland, inhabited by a demon, Dakkhin Rai, and his mother, Narayani, who attacked the twins. Bonbibi called Fatima who came to her rescue and defeated Dakkhin Rai and Narayani. However, Bonbibi showed her generosity and decided that she would rule only on half the land, leaving the rest to the demon. After this, Bonbibi started moving from village to village to establish her rule. While the men are away for honey collection, the wives of the moulis maintain certain practices, in the belief that it helps protect their loved ones from harm. They dress in the mourning clothes, do not comb their hairs, eat only vegetarian foods and keep the doors of their house open. Women cook food only in the early morning and during the evening. They do not light fires during the day, as they believe it could harm both the forest and beehives.
Extraction Process: The gathered pieces of hives were squeezed manually to extract the honey, which was carefully filtered using a cotton cloth and stored in clay pots before final packaging in the glass bottle. About ten kilos of honey was extracted from each hive. The whole process was completed in sterile, dirt free conditions without using any machine that is essential for maintaining the natural goodness of the honey.
Color & Taste: The 100% raw, natural, unheated, unfiltered and unprocessed Ban Phula Honey is light Amber in colour and wild in taste, containing small amounts of natural bee pollen, royal jelly, propolis and beeswax. The benefits of this unprocessed, raw honey are plentiful with great medicinal values. It is usually obtained by the Khalsi flower of the Khalsia / Khalshi tree which is one of the best nectar and pollen producing plants. The honey produced from Khalsi flower has a big demand as it is of very good quality with high moisture content. Its fragrance and taste are unique and it does not readily crystallize.
Usage: The people of Sundarbans area use honey for the following purposes:
- One spoon leaves extract of Asiatic pennywort (Centella asiatica) with two teaspoon of honey is taken orally against malnutrition.
- Half teaspoon of leaf juice of False Daisy (Eclipta prostrate) is mixed with honey and taken thrice daily to cure malaria, indigestion and ulcer.
- One to 2 teaspoons of leaf extract of Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) mixed with honey is taken twice daily to treat cough and cold.
Pick me Up: There are many Bengali dishes in which honey is used. Among them Doi Chire is the traditional and most popular breakfast in West Bengal. This dish offers the poha recipe in a unique form. The ‘doi’ is referred yoghurt, and ‘chire’ in Bengali means flattened rice or chiwda. This recipe includes poha, dahi, fruits, honey, sugar, and all these ingredients are good for digestion and metabolism. Zulbia or jalebi is also an important dish. This sweet dessert is created by combining flour with yogurt or ghee, as well as baking soda or yeast to create a batter which is then poured in circular patterns directly into the sizzling oil. The final result is a crispy treat that is then doused in a thick syrup, which can be flavored with rosewater, saffron, honey, orange blossom water, or cardamom. It is served on special occasions, and it is usually sprinkled with chopped pistachios or saffron threads. Honey from the Sunderbans is added to the cotton cheese to prepare the 'Aarogya Sandesh', which also has extracts of tulsi leaves.
This honey is 100% natural, raw, unprocessed without any adulteration.