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Al Jabal Al Akhdar

Al Jabal al Akhdhar is something of a wonderland to the naturalist, not least for its diverse range of Mediterranean fruits. Many plants and shrubs that grow in the rugged wilderness of these mountains also sustain a thriving cottage industry in herbal remedies and traditional cosmetics


Luscious pears turn mellow at a farm run by the 
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
Walnuts are a valuable cash crop for farmers in 
Jabal al Akhdhar Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi

 Al Jabal al Akhdhar is a mixed bag of surprises where natural vegetation is concerned. Plant cover is very sparse. Yet amid the harsh magnificence of these mountains grow a diverse range of fruit trees and a melange of shrubs and plants that are part of a unique natural heritage unseen anywhere else on the Arabian peninsula. 

In lofty orchards here, nourished by virgin mountain springs, grow the finest variety of fruits pomegranates, pears, walnuts, apricots, peaches, plums, grapes, sweet limes, figs, olives, and for the first time on experimental basis, even apples. The list gets even longer with time, as new types of Mediterranean fruit are sought to be added to this exotic mix, thanks to the splendid temperate weather of the jebal during summer. 

The pomegranate is doubtless the most lucrative of the jebal's fruit crops, fetching the major chunk of a farmer's income from agriculture. 

Just as prized though is the walnut, which is ranked only next to the pomegranate as a much-valued cash crop. Walnuts are unique to Al Jabal al Akhdhar, one of many unique aspects of the Sultanate's natural heritage. 

There are scores of walnut trees scattered around the jabal, mainly growing in the vicinity of mountain springs or wadis. Most are concentrated however in three villages Saiq, Al Menakhar and Wadi Bani Habib. 

Like most other fruit crops cultivated in the jebal, walnuts are harvested around September. 

They are dried and stored, to be sold mainly during the habta or traditional pre-Eid markets. Demand for Omani walnuts is especially good during the habta, drawing scores of sellers to these markets as far afield as Sarur, Bid Bid, Samayil and Fanja.

Many make a two-day trek on foot to these markets, carting along sack-loads of walnuts for sale. In small quantities they are also sold in souqs in Nizwa, Bahla, Rostaq and elsewhere.

At RO1 per 25 whole walnuts, returns are especially attractive.In times past, the inedible, fleshy part around the walnut was used as a traditional cure for scars and open wounds, local villagers recall. An extract obtained from the fruit was used as a kind of alcohol-free tincture for application to skin injuries. 

The summer fruit harvest also includes black grapes a sweet, jebali variety which grow in bunches in small vineyards alongside pomegranates. The grape crop precedes pomegranate cultivation in Al Jabal al Akhdhar. Harvest is around September along with pomegranates. 

Many orchards also feature pear trees a relatively new entry in the jebal's list of locally grown Mediterranean fruits. Deliciously succulent and sweet, pears grow to almost twice the size of normal imported varieties. Local pears are juicier as well, because they are picked when naturally ripe, unlike imported ones that are harvested prematurely to allow time for despatch to consumer markets. 

To sample the full measure of Al Jabal al Akhdhar's bounty, a visit to the local farm of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is a must. On a seven-acre farm in Saiq village grows perhaps the most diverse range of fruit trees: hybrid pomegranate varieties, apricots, plums, peaches, several varieties of pear, fig saplings imported from Jordan, wild olives, and even almonds. 

Also growing here are apple trees being cultivated on an experimental basis.Elsewhere, in farms and orchards around the jebal, farmers grow garlic, lemons, turmeric, corn, wheat and some varieties of beans, further enriching the diversity of cultivation here. Also growing in the wild are the famous boot trees of Al Jabal al Akhdhar, again a unique element of the Sultanate's natural heritage. 

These thorny trees, which produce sweet red berries coveted in villages and towns of the Interior region, grow on the precipitous slopes of the jebal, making berry-picking a particularly hazardous task. During the harvest season spanning the July-September months, nimble-footed villagers scour remote mountain ridges for the boot tree. 

As these mountain berries continue to be in great demand, the takings are usually very good. The wild fruit is sold in souqs in Nizwa, Bahla, Rostaq, Samayil and Seeb. Aside from its rich heritage of fruits and nuts, Al Jabal al Akhdhar also boasts a veritable hoard of shrubs and plants highly valued for their medicinal, therapeutic and cosmetic properties. 

Saiq village in Al Jabal al Akhdhar where 
farmers grow a fine variety of fruits
Traditional communities around the Sultanate still prefer herbal remedies and cosmetics produced in the jebal, to modern-day substitutes. 

The Local Communities Development Centre has been actively involved in preserving and promoting this element of Al Jabal al Akhdhar's traditional crafts. 

It has been working with villagers engaged in these crafts, helping them improve yield, boost quality and find markets for their products.  

Rose water production is a thriving cottage industry in the jebal, given its wide application in halwa-making, Omani tea and assorted cosmetics and sweets. 

The fragrant essence of the yas, a common mountain shrub, is also earning good incomes for those engaged in the craft. Tradition-minded womenfolk still opt for yas extracts as a cosmetic and hair conditioner in place of modern cosmetics. 

Mountain plants like the Al Jadah, Al Qadhaf and Al Hanqalan are an importance source for traditional herbal remedies which are prized in many Omani homes. An oil extract of the Al Jadah plant, which grows in the wild, is recommended in the treatment of stomach ailments and for diabetic use as well. 

The essence of the Al Qadhaf plant, a native of the jebal, is used as a balm for those afflicted with a paralytic stroke, and for a variety of body-aches as well. Also, the wild Al Hanqalan plant finds wide application in the treatment of sore eyes.

© Adapted from Oman Observer. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for contents.

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