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2023  N11-12(225-226)
While in the mountains, we breathe air that smells of grass and honey, we admire meadow herbs and flowers, yet not every city dweller knows and remembers their names and use. Meanwhile, the flora of the mountains, steppes and sands accounts for all kinds of species, many of which, in addition to their medicinal properties, have long served humans as raw materials for building structures, tools, household utensils and, naturally, fuel.
Since ancient times, when wild animals were domesticated, nomadic communities of early pastoralists had to move along with their belongings and herds from winter camps to spring and summer pastures. For a long time, they had to adapt to the harsh environment, which, of course, shaped their unique way of life – compact, mobile, extremely rational and inseparable from nature. Ethnographers currently study the lifestyle of our ancestors and often discover very interesting facts. Here’s only one of them.
In the Kopetdag mountains, there grows an amazing herbaceous plant of the lily family – Eremurus. It is called “chyrysh” in Turkmen. The Uzbeks call it “shiryach”, and the Kazakhs call it “shiryash”. Translated from Turkic dialects, it means “glutinous” or “sticky.” In the Turkmen language, there are three other names for this plant – “garadennan”, “edzhikgamak” and “dyanegara”. It blooms in late May, covering the vast expanses of mountain plateaus. When a tired climber reaches the very top of the mountain, an incredible sight of a wide clearing of blooming eremurus suddenly opens up before him. Fatigue instantly disappears, and one just wants to contemplate this extraordinary picture. Big flowers shaped like giant candles literally shoot out of the ground, often rising higher than a human height.
In total, there are about fifty species of Eremurus on the Eurasian continent, thirteen of which are found on the territory of Turkmenistan. There grow the very rare Kopetdag Eremurus, thin-leaved Eremurus, as well as the large and graceful Eremurus Olgae. The low-growing Eremurus Baissunensis is common on the Badkhyz hill, between the Murgab and Tedjen rivers. In the Karakum desert, one can find sand loving Eremurus. There are also Eremurus Regelii with unusual flowers of brown-purple color, Eremurus Kaufmannii, Eremurus Aitchisonii, as well as one of the most beautiful of this genus, Eremurus Albertii, in Koytendag, the easternmost outskirts of Turkmenistan. All of them are decorative, look very impressive and can become a decoration for any botanical garden. Many of them are included in the Red Book of Turkmenistan.
What is so unusual and unique about this plant besides the fact that it decorates mountain and desert landscapes? Eremurus has an unusual root. It has properties that can be used for a variety of purposes.
First of all, one should note the medicinal properties of Eremurus. All parts of Eremurus are used for herbal medicine, first the roots and then the leaves, flowers and fruits. Decoctions made of its roots have a tonic, sedative effect and help with colds. In his “Canon of Medical Science”, famous medieval scientist Abu Ali ibn Sina recommended this remedy for joint pain, eye diseases, coughs, arthritis, and a tincture made of wine, flowers and fruits is described as one of the most effective antidotes against a scorpion sting.
However, the most valuable quality of the root part of Eremurus is its stickiness. The fact is that it contains pure dextrin glue, and this property found application in construction. Powder from ground tubers of the plant was added to a solution of gypsum and small particles of clay, and this mixture was used in ancient times in the construction of various buildings in Central Asia.
This solution helped craftsmen and decorators to better perform fine carvings on plaster as decoration of the external walls and interiors of residential and public buildings. Carved panels covered the walls like a spider’s web in the form of arabesques and geometric patterns. The application of this solution with additives during construction increased its strength greatly, allowing monumental buildings to last for centuries. Some of them still delight the eyes of antique lovers.
There is a legend about the invention of a solution using Eremurus powder. There lived a shepherd in a hut that he built for himself, and the roof leaked with every rain. The shepherd could not manage this misfortune whatever he did. Once, a local doctor, tabib, was collecting medicinal plants not far from the shepherd’s home, and he came to visit the shepherd. Having learned about his problems, the guest advised adding chyrysh powder to the clay and coat the outside of the hut with this clay. The shepherd followed all the instructions, and after everything was ready, the sun dried the plaster. The first rain showed that not a single drop leaked through the roof!
Glue based on Eremurus powder was also used by shoemakers, and bookmakers used it in bookbinding.
It is worth mentioning the culinary qualities of this miracle plant. In the early spring, in the mountains, young shoots of this plant appear on the surface of the earth, but there is no stem yet. One had to pick it up at this moment. The first leaves were cut off and used for a salad and a filling for delicious pies according to a special recipe. Ashgabat old-timers said that back in the thirties of the last century, in the spring, there was a lively trade in Eremurus sprouts in the city bazaars and this delicacy was in great demand.
And they used to cook a sweet meal for children: chyrysh tubers were dried in the shade, then boiled in watermelon or grape juice. The result was a product rich in carbohydrates and polysaccharides, which neutralizes toxic products in the intestines.
Yet, the most extraordinary use of Eremurus is making kitchen utensils of it. Finely chopped chyrysh root was boiled in a cauldron with water on low heat. The brew was brought to a state of medium thickness, then a small amount of flour and goat wool was added. All ingredients were thoroughly mixed until the adhesive mass was ready. Then, a frame was woven from thin and damp tamarisk branches – a model of the future vessel. This reinforcement was braided with coarse fabric, after which a thin woolen cord was wound around it. In the end, they produced the inside of a vessel, the surface of which was coated with a pre-prepared adhesive mass. Gradually, layer by layer, the required thickness was gained. At the same time, the master did his best to give the shape to the future vessel and put handles on both sides.
After the product took the shape of a jug, it was dried for two to three days. Then, the inner frame was removed. The inside walls were also coated with the same mass. Over the course of several days, the vessel was finally dried. Then, a plug was made from the same mass for the resulting neck. Hot melted oil was poured into the finished vessel, and all parts were soaked well. The vessel looked to be somewhat rough and thick-walled, but this also had its positive aspects.
The Turkmens called such vessels “depbe”. The largest were up to seventy centimeters high, the smallest – up to thirty. It was believed that the oil in such containers lasted longer, and insects were less likely to get into it. A small rope, threaded through two handles and tied in a knot, was used for hanging the vessel inside the yurt. This is perhaps one of the most ancient types of utensils that people used before they learned the secrets of clay firing.
The Turkmens practiced an interesting method of storing oil for a long time. Melted oil was poured into depbe and closed tightly with a lid and buried in a hole one and a half to two meters deep. Oil could be stored from six months to seven years. Interestingly, this method of storage is still practiced in the remote mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Of course, in modern life there is no longer any point in using wild plant products, but one gets a little sad because of the fact that we are moving further and further away from our nature. And looking at the harmony in which our ancestors lived with the environment, one understands how adapted they were to natural life and how helpless we are without our usual household amenities and universal gadgets.
Picking up eremurus or making vessels of it, like depbe, has long been forgotten. Only rare samples of it have survived, and they are now carefully preserved in museum collections. And looking at such exhibits during museum excursions, the younger generation learns how much interesting and unusual there was in the past life of the Turkmen nomads.

Allanazar SOPIEV

©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005