The Timur (Sci. Zanthoxylum armatum) is also called “Boke Timur” in Nepali and Prickly ash or Nepalese Pepper in English. It is a small wild shrub unlike its cousin, the Sichuan pepper, which grows on tall trees. Timur is found in the sub-tropical to temperate regions, at altitudes ranging from 900 m. to 2500 m. from the sea level.
There have been eight species of Zanthoxylum reported from Nepal, of which Z. armatum is the most widely used species. It is a spice deeply rooted in the culture of Nepal, finding its way into countless dishes and pickles. Among the myriad of culinary wonders, there is a favorite condiment – the legendary “Timur ko chhop.”
Timur has many names viz. Timur berry, Timur pepper, Tejpal, Kathmandu pepper, grapefruit pepper, Pomelo pepper, and even Timur Pepper.
The Timur berry does resemble Sichuan pepper, with its unique citrusy and peppery flavor, but it has its own distinct character. Encased in a brown, slightly smaller berry nestles in a small black seed is a treasure trove of intense bitterness. Belonging to the Zanthoxylum family, Timur is a cousin to both Sichuan and Sansho peppers, a botanical family that bore the hallmarks of exotic spices.
The resourceful locals had discovered that the fruit, branches, and thorns held the power to alleviate toothaches. Young branches were wielded as makeshift toothbrushes, and Timur extracts found their way into commercial toothpaste, aptly earning the moniker “toothache berry.” The seeds and fruit are also harnessed to create a stomach tonic, renowned for their cleansing and carminative properties, offering a balm to those in need.
Both seeds and vegetative parts can propagate the Timur plant and the shrub grow best in moist soil, basking in the sunlight, and thrives even in less fertile soil. Plants yield their fruits after three years of tender nurturing. A mature plant, aged five years, bore an average of 3.5 kg of fruits per year.
During the harvest season, the Timur berries are carefully plucked from the bushes, laid out to dry in the sun’s warmth before storing them at an attic, where they undergo the last leg of their drying journey. Thorns were meticulously removed, and the dried Timur is then ready to grace the Nepali cuisine.
According to “The Value Chain Analysis of Timur”, In Nepal, Z. armatum variety of pepper is found in more than 30 districts and is the most prominent in the mid-western districts. The flowering season of Timur is from March to April and the fruits ripen in the period from September to November. A large quantity of Timur is collected and harvested from the naturally grown as well as transplanted shrubs in the community forests and leasehold forests, private forests, and barren lands in Salyan, Surkhet, Jajarkot, Dailekh, Achham, and Kalikot districts. A small portion of production comes from the national forest. Naturally regenerated plants are found dominantly in the barren lands and surrounding areas of the croplands. Few individual farmers are doing mass cultivation in their private lands and small patches of plantation have also been initiated in the community forests and leasehold forests.