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Somlata   
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Somlata
ative Photo: Thingnam Girija
Common name: Somlata, Gerard Jointfir • Hindi: Ain, Khanta, सोमलता Somlata • Ladakhi: ཆེཔཏ Chhepat, སོམlཏཱ Somlata • Malayalam: Buchchur • Sanskrit: सोमा Soma, सोमलता Somlata
Botanical name: Ephedra gerardiana    Family: Ephedraceae (Joint-Pine family)

Somlata is a low-growing rigid tufted shrub 1-2 ft tall, with numerous densely clustered erect slender, smooth, green, jointed branches, arising from a branched woody base. Branches have scales at the joints. Male cones are ovate, 6-8 mm, solitary or 2-3, with 4-8 flowers each with 5-8 anthers with fused filaments, and rounded fused bracts. Female cones are usually solitary. Fruit is ovoid 7-10 mm, with fleshy red succulent bracts enclosing the seeds. Goats and yaks feed on the branches during winter. Gerard Jointfir is found on stony slopes, gravel terraces and drier places in the Himalayas, from Afghanistan to Bhutan, at altitudes of 2400-5000 m. Flowering: May-June.
Medicinal uses: Ephedra gerardiana has very likely been used in India since the Vedic period as a soma substitute. There came a time when the Aryans were no longer able to find the original psychoactive plant known as soma, perhaps because the identity of that plant was kept so secret or perhaps because it had been lost, and so it was that many people took to preparing the sacred soma beverage with substitute plants, one of which was E. gerardiana. This is how the plant received the name somalata, ‘plant of the moon’. The effects of E. gerardiana are more stimulating than visionary, however, indicating that this plant is not the original soma of the Vedas.

Photographed in Nubra Valley, Ladakh.
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