It can tweak the fertility of rats, believe many in Mizoram. Now nutrient-rich bamboo seeds are going straight from the jungle to the Mizo menu and even the bedroom!
In Mizoram, bamboo seeds that appear after a riotous flowering of the tall grass every 50 years are considered a harbinger of famine or mautam in the state's local language. The seeds trigger a phenomenal rodent population explosion as the rats eat them and multiply, taking advantage of the abundant food supply in the wild.
And people in Mizoram, in northeastern India, are taking the cue. A couple, Thara and Dawngi, had been married for nine years but had remained childless. Things, however, changed when they tried the seeds.
"The last thing we tried was bamboo seed," Thara said. Today Thara, a grocer by occupation in Aizawl, is the proud father of a son.
The couple had tried general doctors, faith healers and fertilization specialists in Kolkata, but in vain. "We tried everything, spent about Rs.8, 00,000. I was completely down and hopeless," Thara said.
But one day a neighbour told the couple about the bamboo seed's qualities. Thara bought two pods, boiled them and the couple ate it together. The following month, in April 2005, his wife Dawngi was in the family way.
"It's difficult for me to say that bamboo seeds battled fate, but we were not under any treatment at that time. I was apprehensive, but after my wife bore a child, I have accepted the seed's virtues," Thara said.
C Rokhuma, a mautam or bamboo flowering expert who has been experimenting on bamboo seeds and its impact on animals that feed on it, is sure of the powers of the seed.
"My experience convinced me that the seeds enhanced the fertility of rats. I don't know if it works on humans but I am sure it acts as a sex stimulant for rats," C Rokhuma said.
Scientists are, however, yet to prove that these seeds can increase the fertility of rats or enhance human libido.
The National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad has conducted tests but found nothing in the composition of the seed that could enhance the fertility of any living being.
James Lalsiamliana, assistant plant protection officer at the Mizoram Agriculture Department, who has been specially assigned by the state government to keep track of rodents during bamboo flowering - which is on now believes in the libido enhancement capability of the seeds.
"A hundred grams of bamboo seeds contains 60.36 gram of carbohydrate and 265.6 kg calorie of energy. This amount of carbohydrate and energy can easily make any living being active...even in sex," he said.
"I can't give you names, but many people have told me that bamboo seeds have enhanced their sex drive," he added.
K Lalchhandama, head of the zoology department at Pachhunga University College in Aizwal , said rodents multiply during mautam because of the unending supply of food throughout the year.
"Rats feed on their offspring during food scarcity and this checks their population outburst, but during mautam when there are plenty of bamboo seeds to eat, they stop their cannibalism and multiply rapidly," he said.
And clearly many in Mizoram are impressed.
When John Neihlaia, commandant in the 3rd Battalion of Mizoram Police, and his friends prepared a traditional Mizo stew called Bai from bamboo seeds, many appreciated it.
"It tastes good," said V Thanthuama, who hails from the Chhinga Veng neighbourhood in Aizawl and who had dined with the officer.
Going a step further, the Mizoram Police 3rd Battalion Police Wives' Welfare Association is making pickles out of bamboo seeds for sale - and has been making profits too!