Namaste!The beauty of the flowering rhododendrons draws thousands of trekkers to Nepal every year. The name rhododendron is derived from the Greek words rhodos (meaning rose) and dendron (meaning tree). There are over 1000 natural species of rhododendron including many bushy species and a number of trees that grow to heights of up to 30 meters. The highest species diversity is found in the Himalaya. Of the over 30 species of rhododendron in Nepal the most renowned is Rhododendron arboretum known as Gurans in Nepali. Starting at elevations of around 1400m the flowers are a vibrant red. However as altitude increases the colour begins shifting to pink, gradually becoming pure white at elevations of 3600m. For Nepalis the most beloved of the tree rhododendron is the Lali Gurans or red one. It is the national flower of Nepal.
Lali Gurans finds a place in the Nepali food menu. Villagers can directly eat the flower petals or add salt and chilies to eat with rice and curry dishes. A very sweet drink is also made from the flowers. Rhododendron flowers are also a source of honey but some species produce a highly toxic honey. Essential oils from some species are used in perfumes and incense. The flower is often seen as an offering in hill temples.
Rhododendron is also a source of traditional medicine. Powdered flowers mixed with rice help to cure dysentery; paste from the leaves applied to the forehead is treatment of headaches; an extract of the bark is used to cure coughs, diarrhea and dysentery. According to common folklore in Nepal a sip of the juice of the Lali Gurans flower dissolves fish bones stuck in the throat. Some rhododendrons are used to make herbal teas. Such teas improve digestion, help with lung and stress disorders, and reduce fever.
Trees begin flowering at lower elevations in early March and continue till May at the higher elevations. The major areas for seeing rhododendron while trekking are Langtang National Park, the Upper Tamur River Valley and the Annapurna Conservation Area.