A few months ago I was home visiting my parents and we had a lunch with a few other Maharashtrians. The conversation turned towards food, and in particular ingredients that are important for making authentic garam masala. Garam masalas vary widely by region in India, and the two ingredients in question were dagadful and nag kesar. I had never really heard of these spices so I did a bit of research to learn more.
Dagadful (Parmelia perlata) is a lichen, not to be confused with the stone flower Didymocarpus pedicellatus, which is a plant that grows on rocks and is called charela in Hindi, I believe. The confusing thing is that both plants are used for herbal remedies, but the former is used for culinary purposes.
If you search for “nag kesar” you may find Mesua ferrea, a hardwood tree that grows in India and surrounds. That’s not where the spice comes from, however. This sparked the most debate at lunch, but I think I’ve figured out that the spice is the bud of a different tree, Mammea longifolia. Both Mesua and Mammea are in the family Calophyllaceae, which probably led to the name clash.