What is Onam without the ubiquitous thumba poovu?
It is a flower that has religious significance and also stands for cleanliness. Thumba or Leucas is integral to Onam. Found in the backyards of many homes in Kerala, it is used in the flower carpet (‘Pookkalam’) or the traditional Onam rituals.
‘Atham’, the first day of the Onam week, is characterised by a small flower carpet made solely of thumba flowers.
On the auspicious ‘Thiruvonam’ day, the delicious dish ‘Poovada’ has leucas flowers as the main ingredient.
Leucas is a small, herbaceous, erect, annual plant with a free blooming nature, flowering in profusion in August and September.
The plant grows in the wild throughout the plains of the subcontinent and is scientifically known as Leucas aspera, a member of the Lamiaceae family.
Like peppermint, holy basil and rosemary of this family, Thumba is also pungently aromatic. The plant has many branches and the tips of branches have globular heads comprising open flowers, flower buds and small hairy fruits.
Leucas plants in blossom attract butterflies, honey-bees and other pollinating insects. This white flower is insignificant and unfamiliar to many and is therefore neglected.
However, the plant can be grown in pots for its aromatic flowers and wonderful medicinal value.
Known as ‘Dhronapushpi’ in Ayurveda, the plant is used as a potherb in villages and is also eaten in times of food scarcity.
It is commonly used as an antipyretic herb in South India. The juice of the leaves is used as an external application for psoriasis and painful swellings.
The flowers of Leucas are highly prized in native herbal preparations for infants. The flowers are given with honey to treat coughs and cold in children.
A conventional preparation in milk helps build immunity to fever, cold and other communicable diseases in infants.
Indian treatises explain that the flowers must be collected in the morning for higher medicinal efficacy.
The leaves are useful in the treatment of chronic rheumatism. Bruised leaves are applied to the bites of serpents, poisonous insects and scorpion sting.
The plant extract in honey is a good remedy for stomach pain and indigestion. Leucas leaves are used as an insecticide and mosquito repellent in rural areas.JACOB VARGHESE