Help conserve traditional medicinal plants by growing them at home

In their sepia-toned memories, most Malayalis would perhaps recall the aromatic scents of crushed tulsi, thumba, panikoorkka, poovankurunthal, communist pacha and the like; homemade remedies that their grandmothers prescribed for common illness and maladies of childhood. But the lack of time and space and the arrival of high-rise living have all but made these homemade herbal remedies a thing of the past. However, there are many medicinal plants with ornamental value that can be easily grown in homes in the city. Moreover, the Government has various schemes to help those who are interested in the cultivation of medicinal plants.

“ Tulsi, chittadalodakam, panikoorkka, turmeric, brahmi, kacholam, ginger, puliyaral, amla, neem, muringa, kariveppu, kattar vazha and so on are some of the medicinal plants that can be grown in homes,” says M.R. Vasudevan Nampoothiri, director of the Department of Ayurvedic Medical Education. “Trees with medicinal properties such as asoka, neem, kanikonna, nelli, pathimukham and koovalam are ideal for planting on roadsides and for landscaping public places. All these plants should be included in the school curriculum to familiarise children with traditional remedies,” he adds.

Home remedies

Says R. Sreekumar, professor at the Government Ayurveda College, as Dr. Nampoothiri nods in agreement: “Most of the common ailments of children can be treated by herbal home remedies. For instance, for common fever and nasal congestion, one can apply the extract of panikoorkka leaves mixed with ‘rasnathi' powder on the vertex , or take a spoon of the extract or even inhale steam from water laced with panikkoorka or tulsi leaves. Likewise extracts of crushed steamed leaves of adalodakam mixed with honey is a wonderful tonic for cough. Brahmi and vayambu are neuro-tonics whereas the common turmeric mixed with amla juice is an anti-diabetic formula.” The puliyaral ( Oxalis corniculata) is an ideal herb for stomach complaints. This herb can be added to chutneys or curries. Similarly the kayyonni ( Eclipta alba), used in the preparation of hair oil is also a liver tonic.

Tips for cultivation

The method of propagation of medicinal plants varies from plant to plant. Ready-to-plant seedlings are available from various government and private nurseries. They can be grown in the ground, on the terrace, in gunny bags and so on – just like any other ornamental plant or vegetable but it requires adequate sunlight and irrigation. Soil rich in organic matter and with good drainage capacity is ideal.

Plants such as brahmi and vayambu require moist soil for growth. Keep the area clean for best results. Follow organic cultivation because using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is not recommended. Water regularly as per the requirement and remove weeds and dry parts of the plant. Provide support for climbers and space for creepers.

Hanging pots can be used for creepers such as brahmi, kudangal and puliyarila. Maintain a small nursery to ensure production and availability of quality planting materials throughout the year.

Assistance

The National Mission on Medicinal Plants, Kerala, under the State Horticulture Mission, gives financial support for cultivation of 29 species of medicinal plants. And they do so at a subsidy rate of 20 per cent, 50 per cent and 75 per cent for crops that are ‘in high demand,' ‘endangered' and ‘highly endangered,' respectively (Contact: 0471 2330867).

As part of the project of the mission, a nursery for medicinal plants attached to the pharmacognosy unit of the Ayurvedic Research Institute, Poojappura, Thiruvanathapuram has been started recently for the supply of good quality planting materials. “We also give training programmes on medicinal plant cultivation along with supply of good quality planting materials at a nominal rate”, says K.G Sreekumar, senior research officer at the Institute (Contact: 0471 2340172). Good quality planting materials and technical guidance are also available at from Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Palode (Contact: 2869626, 0472-2869226), College of Agriculture, Vellayani (2381002) and the Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Research Institute, Odakkali, Asamannoor, Kochi (0484 2658221), to name a few.

However, the ideal mix of medicinal plants in individual home gardens has to be worked out according to one's own interest. For example one can grow mukkutti, vishnukranthi, muyalcheviyan, karuka, poovamkurunthal, kayyonni, thiruthali, cheroola, nilappana, and uzhinja, all of which together are commonly known as the ‘dasapushpam.' Growing the tulasi, the ashoka with its saffron-coloured flowers, a collection of essential herbs such as panikoorkka, ginger, turmeric, murikudipacha, adalodakam, veppu, kacholam, thumba and shanghupushpam are other favoured options. One can perhaps also grow a lawn out of karukappullu. Apart from having medicinal values, these plants purify the surroundings too.

As mentioned in the ‘Ashtanga Hrudaya,' there is nothing in this universe that is non-medicinal. Ensure that you are also a partner in conserving these promising greens.

ANITHA C.S.

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