Medicinal Plants for health care… (zig-zag from top left) neem leaves, tumeric, tulsi, aloe vera, adulsa, ajwain, mint, lemon grass and kiraitem
By Pankajbala R Patel
DO you know that the State Medicinal Plants Board of Goa has printed a useful booklet for those seeking basic information about herbal plants,
Some Important Medicinal Plants of Goa’? It’s a useful booklet published in 2017 when Manohar Parrikar was around as chief minister and he has a message urging Goans to grow medicinal plants or so to speak. But it’s Kuldeep Sharma (IFS, CEO, State Medicinal Plants Board Goa) who offers some interesting data. India has 15 agro climatic zones and 17,000 to 18,500 species of flowering plants of which 6,000 to 7,000 are estimated to have medicinal properties which our folk medicine systems have documented this in Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopath. About 960 species of medicinal plants are estimated to be in trade of which 178 species have annual consumption levels far in excess of 100 metric tons. Medicinal plants are not only a major resource base for traditional medicines and the herbal industry, but they provide livelihood and health security to a large segments of Indian people in the country. There is both local and global demand for them. Get the colorfully illustrated copy ofSome Important Medicinal Plants of Goa’ but here is a list of them, the plants will grow happily in Goa given the sunlight, salt and time or so to speak.
Just to offer brief introductions here and plants which appeal to me the most! Ever seen a khair tree (also called the cutch tree)? It’s a moderate sized tree with thorny branches and country folk are more familiar with it for they get their katha from it, it is prepared from its heartwood extract. It has astringent and digestive properties and traditionally betal leaf takes a bit of katha rolled in it. Khair tree twigs also serve as datum for cleaning up teeth. The parts used are usually the heartwood and bark.
Then we are familiar with vaikhand (bach, calamus, sweet flag). Its rhizome is used, decoction for fever, chronic diarrhea, bronchitis, dysentery. It’s also said to improve memory power and intellect, improves digestion and clears speech, in hysteria and insanity, snake bite, cough, delirium, asthma. Vaikhand is often rubbed on baby’s stomach so that baby does not get a heavy tongue! It is cultivated in gardens and orchards in Goa.
The bel or bael is much loved and said to be dear to Lord Shiva. Lots of things to say about the bael tree which is a very revered tree in Hindu mythology. The root goes into the making of dashmoola. The ripe bael fruit makes for a tangy chutney and is said to be cooling and mildly laxative. There is bael sherbet too and candy. Parts used are leaves, fruit and root. The tree’s trifoliate leaves or bilva leaves are right, offered lovingly to Lord Shiva during worship of his symbolic ling.
best aloe vera
Aloe barbadensis is katekuvar or popularly gheekuvar or Indian aloe or just aloe vera. It grows most lush and fat in Goa and one may use its leafy pulp as a moisturizer and for application on burns. Aloe vera is a most popular cosmetic and medicinal ingredient and may be found in many an anti-aging cream. Good for hair fall. The pale green leaf pulp is “cathartic and refrigerant, used in liver and spleen ailments and for eye troubles.’ Many seniors drink aloe vera juice for better digestion. Grow a pot of aloe vera and there’s lots you can do with it.
Devil’s tree or saptaparni comes with whorls of leaves, green above, whitish beneath and with prominent veins. Bark, latex and leaves are used in treating beri beri disease and there a host of other usages. Kirayte is very darkly green and elegant. It is well recognized in Goa and grows most easily just like weeds. This “king of bitters” leafy juice is used for setting the stomach right, decoction of plant is use for all types of fevers, skin diseases and acidity. Come Gudi Padva most families serve kirayte juice for all in the family to drink! It’s hard to say which is more bitter, kirayte or bitter gourd or bitter neem juice – drink a tablespoon, diluted and on the rocks if you like.
Manpatri or mugwort is used for the treatment of worms. Then who doesn’t know shatavari or shatamul, Indian asparagus – its root is used in juice form for dyspepsia and it’s a common nervous and rheumatic complaints medicine. Increases milk secretion in lactating mothers, improves quantity of semen fall. Kodinim, neem or margosa we all love in soaps and toothpastes and pest control sprays…but I don’t see too many neem trees in Goa. Many Gandhian ashrams plant neem trees to better sanitize the air and neem trees in full bloom offer a tantalizing scent blowing in the wind. Boil neem leaves in hot water and bathe in it for itches and skin infections. Neem tree twigs also serve as ideal datum. Seeds, leaves, bark and twigs of neem are used. Really I’ve seen in ashram life that everyone cleans their teeth with a neem twig for myriad reasons. A neem twig is the most renowned toothbrush of traditional country life! Grow neem trees and market the twigs in bundles as they do in small town and village markets. Hey, there would be fewer plastic toothbrushes lurking at the bottom of the ocean along with other plastic waste degenerating into micro plastics to get into our food chain! By all means start using neem or babool twigs for brushing your teeth, but first grow the trees and Mother Earth will bless you.
Come to Brahmi or Indian pennywort which is said to restore loss of memory and improve intelligence. Revitalize sense organs and improve vitality and longevity. It’s the brain tonic of Ayurveda as also cardio tonic, astringent, sedative in asthma, bronchitis and inflammation, a blood purifier. Lots of folk patronize brahmi, the whole plant is valued in Ayurveda pharmocology.
Punarnava or spreading hogweed is moderately distributed in Goa, its root paste serves as a local application to reduce swelling, useful in anaemia, liver, cardiac disorders and an excellent diuretic. Whole plant and root very useful. Panfuti or patharchur or miracle leaf invites curiosity from all. Leaves and roots have medicinal value. Leaf juice is given for treating cough, fever, asthma, cold (with candy sugar). Said to prevent dysentery, difficult urination and cardiac problems. Very pretty leaves and stem cuttings grow out very well.
Coming to the ornamental trees of summer there is the palas or dhak tree, also flame of the forest, first to bloom come spring time. Grows in the dry deciduous forests of central India and hard to see in Goa. Its seeds are pounded with lemon juice to act as a powerful rubefacient and has been tried successfully as a cure for a form of herpes called dhobi’s itch. Come Holi and dhak trees are raided for their scarlet flowers to be boiled in water and the aromatic pale red color is filled in silver pichkari and sprayed on devotees in Brindavan and Mathura temples. Dhak trees are intensely beautiful in full scarlet or red bloom. Please grow them, I think they are varnishing from our landscapes.
Another eye-catching tree is bayo or amalta or golden shower tree, laburnum too; can be seen all over Goa including Panaji. Flower, fruit, roots and leaves are useful. Come to flowers of the sadaphuli or sadabahar or periwinkle plants which offer up these familiar white and dark pink flowers; said to be anti-carcinogenic. Extract of leaves and roots are used. Gundarui or mandakuparni is also Asiatic pennywort, a wholly used plant. Dry leaf power is given for TB.
Think tikhi or dalchini or cinnamon tree which needs little introduction. Not easily found in Goa but cinnamon we know is anti-diabetic and its leaves and bark are much valued. And we come to the hadjod or edible stemmed vine where the juice is used as drops for ear or nose problems. Stem juice is given orally and applied as poultice in fractures. Rumod or gular comes with cluster figs and root, bark, leaves, fruit, latex and galls are used. Fruit and root are credited with hypoglycemic activity. Bhirand or kokum is a very familiar tree in Goa and often called the “fat busting” tree of the Konkan coast. Its fruit juice is a digestive and makes for superb kokum tival or codi (with coconut milk) and also cardamom spiked sherbet. Five stars in Goa love to serve chilled kokum sherbet. Eat kokum, drink kokum. Serve it daily in one form or another, put a few salted peels in your bhendi sabzi or grind in a few peels in a chutney.
Wagachi nakta is glory lily and monsoon time they may be seen blooming gloriously on drives up to the Western Ghats; its underground tubers are used for tonic, laxative, stomachic and anathelminthic, deworming, etc. Madhunashini or gurmar is also miracle fruit tree. Anti-diabetes tree. Leaves are used. Dudhshiri or anantamul or Indian sarsaparilla tree is a herb and decoction of its dried roots are widely used. Root extract is blood purifier and also for skin disorders. Root also goes into sarsaparilla sherbet served in many South Eastern countries.
There is ratanjyot tree which loves to grow in dry wastelands of Goa. Stem and seeds are valuable for and seed oil eases itches, herpes, eczema. Fresh juice from stem is said to stop bleeding from wounds, ulcers, cuts. Adulso is famous for coughs, its dried leaves are used in the form of a cigarette and smoked to cure asthma. There is also kalo adulso, krishnavasa or gendarussa, native of Malaysia region and whole plant is useful, its bitter root is anodyne, diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative. For cough, cold, bronchitis, throat infections, pulmonary infections and allergic disorders.
The bakul or bullet wood tree I love for its pretty starry buff white or ivory scented flowers which go into making veni during blooming season. Powder of dried flowers is said to be brain tonic and useful as snuff to relieve cephalalgia. The berries are perfectively red orange oval berries, don’t know if they’re edible though.
Karbil or kadipatta or curry leaf needs no introduction and grows pretty much everywhere in the tropics, profusely in Goa. Leaves are anti-diabetic, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and with hepatic protective properties. Leaves are widely used in phodni and chutney too. Tulas or tulasi or holy basil grows profusely in Goa, oil is anti-bacterial, insecticidal, anti-pyretic, aromatic, cardio tonic and expectorant. By all means chew a few leaves of tulsi leaves daily or drink tulsi leaf tea. Leaves, seeds, roots, all useful. Hindu mythology of course idolizes the tulsi plant. There are various kinds of tulsi. Most Hindu families will grow tulsi in the courtyard of every home in Goa, it’s an age old tradition and an oil lamp is lit at the Vrindavan every evening. Tulsi vrindavan comes in various creatively crafted forms.
The ashoka or Sita ashoka tree is a real beauty of a tree and one may find whole groves of them up north India, legend has it that it’s beneath ashoka trees grove that she was wooed and spirited away by demon king of Lanka Ravan! An ashoka tree grove makes for fantastic camping while wandering the forest.
A few more plants mentioned in the booklet are stevia, or sweet leaf, native of Paraguay and South America but this has been introduced in Goa recently. It is a zero caloreis natural sweetener in powder or liquid concentrate form. There is karo or bhilawa, moist deciduous trees which comes with silky haired pods of seeds and a paste is used for snake bites. Then jambul where seed, bark and leaves are useful. Jambal, jamun or java tree is very familiar and perceived as anti-diabetic. Delicious fruit, much sought after. Although stains entire mouth royal purple.
A few more medicinal plants and trees left! Arjun tree bark helps reduce cholesterol level very rapidly; baheda or belliric myrobalan is one of the three important ingredients of trifala which is widely to keep stomach in order; haddo or harad or chebulic myrobalan is the second component of trifala (amala is third); gulvel or giloe or Indian tinsopora is yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s favorite plant, this is a strong perennial climber and has quite a character. Useful for general debilities, dyspepsia, fever, urinary diseases, stem decoctions for gout ns cdstem decoctionis for gout and Baba Ramdev prescribes it for just about everything as an immunity builder.
Nirgud or nirgunda is found all over Goa; as is ashwagandha or Indian ginseng or winter cherry introduced in Goa recently, leaves have anti- inflammatory properties and herbal oil is used for paralysis, epilepsy, sleeplessness, etc. a much respected plant. Last tree in the booklet is tefla or tilfda or toothache tree, to be found most abundantly in the Western Ghats of Goa. Seeds, fruit and bark are useful.
Go for growing your own medicinal garden! Goa is the ideal state to grow a host of medicinal value trees, plants, herbs.