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How The Adivasis Have Been Using Plants And Herbs For Treating Themselves

For centuries, varied plants, trees and herbs have been used for curing ailments and diseases, by Adivasis/tribals. Although there is much debate around herbal medicines, a large number of plants are known to be effective for wounds/cuts, digestion problems, blood pressure, etc., and some of them also have antidepressant properties. Adivasi Awaaz creator Ruhan Murasing talks about some of these medicinal plants in the following article.

Image Source: Ruhan Murasing

Medicines are chemicals or compounds used to cure, halt, prevent disease, ease symptoms or help in the diagnosis of illnesses. Medicines act in a variety of ways. Some can cure an illness by killing or halting the spread of invading germs, such as bacteria and viruses. Others are used to treat cancer by killing cells as they divide or preventing them from multiplying. These days, medicines come from a variety of sources. Many were developed from substances found in nature, and even today many are extracted from plants.

In the absence of modern medicines, our ancestors used various methods to cure diseases. In most cases, medicinal plants and trees were used for this purpose. Up until the 90s, one could argue there was a lack of doctors and remote areas mainly dominated by the lower castes and Adivasis/tribals remained untouched by doctors and modern medicines. There was a dearth of hospitals and medical facilities. Hence, medicinal herbs were used as an alternative. Some of these plants/trees/herbs were:

  • Basanta blai

  • Kala vasaka blai

  • Bolongni jamra blai

  • Tulsi/black Tulsi blai

  • Sammanam blai

  • Sam abuktwi

  • Twini khumchak

  • Keraam muichak

These are easy to grow and find.

Basanta Leaves; Image Source: Ruhan Murasing

Basanta blai : Basanta blai known as Bryophyllum pinnatum, is a common medicinal plant used in the traditional medicine of India and other countries for curing various infections, bowel diseases, healing wounds and other ailments. They are also eaten for diabetes, diuresis, dissolving kidney stones, and respiratory tract infections, as well as applied to wounds, boils, and insect bites. It is usually consumed as tea; blended in juices or sometimes even eaten raw.

Kala vasaka blai : Kala vasaka or Justicia adhatoda is commonly known as Malabar nut, adulsa, adhatoda, vasa, vasaka. Vasaka is an important drug in Ayurveda, prescribed as an expectorant. It is highly effective in curing colds and coughs. It promotes gut health, purifies blood, prevents infections, heals ulcers, relieves pain and inflammation, treats uremia and augments skin health. In order to use it as medicine a decoction of Vasaka leaves is prepared by boiling it in water. Thereafter, a spoon of honey is added, and it is ready for consumption.

Kala Vasaka; Image Source: Ruhan Murasing

Bolongni jamra blai : Bolongni jamra blai known as wild pomelo leaves are an effectual remedy for mitigating cough and cold. Also, the oil derived from pomelo leaves has the quality to fight infectious agents such as bacteria and fungi. It is believed to be helpful in killing cancer cells and preventing the spread of cancer. In one of the interviews that I conducted about these medicinal plants, I was told, "People who couldn't be cured of smallpox or chicken pox even after the help of advanced medicines, were finally healed with the help of this plant." In order to use it as smallpox/ chicken pox medicine, the leaves of this plant were crushed and made into a paste by adding a spoon of boiled water. Thereafter, it was applied on the body.

Tulsi; Image Source: Ruhan Murasing

Tulsi/ black Tulsi blai : Tulsi/ black Tulsi blai is known as holy basil leaves or 'The Queen of the Herbs'. It is a basic plant that can be found in almost all Indian households, as it is connected with religion and God. It is considered as a holy plant, in Hinduism. It is known to counter metabolic stress through the normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels, and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive functions and through its anxiolytic and antidepressant properties. It can be consumed raw, plucked fresh from the plant or can be added to your tea. It is also used in making 'kadha', a traditional health drink in India.

Sammanam Leaves; Image Source: Ruhan Murasing

Sammanam blai : Sammanam blai is known as Chromolaena odorata . It is a traditional medicinal plant that is widely used for its wound healing property. In particular, several parts of this herb have been used to treat wounds, burns, and skin infections. This plant is found everywhere in the village areas and can be used easily. It indeed is a little smelly but very effective to stop bleeding and healing skin infections. To use the plant for medicinal purposes, one is required to make a proper paste of the leaves and apply it to the wound.

Samabuktwi : Samabuktwi remains unknown by the English dictionary. It is basically used during a major cut or a major wound. The plant has a white latex liquid which is applied to the wound that helps with rapid healing. Also, a paste of its leaves can be applied to cuts and wounds.

Twini Khumchak plant; Image Source: Ruhan Murasing

Twini khumchak : Twini khumchak is also known as Ludwigia octovalvis. Octovalvis has a long history of being used as a herbal medicine for treating various conditions, including oedema, nephritis, and hypotension. To use the plant as medicine, we make a paste of the leaves after roasting it and apply it before going to sleep.

Keraam muichak : Keraam muichak is a medicinal plant that has been used when in cases of bloating, stomach ache and constipation. It is usually consumed through a boiling mashed curry.

These are only some plants that have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries. There are many more. The Adivasis/tribals, especially those residing in rural areas, still practising the elements of traditional living, are more comfortable in consuming and using medicinal plants, herbs and trees for treating themselves, than modern medicines. It cannot be denied that a lot of plants, herbs and trees have medicinal properties and have been known to cure ailments. While modern medicine has been a lifeline for humankind, herbal medicines form good alternatives. Hence, research should be conducted on them, and certification should be issued for their consumption.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.

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