Note- This article is for informational purposes only; this isn’t an attempt to suggest any kind of cures. The information in this article is based on the tribals’ traditional knowledge and experience of herbal medicines. Please don’t use the medicines mentioned in this article without consulting a doctor. Adivasi Lives Matter doesn’t take any responsibility of the consequences of consuming these medicines.
Written by S. Ramarajan and translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita
The Paniyar tribals of Tamil Nadu are one of the tribes in India well known for their development and use of natural medicine. In ancient times, this tribe lived in dense forests, and it is said that rarely did a person of the tribe fall ill. Even when hospitals came into existence, rarely did anyone from the Paniyar tribe in Kadukuthadi have to visit a hospital due to ill health.
However, when people did fall severely ill, when they were unable to walk, people made stretchers from sarees with rods and sticks and carried them through the forest to go to the hospital. A lot of casualties from this tribe occured due to the large distance of the hospital from the village. Therefore, natural remedies devised by this community are used to protect the lives of their people and to avoid being taken to the hospital, which is usually in vain.
Here are some of the natural herbs and plants used by the Paniyar tribe:
Chaff-flower/ Prickly chaff flower/ Devil’s horsewhip (Achyranthes aspera):
Prickly chaff flower | Image source- Flickr
In the forest, it is a common occurence to be bitten by venomous critters like scorpions and centipedes. We chew on the root of this plant, and the juice helps remove the venom from our bodies.
This plant is also used to relieve severe toothache. The people of the Paniyar tribe collect the leaves of this plant and chew on it to relieve toothache. Besides this, people also say that when the root of this plant is cleaned, dried, powdered and consumed, it helps keep away nose-related problems.
Castor bean/ Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis):
Castor Oil Plant | Image Source- Encyclopedia of Life
People collect the seeds of the castor tree, powder it well, filter the oil from the powder, and apply it on their heads. The oil of the castor tree encourages hair health and faster hair growth. It also helps reduce heat in our body and keep it cool. This plant is also used to cure diarrhoea, where the leaves are crushed and applied on the abdomen. This cure is said to have a fast relieving effect to relieve diarrhoea.
Wild lemons (Citrus limon (L.) Osbeck):
Wild Lemons | Photo Source- Public Domain Pictures
When someone gets an inflammatory infection around the fingers of the hands and toes, they use lemons to relieve it. A small hole is made in the lemon and the infected fingers of the hand or the toe are put in the hole, which is said to help reduce the inflammation.
The Paniyars also use the leaves of this plant to cure severe headaches caused by water accumulation in the head. The leaves are collected from the plant, boiled well and the extract is used as a balm. The balm, when used thrice, helps ease headaches by increasing the body temperature and essentially melting the accumulated water. These are just 3 of the plants and herbs that the Paniyars in Tamil Nadu use to sustain their good health in absence of essential health services in the vicinity. Although this is reflective of the ingenuity of the tribals, it is saddening that we don’t have access to any healthcare facilities near our village. I hope steps are taken to ensure that the tribal areas across the country do not have to lose their lives in order to reach medical attention.
About the author: Ramarajan is a mason by profession and lives in Perumal malai near Kodaikanal. He is highly motivated to help the people of his community, the Paniyars. He enjoys reading books and newspapers, and plays volleyball or football in his free time.
This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz