The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 80 percent of the world's population, particularly in the developed regions, use medicinal plants in their daily life to cure common ailments such as colds, coughs, disorders of the stomach and a host of other health problems. These plants are also used to prevent such complaints. Growing at least some of them in our gardens and backyards will go a long way in maintaining and restoring our health without much expense only if we know a little bit of their usage. We must not forget that we belong to Mother Nature and what is available in Nature must be utilized to rectify health upsets that occur mainly due to our present lifestyles and environment.
It is both rewarding and highly cost-effective to grow several medicinal plants in our backyards and get the benefits of glowing health. One such plant with medicinal value and is commonly grown is basil (Ocimum) whose efficacy is much renowned. Pictured as the thumbnail image above is of a holy basil in a Hindu home that is planted at the front entrance and is worshipped in all sacredness every morning by the womenfolk. A special container is built to hold this plant at an elevated level, called as "Brindavan."
In India, experts have determined that 28 species of medicinal plants have become extinct, 170 species are endangered, 130 are vulnerable and nearly 240 have become rare. The Indian Postal Department has recently even honoured the medicinal plants with a series of postage stamps.
Indian traditional healthcare practices like Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and other such use a large share of the medicinal plants. Ayurveda uses about 1800 species, Siddha 500 and Unani 400. Allopathy also uses about 50 species of plants.
Medicinal plants have been used since time immemorial in the health care of humans, animals and even plants themselves.
It is not known to many that plants and animals including birds are interdependent for sustaining themselves. Just an example: Calvaria major disappeared because indiscriminate hunting washed out all the dodos, the only bird that dispersed its seeds. It was in interesting read here.
In modern health care, often the symptoms of a disorder are treated, whereas in treatment with medicinal plants, the root cause of the disorder is addressed. A complete cure happens in the latter.
We tend to rush to a doctor for every bout of cough, cold, fever, headache, stomach upset or draw upon our own past experience and self-medicate, often with some bothersome consequences. If we have some medicinal plants available in our backyard and some knowledge of how, when and what to administer, problems can be nipped in the bud to get a safe and rapid cure, at home - cheaply! Those 'doctors' can be easily grown!
Rauwolfia serpentina (Sarpagandhi) is a plant known to sages for its properties in treating blood pressure. It is widely marketed now after its rediscovery. Because of this over-exploitation, the plant is listed as ‘endangered'. Pictured below is the Rauvolfia (also spelt with a 'v').
No kitchen shelf goes without a little bottle of black pepper and turmeric (also in powder form). Turmeric goes by the botanical name Curcuma longa and black pepper is Piper nigrum. Many people grow these in their gardens, but basil (Ocimum) is not widely grown (except for one or two that are kept in a special pot for worship in Hindu homes and apartments.) The decoction made from basil, pepper and turmeric is ambrosia for common viral fever. The Basil is well-known for its effectiveness on the respiratory tract hence it is recommended for preventing Swine Flu that is afflicting people in many countries now. The Basil produces oxygen both during day and night. It was for this reason (which again, the sages knew and is recommended in the scriptures and Hindu practices that women offer worship to this plant every morning - women in olden days stayed indoors doing chores and their need of oxygen was met by this.) Basil is a source of zinc, which is beneficial for brain function. 'Holy' is prefixed to Basil because it is held in such high esteem and that is why it is kept in an elevated container and considered as sacred. Here is my friend's blog containing some more useful information.
Garlic consumption in whatever way food is prepared is beneficial for allergies, joint pains and heart ailments. It is also renown for its cholesterol controlling/reducing properties.
Acorus calamus (Baje or Vaacha in local vernacular) is a humble plant known to rural folk for long as an immunity enhancer against many infections and for its wormicidal property.
Coconut water, especially from tender fruit, is a time-honoured source of electrolytes and energy for exhaustion and fatigue. It is also a diuretic and has sometimes been used as an intravenous solution as glucose is in its purest form. This is a picture taken by the roadside in our city where selling tender coconuts which are chopped open with a sickle to passing customers to drink on the spot. This is a very popular drink here in the tropics.
Consuming two white flowers of Catharanthus roseus every day helps in regulating blood sugar level. Coleus ambonicus is good for allergies and banana stem rind is beneficial in dealing with kidney stones. Ruta graveolens leaves are effective in treating viral fever, cough and phlegm while its root extracts are beneficial for muscular pain.
Lawsonia, (henna) a humble shrub, is traditionally used for skin problems while it is also a good cosmetic. "Mehndi" is popular for decorating. Alpinia is useful in joint pains. Aloe vera is a renown remedy for gynaecological problems and eye infections. It can be a fine substitute for shaving cream too! Root of Decalpis hamiltonii (known as maakali beru locally) is a good source of polyphenols that protect us form intestinal discomfort while the root also makes a fine pickle especially with raw tamarind juice and amla, which is a speciality!
Sauropus is a rich source of vitamins and is getting to be known as "vitamin plant," and has recently come to light as such. It is so easy to grow in gardens and also has attractive foliage.
Our rural folk even with rudimentary knowledge of healthcare not only believed in robust health but also followed an unostentatious lifestyle. But nowadays due to indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on food crops, they are facing unprecedented health problems whose fallout can affect successive generations also.
These groups proved the value of inter-cropping of a major crop with another in their fields. As an example, they might place one garlic with ten tomato plants, or one mustard plant with ten cabbage plants.
In ancient Hindu scriptures, several types of gardens and raising of certain plants for prevention and cure of many psychosomatic diseases have been mentioned. In Hindu religious practices, some plants are worshipped and all of them have one medicinal value or other. The Buddha receive enlightenment by meditating for protracted periods under a tree called Bodhi Vriksha, which is nothing but a pipal tree.
In India it is well known that women aspiring to beget children following marriage are advised as a tradition to go round the trunk of this tree in the prescribed manner. The subtle energies around it is believed to enhance conception chances. Holy water offered to devotees in temples is known to energize the body and mind (camphor and Basil leaves are added). It is offered to the devotee by uttering a sacred mantra whose vibrations have healing effects. (Many of these things that the sages and scriptures recommended may centuries ago, are getting proved by science, slowly.) Saraca asoca (Ashoka tree) Polyalthea is often confused with this, but its bark is also useful. These are just a few to mention.
The sages relied on their long experience and close observation to prescribe planting different species of plants in a specific order. They also recommend plants in the garden according to one's birth star under the Zodiac signs.
There are two sides to the quality of plants that are known to be of value in healthcare. One side marks the beneficial effects and the other reflects the presence of certain toxic compounds. Processing plant materials to redeem them of their toxicity is a critical step in preparing different products suitable for consumption. Practitioners of Ayurveda system of healthcare meticulously follow the prescribed methods.
Here are some articles for more reading:
Naturopathy (Nature cure) is becoming popular as of late.
Homeopathy, which also uses many plants for preparation of 'remedies' (remedies undergo a process called 'potentization') is also popular.
Some food for thought:
When food and living habits are good, remedy is unnecessary.
When food and living habits are no good, remedy is useless.
So let's grow those 'home doctors'!
Important disclaimer: The information contained in this article is provided for your general information only. The author is not attempting to give medical advice or engage in the practice of medicine. You should consult your physician or local treatment center before pursuing any course of treatment.