My grandmothers were strong/ They followed ploughs and bent to toil/ They moved through fields sowing seed/ They touched earth and grain grew
Your grandmother had diverse concoctions, using spices from kitchen and herbs from her backyard kitchen garden, to treat your complaints of common cold, fever or headache. There was Ginger and Pepper for flu, Turmeric and Aloe Vera for skin care, Hibiscus and Henna for hair care and Pomegranate for diarrhoea. Mothers and grandmothers have been keepers of this rich local health tradition for generations, little wonder they were strong.
Kitchen garden-based medicine is still practised in few households, and there is a renewed interest especially among the urban youth on organic kitchen gardening.
A recent survey on urban flora in 44 slums of Bengaluru was jointly conducted by researchers from University of Griefswald in Germany and Azim Premji University in Bengaluru. The study reported finding the highly nutritious and medicinal drumstick tree as a commonly seen tree species amongst many and half the tree and plant species surveyed, which were of medicinal use. The practice of home remedies still is alive among the urban poor and it is important to carry forward this tradition for posterity.
People from different communities and different socio-economic backgrounds can share resources; young urban terrace gardeners and the poor from slums can exchange their ideas of food habits, kitchen garden practices to meet their nutritional and medicinal needs. This idea reinforces principle of taking health in our hands.
There are many basic medicinal plants that can be easily grown in medium-sized pots and wouldn’t take up much space. Tulasi (Holy Basil) is commonly seen in most Hindu households. Tulasi is worshipped as Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity. It saved Sathyabhama from embarrassment of selling her husband Krishna to Narada. The leaves are used for to prepare concoction or added along with tea for cough, cold and sore throat. The seeds are soaked overnight and used as addon with lemon juice and even in milkshakes such as Falooda.
Aloe Vera doesn’t require much maintenance and can also be used an indoor ornamental plant. Ondelega (Indian Penny wort) can be grown in pots as well as in small ponds along with Lilies and Lotus. It is also used as green leafy vegetable and as a medicine for memory enhancer besides for fever, haircare and such. Pudina (Peppermint), Thyme, Rosemary, Dodda Patre (Indian Borage) and lemon grass are commonly used for fever, cold and cough.
Nelanelli (Phyllanthus Niruri) is used as anti-inflammatory and for viral fever but is best known for treating jaundice. It was always part of the soolgithi (Traditional midwife)’s drug kit to treat infants suffering from jaundice.
Those who have little extra ground space in their houses can afford to have shrubs and trees. Daalimbe or pomegranate is what the French call seeded apple. The fruit seeds are thrown on a child by Parsis to ward off evil spirits. The fruits and the rind of pomegranate is an excellent anti diarrhoeal and is also used for acidity and to treat intestinal worms.
Amrithaballi (Heart leaved moonseed) is a herbaceous vine is known for increasing immunity. The dried stem is boiled in milk and consumed by the people of Malnad in Sirsi and Shimoga region during monsoons every night to prevent fevers. The leaves of Nugge mara (Drumstick tree) is a rich iron supplement besides its antifungal and deworming properties.
Amla (Indian Gooseberry) is a rich source of Vitamin C used to increase immunity. Its bark is used for treating mouth infections by the indigenous people in lower Nilgiris hills. Along with Amla, Daasawala or Hibiscus is used for hair care. The petals were used by the Europeans to polish shoes and hence the name Shoe flower.
Aromatic plants also elevate mood and freshness to the ambience. With so many benefits of having a medicinal garden, why wait to have a corner garden?
(The writer works with Sochara, a community health resource centre)