He is no greenhorn when it comes to herbs. Its a grand obsession with Gigo Kurien, who owns a 1.5 acre herbarium in interior Kottayam district, Kerala. He is known to stop in the middle of heavy rain upon spotting a rare herb on the way to his herb garden at Peruva, 32 km from Kottayam city. The the 42-year-old Kurien’s green obsession has led him to collect more than 350 medicinal herbs, some of which had completely disappeared from the verdant Kerala countryside.
“Herbs of various kinds including the common Indian borage and the rare miracle fruit cover every inch of my land,” says Kurien, who was a mechanical engineer in Saudi Arabia before returning home. Back in the idyllic landscape of his homeland rekindled his interest in medicinal plants.
“I was captivated with them since childhood when my mother used herbs to treat ailments like cuts and colds. However, I began to collect herbs only in the past 10 years.”
Kurien feels that many valuable plants are fast disappearing, because soil is damaged by weedicides and the after-effects of urbanisation. Such negative factors propelled him to start conserving them. “Many of the plants used in the preparation of ayurvedic preparations can rarely be found now. In the past, one simply had to step out of the house to find these herbs and plants that grew abundantly everywhere. They can even treat ailments such as kidney stones,” he says.
Among the many plants in Kurien’s herbarium is a miracle herb that can cure burns. “Garuda pacha or the resurrection plant works like magic on burns. Make a paste of its leaves and apply it to the burn; the result is astonishing. Recently hot oil fell on my hand which got burned. An application of the Garuda pacha leaf paste healed the injury completely. There is not even a burn mark showing,” he says.
Another miracle plant is Bitter Grape, which is used in the treatment of diabetes. “But it is extremely rare and very costly. A small length of the plant cutting goes for around `2,000. The same is the case with amrutham, a herb that is part of an ayruvedic medicine administered to diabetic patients,” says Kurien.
The positive aspect of herbal medicines is the absence of side effects unlike allopathic drugs. “Modern medicine depends a lot on chemicals which could have adverse effects on the body even though they can cure diseases quickly, unlike ayurveda,” says the amateur herbalist. Ginseng, Snake Jasmine and Stevia are some other plants that are effective in controlling blood sugar levels, he adds. Also part of Kurien’s favourite medicinal herb list are Banana on Rocks and Arrowroot. “Arrowroot heals cuts quickly. Banana on Rocks is used to treat kidney problems, urinary retentions and menstrual disorders,” he says.
The diverse landscape of Kerala is not the only source of Kurien’s plant collection. He has brought back exotic herbs from the farway Himalayas. The herbalist also owns an orchard in Peruva in which over 60 exotic and native fruit trees grow. “I also have a passion for exotic fruit trees. Some of them have been brought in from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia,” he says. The fruits of Kurien’s labour, herbs, are part of a fading healing tradition he is trying to protect.