The healing fields of Kerala

At Pepper Trail in Wayanad, a one-of-its-kind medicinal plant forest is sowing prospects of good health.

Published: 20th December 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th December 2020 08:34 PM   |  A+A-

Restaurant at the Pepper Trail overlooking the coffee plantation

Express News Service

In 1932, Balaram Kurup bought a 200-acre estate in Wayanad in Kerala. He grew aromatic plants on it, and worked on extraction and export of essential oils. He was the first person in Asia to extract essential oils. There is a 150-year-old colonial bungalow inside the vast property. It was originally built by a Scottish planter, from whom Kurup bought the land. Day and night, he would experiment with all the plants available in his laboratory, calling it a day only when considerable progress was made. 

But with time, the estate fell to neglect, until a couple of years ago, when Kurup’s grandson, Anand Jayan, a third generation coffee planter, and his parents, decided to revive the area in Kurup’s memory. Called the Pepper Trail, they wanted to tap into the richness of this one-of-its-kind medicinal forest, and turn it into an oasis of tranquility, where people would be forced to slow down and take in the sublimity of the restful environment. The experiential retreat within it is a true delight. It still has the over a century old colonial bungalow, in addition to private pool villas and tree houses.

a worker tending to medicinal trees

You can sign up for bird watching, plantation tours, cycling tours, jeep safaris, cooking demonstrations, and plan visits to the brick kiln. “But we also wanted to maintain the sanctity of the place so we have just nine rooms to service guests.,” says Jayan.  Incidentally, Kerala, the hub of Ayurveda, has seen indigenous population of the region depend on traditional systems of medicine for many generations. These systems, in turn, are heavily dependent on the availability of medicinal plants. Traditional healers usually forage for plants in the surrounding countryside and forests. 

Jayan too is open to sharing the forest’s medicinal abundance for Ayurvedic formulations and other experimental purposes, but only when the right opportunity arrives. For now, his aim is to safeguard endemic species. “Rapid development has destroyed large tracts of the Western Ghats and has threatened their existence. There is an urgent need to conserve indigenous plants to save our healing traditions,” he says. A planned forestation effort has been underway. A 15-year timeline has been adopted to create a self-sustaining forest. A list of endangered medicinal plants has been drawn up.

The plants have been divided into categories such as canopy trees, shrubs, and climbers, and selected keeping in mind aspects such as sunlight and speed of growth. “The plot was marked out into zones for planting. Pathways were marked and water bodies were created for irrigation. The canopy trees are being planted first and must grow to a height of about four feet before the other plants can be planted. The rest of the planting will happen during the monsoon over the next few years,” says Jayan.

This space will eventually become a repository of native healing plants as the objective is to create a self-sustaining, healing forest that houses the widest collection of medicinal species. “We hope this will create a valuable resource and raise awareness about the need for conserving indigenous plants. We also grow all the plants used in Dashmoola, that is used in Ayurveda for digestion and gut health. It cures pain and inflammation,” says Jayan.

The medicinal forest

The project that is self-funded by the family, has seen its share of challenges. The cultivation of medicinal plants is not commercially viable. Large-scale foraging has led to dwindling availability of saplings. Erratic rainfall and high temperatures have made it harder for saplings to survive. “But the idea is not to make money. It’s to continue my grandfather’s legacy with effort and nurturing, just like he did,” says Jayan. 

Ayurvedic goodness from the forest
• Ashwagandha: Helps in managing stress 
• Boswellia: Reduces inflammation
• Triphala: A natural laxative
• Brahmi: Improves attention and memory
• Cumin: Aaids digestion
• Turmeric: Has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
• Licorice root: Helps fight viruses and bacteria
• Gotu kola: Reduces anxiety disorder and depression 
• Bitter melon: Helps lower blood sugar levels 
• Cardamom: Reduces blood pressure

This space will eventually become a repository of native healing  plants as the objective is to create a self-sustaining, healing forest that houses the widest collection of medicinal species.


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