Athimadhuram from Western Himalayas; Maramanjal from the Western Ghats; Rudraksha from Assam—these are not the species that you usually associate with the greenscape of Bengaluru, the garden city known for the pastel prettiness of its Jacaranda trees or Pink Trumpet flowers. But find these and more in Amruth Herbal Gardens—on two campuses in Yelahanka—as part of an experiment shining the spotlight on ethnomedicinal plants to make herbal gardening fashionable.
In July, when the garden found a sample of Ceropegia spiralis, a small herb endemic to peninsular India, from Chitradurga district of Karnataka, it was a moment of pride for them. For, the herb has been classified ‘rare’ in the Red Data Book of Indian Plants, which lists endangered, vulnerable and rare plant species. “The tubers of this plant are delicious, and are used to make health tonics,” says Ganesh Babu NM, the botanist who initiated and developed the garden. And if you are a plant enthusiast, you can make these herbal plants a part of your home and office spaces. The garden that has at least 125 rare species sells around two lakh saplings every year, with an average buy going for `20.
This initiative took root from the public awareness campaigns organised in the 90s by the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions. “We would distribute saplings of common herbal plants to our local community to treat in case of primary health complaints like cold and cough. But we would later find that these plants were kept under sun shades or in balconies because people thought medicinal plants would spoil the garden’s look,” says the 43-year-old.
But Amruth Gardens succeeded in demonstrating that medicinal gardens can be aesthetically appealing. The first garden was established in the University of Trans Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology promoted by the foundation, when it moved to a new campus in 2001. Later in 2012, another garden was developed in the foundation’s hospital, the Institute of Ayurveda and Integrated Medicine.And their efforts have clearly paid off. What was once a land cultivated with only Eucalyptus is now a garden landscaped with over 1,600 medicinal plants according to the traditional medicine systems—Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopathy. “We have documented 104 species of butterflies, including the rare peacock butterfly, and 60 bird species,” Babu says.
To keep the biodiversity intact, the campus keeps away from chemical fertilisers and insecticides, he explains. The garden that in its initial years made less than `20,000 a year now rakes in `1 lakh a day in the sowing season, says Babu, a Senior Research Officer who heads the Centre for Herbal and Landscaping Designs, formed in 2008.Sapling distribution at government schools is still a regular affair, but Babu believes, “Anything given free is not valued, so there is a need to make people, especially kids,
more aware.”For this, they have a twice-a-day informative walks for those interested, and many college students attend them.
The garden has been segregated into 45 layouts, with sections dedicated for plants used for hair and skin care, oil and aromatic plants, plants for animal care, and plants of sacred value. The idea of the ethnomedicinal garden has grown beyond the campus, thanks to the landscaping services for medicinal plants offered here. “Landscape architects tell us their requirement and we suggest medicinal plants, instead of ornamental ones,” he says.The Centre has landscaped over 100 medicinal gardens across the country, and has helped create over 2,00,000 herbal home gardens and aspires to create many more.