Herbs and plants that once kept the doctor away

Amazing traditional knowledge about the use of various herbs and plants for medicinal purposes helped our elders keep the doctor away.

According to a report of the Goa State Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, nature's resources can be put to varied uses from medicinal to utility items. "Wild fruits and seeds like soapnut, bibe, kayari, are used in traditional medicines," the report states.

Katekuor (aloe vera), which grows in our home gardens can be used as a panacea for various health problems. Leaves scorched over a fire can be bandaged to heal wounds. The leaves can also be used to treat intestinal problems and infections.

The leaf extract of aloe vera mixed with powdered cumin is taken in small quantities, thrice a day, to control vomiting of blood (in sea voyages). It can be used to control irregular menstruation in women, acidity in all ages, de-worming in children and as a purgative. "A paste (in gel-form) is smeared on burn injuries to reduce the burning sensation and is also used as a general facial cream," says D Jayarama Bhat, a botanist.

The study also states that bontoro, a weed which grows wild in fields, can be used as a combustive agent to start a fire at home.

Gomfol, a fruit oozing sticky gum, from the tembir tree (Diospyros embryopteris) was used as an adhesive agent for sticking labels on books or by fishermen to increase the lifespan of their nets.

A paste of the roots of sapus (Aristolochia indica) was used to curb vomitting in children. If they had an upset stomach, boiling a few leaves of ghonsvel and making them drink it would control the problem.

The roots of duksiri (Hermidesmus indicus) can be used to treat joint pains and even add flavour to feni.

Porpoto (Oldenlandia corymbosa) served as a remedy for a few ills, which included a strong concoction for fevers and jaundice. Our elders had several remedies for jaundice, including a concoction of roots of the coconut tree or separately of leaves of chivrin or ansale.

Snake bites were treated with adki or sarpagandi (Rawolfia serpentina) while a paste of leaves of jino (Leea macrophylla) can be used as an antiseptic for wounds.

A paste of adavel (Cissampelor pareira) is useful to treat sore eyes.

Unregulated development and other factors have severely impacted the continuance of traditional ways of living. "Unchecked exploitation of natural resources without proper regulation and controls has led to an alarming situation, where we are on the verge of losing much of our species' biodiversity. With changing times, much of the traditional knowledge about biodiversity is being lost as people lose touch with nature," the report concludes.