Medicinal Plants in Your Garden

Iris C F Gomes

Dr Maneesha S R, a scientist at ICAR-Central Coastal Agricultural Research Institute, enlightened the audience at the Dr Anand G Naik Kurade Memorial Seminar on home-grown herbs that can be used for healing. The seminar titled ‘Herbs, Health and Horticulture’ was held at Sanskruti Bhavan in Panjim on the 15th of February 2020.

There are many medicinal plants grown in Goa that can be used to heal health related problems. ‘Basically the aim of our lives is to be healthy and happy. I hope you won’t disagree with me… Both our minds and bodies are affected by different issues. We face different levels of stress every day. This stress becomes evident in our bodies through some sort of disorder,’ says Dr Maneesha. There are genetic and hormonal disorders, and illnesses caused due to nutrient deficiencies. Aside from these, you have diseases caused by microbes and viruses, with new threats posed by mutations, and exposure to toxic elements.

Dr Maneesha says, ‘Where should we get our health from? The hospital, or our home?’ Herbal medicines have been handed down through tradition and experience as opposed to experiment-derived modern allopathic medicines. Traditional medicines offer holistic treatment and the side effects are minimal as they act slowly compared to modern drugs. The risk in herbal medicines is that there is no extensive research done on the negative effects, therefore results may vary from person to person and may cause adverse reactions in some. The level of active ingredients differs from plant to plant depending on how they were grown. This makes quality checks difficult. There can be confusion or mix up with identical but poisonous plants, which one must be vigilant about.

‘Medicinal plants are mentioned in the Vedas. So our ancestors were using them even in those days,’ says Dr Maneesha. Active ingredients such as alkaloids, flavonoids, etc give these plants their unique medicinal properties.

Different types of tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) plants, the most common being the holy basil, have eugenol, euginal and carvacrol. These plants can be used to treat common cold, cough, fever, and respiratory problems. The plant’s leaves can be used fresh and you can also use the leaf powder, as a decoction, in steam inhalation and as a herbal tea.

The gel and juice of aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) can be used as a coolant, laxative, or moisturiser, and its antimicrobial property makes it beneficial in healing wounds and burns.

Pudina (Mentha arvensis), with its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and cooling properties can be used in curbing respiratory and digestive disorders, vomiting, and menstrual cramps with the help of mint tea or a decoction.

Paediatric ailments can be combatted with coleus (Coleus aromaticus). So also, cough, cold and fever can be eased using fresh leaves, juice, steam inhalation and poultice, thanks to the active ingredients of codeine, carvacrol and flavones.

The rhizomes of vaikhand (Acorus calamus) used as a herbal tea or just the rhizome powder can reduce indigestion in babies, depression and memory loss.

The entire plant of brahmi (Bacopa monnier) is useful as a memory enhancer, antidepressant and fights inflammation. Its active ingredients are brahmine, nicotinine, herpestine and bacosides, and it is used in the form of juice or powder.

The bitter kirayate (Andrographis paniculata) is ideal for patients of diabetes, works to heal burns and wounds, aids in recovery from fever and liver problems.

Another antidiabetic herb madhunashini (Gymnema sylvestre), is valued for its ability to bring relief to those suffering from ulcers, asthama, glycosuria, constipation and dysentery, utilising its fresh leaves, root juice, leaf juice or leaf powder.

Dr Maneesha spoke about the benefits of shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) used in urinary disorders, gynaecological problems, loss of immunity and diarrhoea; and lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) used for fever, cold, gastric issues and anxiety, as well.

Some precautions should be taken with herbs, such as using them as preventatives rather than medicines. Avoid infected, infested or contaminated plants. They need to be dried in the shade because they can lose important properties due to the effect of the sun, and they should be stored in airtight containers. When consuming these herbs, keep in mind the age and health conditions of the individual. Intake should be stopped if the person is allergic to the herb. Always see a doctor if any adverse condition persists or worsens.