Little Dino was as normal as any eight-year-old would be. Playful, mischievous, up to endless tricks and accident-prone too. Nicks, cuts, scrapes and gashes are part of his daily routine. One typical day while playing with friends he tumbled down a concrete slope and badly hurt himself. Deep gashes and blood were all over his knees, tears streamed down his cheeks.
His mother was calm. She crushed a few leaves of an abundantly growing weed - ‘bat iong’, the chaff flower (Eupatorium adenophorum) - applied them to the wounds, and bandaged the knees with strips of cloth. The bleeding and burning stopped almost instantaneously. Dino was back to his well-being the next day.
Such cures are traditional, handed down from generation to generation. The biggest advantage of traditional cures is their easy reach for people and the minimal costs, besides their almost instantaneous results. This may be one reason why about 80% of the world’s population still repose faith in traditional medicine.
Modern medical care has made enormous strides but costs are enormous too. Besides longer periods of treatment, the cures may come along with serious side-effects. Still, recovery may not be complete. The mental strain and financial drain often deliver a telling effect on patient and caregiver alike.
Traditional healing, however, has no extensive pathological tests, no complicated operations involved, little or no hospital stays and no prolonged treatment tenures. Costs can be as little as 80% less than normal hospital expenses. Diagnoses are quick and sure. Some healers are so adept, sometimes zeroing in on the problems with just a look at the patients’ foreheads, their nails or feeling their fingertips.
Herbs and Plants for External Cures
Traditional healing is not only about internal medicine. Many herbs are effective for external applications too. Years ago there was a case of a man brought in to the Civil Hospital in Shillong with an all but severed foot. He was chopping wood when the axe’s blade accidentally flew off the handle and fell on his ankle leaving a deep gash that cut through the tibia and fibula.
The doctors naturally suggested amputation. The man’s relatives declined and returned to their village. There a traditional healer treated him, setting the bones, muscles and tendons in place with bamboo strips, and applying traditional herbs. Three months later the same man walked again with almost no limp. Had he submitted to amputation one foot would have reduced to a stump and his movement supported with crutches?
An amazing 834 plants with medicinal properties are on record in Meghalaya alone! Many are used externally. Let's dive in to learn more about them.
Herbs and Plants Traditionally Used to Cure Common Ailments
The following is a small list of the herbs/plants healers traditionally use to cure common ailments:
1. Chaff Flower
Local Name: Sohbyrthit Scientific Name: Adenostemma lavenia Part use: Leaves, crushed into paste Treatment for: Cuts and wounds, bites of insects, bugs and caterpillars
2. Goat Weed
Local Name: Bat myngai Scientific Name: Ageratum conyzoides L Part use: Leaves, crushed into paste Treatment for: Cuts and wounds
Local Name: Rynsun Scientific Name: Allium sativum L Part use: Bulbs, fried in mustard oil and massaged, Raw bulb Treatment for: Cough in newborns, mouth sores
4. Bitter Gourd
Local Name: Karela Scientific Name: Momordica charantia L Part use: Leaves, crushed Treatment for: Rabies, rheumatic pain
5. Dodder Plant
Local Name: Jama Scientific Name: Cuscuta reflexa Roxb Part use: Whole Plant, crushed Treatment for: Premature hair fall, greying of hair, dandruff
6. Tobacco Leaf
Local Name: Dumasla Scientific Name: Nicotiana tabaeccum Viv Part use: Whole plant, grounded Treatment for: Skin infections
7. East Indian Glory Bower
Local Name: Jarem Scientific Name: Clerodendron colebrookianum Walp Part use: Leaves, warmed and pasted Treatment for: Rheumatism
8. Broom Grass
Local Name: Synsar Scientific Name: Thysanolaena maxima Part use: Flowers, pasted and mixed with a little-slaked lime; young stem juice Treatment for: Boils, stem juice for eye problems
Local Name: Jatung Scientific Name: Valeriana jatamansii Part use: Leaves and roots, pasted, whole plant, pasted Treatment for: Bone fractures, whole plant paste for nail diseases
10. Chameleon Plant
Local Name: Jamyrdoh Scientific Name: Houttynia Cordata Part use: Leaves, crushed Treatment for: sores and boils
11. Starry Osbeckia
Local Name: Sohlyngkthut Scientific Name: Osbeckia stellata Part use: Leaves, pasted Treatment for: Cuts and wounds, snake bites, nosebleed
12. Himalayan Yew
Local Name: Dieng ksehblei Scientific Name: Taxus baccata Part use: Leaves, pasted with ginger Treatment for: Tumors
Local Name: Khong Scientific Name: Smilax glabra Part use: Leaves, crushed and juiced, or dried and mixed with mustard oil Treatment for: Skin diseases
Local Name: Lathynrait Scientific Name: Gaultheria fragrantissima Part use: Leaves pasted Treatment for: Bone fractures, sprains
15. Bay Leaf
Local Name: Latyrpad Scientific Name: Cinnamomum tamala Part use: Leaves, fried in mustard oil Treatment for: Toothache
Phytochemicals: The Power Behind Traditional Cures
Ever wondered how do plants have medicinal properties? It is because of their phytochemical compositions. ‘Phyto’ means plant in Greek and phytochemicals, or phytonutrients, are the natural non-essential chemical compounds of plants that give them their colour, flavour, smell and taste.
Based on their chemical structure phytochemicals classify into alkaloids (morphine, piperine etc) terpenoids, Carotenes (beta-carotene, lycopene etc.) steroids, polyphenols, flavonoids, curcuminoids, Aromatic acids (capsaicin, gingerols etc), allicin, amines and thousands of other compounds. However, apart from medicinal and health benefits, phytochemicals can also release poisons and toxins.
Therefore, only experienced and knowledgeable practitioners who can distinguish a beneficial plant from a poisonous one should administer the cure.
Across communities of indigenous peoples traditional medicine continues to play a pivotal role in healing practices. According to a study the faith people place on the local health practitioners LHPs refuses to dwindle, notwithstanding modern medicine’s growing popularity and convenience. The reason lies in the irrefutable effectiveness of traditional medicines handed down generations of healers.
Emerging research increasingly points to the role ethnomedicinal plants play in providing the source of modern drugs. Health fraternity is increasingly discovering the effectiveness of traditional medicines. The vast repository of traditional medicinal knowledge now augments the effectiveness of modern drugs as well. In fact, through the application of modern technology to traditional medical knowledge, more than 50% modern drugs are now extracted from plant sources.
Traditional medicine’s potential as a preventive and curative form of treatment is thus steadily being proven. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also chalked out a strategy to assist member states to develop policies and implement action plans strengthening the role of Traditional Medicine.
Perhaps the time is not far off for the convergence of traditional and modern medicine through the application of technology. We at Zizira are continuously on the move to explore, discover and tap into Nature’s power.