Food Is Medicine For The Pulaiyar Tribe Of Tamil Nadu

Written by Satish and translated from Tamil by S. Thanaraj

The Adivasis and tribals of India have immense knowledge about the benefits of each plant, shrub and tree the forest surrounding them has. Using this knowledge, we make sure the food we consume adds more health to our life. The Pulaiyar tribe in Tamil Nadu does this too.

The Pulaiyars live in the Western Ghat hill ranges in the Udumalaipettai area of Tirupur district. They are a forest-dwelling tribal community, spread across six forest villages. The reality of these villages is quite grim. In their villages, roads, electricity, and other fundamental amenities are yet nowhere to be seen. People usually have to walk 40 kilometres towards Udumalaipettai to buy even the basic necessities. In this condition, where medicines are not easily available and healthcare is far away, the green leafy vegetables they eat daily with their food help them stay healthy and keep them from diseases.

Pottikkirai (Black Night Shade)

This is a green leaf considered as one of the nutrient-dense vegetables, with many nutritional values. It is collected by the Pulaiyar women in the mornings and evenings. It is cooked by boiling in water, adding salt and cooked with pearl onion and pepper and seasoned in oil. The peapods are also cooked as broth.

Poosanikeerai (Pumpkin Leaves)

Tender pumpkin leaves are washed in water and chopped into small pieces and eaten. Besides, it is also added to the broth. These leaves have been known to have many health benefits, with healthy amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and iron in them. Their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are also said to fight cancer.

Kudanlangeerai (Gherkins Leaves)

Tender leaves of Kudalangeerai are cut into small pieces and added to onion and pepper and cooked in oil. They are known to be high in nutrients and good for health.

Kuppaikkeerai (Amaranthus Viridis)

Kuppaikkeerai, also known as amaranth, is widely grown in soil heaps and wastelands. It is considered to provide calcium, protein, iron and vitamins B and C and is thus helpful to boost immunity. They also act as skin cleansing agents and are used to help reduce eczema, psoriasis and rashes.

Ponnanganni (Golden Lettuce)

This is grown in plains in a moist environment and is consumed as a leafy vegetable regularly. It has significant health benefits and provides energy, protein, fat, minerals, and calcium.

Murungaik Keerai (Drumstick Leaves)

Every part of the Moringa oleifera or the miracle tree is useful food for the community. Highly nutritious leaves and young peapods are used as food. They help the functioning of respiratory system, liver and heal skin and digestive problems, among others.

Kaduguk Keerai (Green Mustard Cabbage)

This is a vitamin- and mineral-rich green leafy vegetable and is consumed regularly.  It is grown in the home garden and is cooked along with lentils. Loaded with calcium, magnesium, folic acid and vitamin K, consuming this contributes greatly to bone health.

As far as the Pulaiyar tribe is concerned, ‘food is medicine,’ is our way of living. Almost every dish we prepare has green leafy vegetables in it. Pulaiyars are well aware of the nutrient values of each and every green they consume and they don’t consume them for mere taste, but also for the value that it adds to their lives.

About the author: Satishkumar lives in the Udmalpet mountain range, in the Tirrupur district of Tamil Nadu. He is a farmer by profession and grows, ragi, beans, maize and groundnuts. In his free time, he likes to edit videos and takes care of household chores. He wants to advocate for basic amenities for his community and also wants to preserve important traditions from his community.

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