Written by M. Subalakshmi, translated from Tamil by S. Thanaraj
The forest has been a source of medicine for human beings for a long time. Nowadays, one doesn’t get to hear about it much with the easy availability of allopathy, but these medicinal practices still exist.
Among the many tribes in India that possess and utilise this rare knowledge, is the Kadar tribe that lives in the forest of Annamalai hills of Tamil Nadu. Their culture is very distinct, as is their language. As forest dwellers, they often encounter animals but are never in conflict with them. They have deep knowledge of the medicinal value of the plants, herbs and trees that grow in the jungles of their villages. The Kadar tribe resides in the villages of Villoni Nedunguntram, Udumpanparai, Kallar, and Suvarkam of Valparai town panchayat.
Villoni Nedungunram is one of the traditional Kadar villages. It was created during the British rule in India.
“This village is the biggest village among the Kadar villages, with about 63 families living here. If one has to visit our village, one has to travel 20 kilometres from Valparai by bus and then you have to walk for 5 kilometres. During this trip, there is a high possibility of an encounter with elephants! As traditional dwellers of this jungle, we know how to handle the animals and avoid conflict. We collect a variety of jungle fruits and consume them. Throughout the year, at least one kind of fruit will be available. Apart from that, we also use traditional herbs we find in the forest as medicine for any sickness”, said Sasikala, a resident of the village. She also told us about the Thuthi leaf, a leaf used as medicine in the village.
Indian mallow (Abutilon indicum) is a shrub used as a medicine to cure inner body heat and external burning during the summer. Thuthi leaf paste is made by grinding the leaves of the plant and the paste is made into small balls and mixed with buttermilk or curd and given to both children and adults alike.
As its name suggests, it is a root used for stomach related problems. It is also used as a water source.
This is a variety of the blackberry fruit. Unlike the hybrid type, this jungle fruit has high medicinal value. Eating this fruit is said to increase the count of red blood cells (RBCs) in the body. The seed of the Naval fruit, when powdered and taken with milk regularly, is also said to reduce blood sugar levels.
“Our forefathers taught us how to use herbs, shrubs, roots and other forest products for our health benefits. They used both plants and rituals to live a healthy life”, said Kumar, another resident of Villoni Nedungunram.
By applying the paste of these leaves and flowers, headaches are known to vanish.
For arthritic pain, the Kadar people boil the leaves, shoots and the roots of Mullukkeerai and drink it.
They also continue to practice and conserve these herbs and their tradition for the current and for the future generation. It is important that we realise the importance of this knowledge and help the tribals who practice it keep it from vanishing.
About the author: Subalakshmi hails from the Villoni Nedugundram settlement, near Valparai district. She belongs to the Kadar community. She’s finished her Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. Being a nature lover, she hikes and does a lot of nature-watching. She also loves to spend her free time teaching dance to the children of her community.