Waking up in the morning and going to bed at night is a part of our biology- we follow the circadian rhythm. Everyone has some sort of a morning ritual. While it looked quite different in the olden days, our days now usually start by looking at our phones. Some of us, however, do what we used to do when we were kids- we brush our teeth first thing in the morning. The teeth cleaning process usually involves using a highly-marketed toothpaste and toothbrush, approved and recommended by dentists (who are actors).
You must also be familiar with people who use twigs to clean their teeth instead. This is happening even today, in my village in Jharkhand. A twig is a small tiny branch of a tree which is plucked and the end part of the twig is chewed until it shreds into bristles. Then the twig can be used to gently brush teeth, just like one does with a conventional toothbrush. The twig is very well known as “datun” among non-Adivasis, but in the Ho Adivasi community it is known as “kaarkad.”
Twigs are preferred over toothbrushes because they are naturally packed with medicinal properties. Twigs from almost any tree or plant can be used for brushing, but there are six common tree twigs that are used by the Adivasis in my Ho community, each with its own set of benefits:
Lim is the neem tree which can be found in the courtyard of almost every Adivasi family in the village. Neem is known as the king of twigs. This bitter-tasting twig is known as man’s favourite datun. Most of its benefits are globally recognised and well-known, but some of them are yet to be determined.
Brushing with neem everyday whitens teeth, makes the gums stronger and prevents bad breath. Moreover, neem also takes good care of the skin, is good for the stomach and helps prevent fever. To extract the most benefits from neem, it is recommended to drink the juice, empty stomach, while chewing it. However, there is a warning given to people using neem twigs, that their continuous use can cause infertility.
Sarjom, famously known as Saal (Shorea Robusta) is considered as a holy tree and is worshipped by the Adivasis. The Adivasis possess immense gratitude towards the tree as it provides them with saal leaves, which are used to make plates and also twigs.
The saal twig is very commonly available and is one of the highest-selling twigs in the market. People love Sarjom because of its sweet taste. Swallowing its juice while chewing it is known to help with proper digestion. The other benefit includes gum strengthening and teeth whitening.
If Neem is the king of twigs, Koronjo is the queen.
Koronjo, also known as Karanj in Hindi, is known to help prevent cavities and get rid of bad breath. Swallowing its juice helps keep the skin healthy and prevents skin problems like scabies. Koronjo kaarkad is one of the highest-selling datuns in the market, along with Neem and Sarjom. Koronjo trees, however, are relatively less in number compared to Neem and Sarjom.
Madkam is the Mahua tree from which the Mahua drink is prepared. Mahua is a natural alcoholic drink, however, the drink is banned by the Government due to the high consumption rate and easy access.
The Makdam datun is widely used by the Adivasis. The speciality of the Madkam twig is that if anyone uses it daily, it will make their gums healthy and strong and it prevents teeth from falling even among aged people. There is a saying in my village that goes “Chew the madkam everyday and you can chew even stones.”
Gada literally means river. Gada Hatna likes to grow near rivers, small streams or any water bodies. The daily use of the twig of this tree helps proper blood circulation and builds up the immune system. Gada Hatna is a twig famous among married couples. It is known to contribute towards a healthy sex life, improving libido and sexual function.
Totka Bindi is a plant which is not as commonly available as the other twig trees. It is not a regularly used twig, but is used whenever Adivasis suffer from oral problems like bleeding gums or toothache. Totka bindi twigs are used as medicine for instant relief and they also help cure swollen gums. Swallowing a little juice on an empty stomach while chewing it is also known to cure stomach ulcers.
Adivasis have been living in the forest for thousands of years and are experts in natural medication not just for oral problems, but a myriad of other health problems. The information I have shared is based on what villagers believe and have experienced while using the twigs for generations.
The best way to avail the benefits that my community enjoys is to plant a tree in their courtyard. Whether you believe in and/or use the tree for its health benefits or not, your future generations will definitely enjoy them.