Siriyanangai (Andrographis paniculata) is very bitter. Alagamma hid that well, when she gave a leaf to this correspondent to chew. The bile rose, and the bitterness lingered for an hour. "It shows you have not been bitten by a snake in the last one hour,' remarked Alagamma. A person bitten by a snake doesn't feel the bitterness of siriyanangai till the poison in the system has been neutralised.
Snake bites are very common in this region spanning the districts of Sivagangai and Dindigul in southern Tamil Nadu. A few weeks ago, Chinnamma's husband got bitten by the poisonous veriyan snake while grazing cattle. On hearing of it, she plucked a few siriyanangai leaves from the garden, and ground it with white garlic for internal consumption. She also ground periyanangai (Andrographos alata) leaves into a paste, the juice of which was applied on the wound. Within five minutes, her unconscious husband opened his eyes; an hour later, the bitter taste made him grimace, too.
From where did Chinnamma of Vijayapuram village, located in a remote corner of Sivagangai district, acquire this knowledge? Traditionally, the village used to depend on local healers during emergencies, or if time and resources permitted, the primary health centre (phc) or district hospital. Today, all they do is reach into their own backyards. The siriyanangai leaf, for instance, was plucked from Alagamma's herbal patch containing 5-6 varieties of plants with medicinal properties, which more than a lakh households in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala like to call the kitchen herbal garden (khg).
It really is so. These plants are mostly located in 10 feet by 10 feet plots, where the wastewater from the household collects, along the walls of the house or even inside unused tyres! The most common plants that are grown are sembartha (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), maradani or henna (Lawsonia inermis), siriyanangai (Andrographis paniculata), periyanangai (Andrographis alata), elambicham (citrus lemon), and adathoda (Adathoda vasica).
The women have a lot of faith in these plants. Says Selvarani of Pullampatti village in Sivagangai district, "I cured a relative who was plagued with the problem of white discharge. I ground the leaves of vallarai (Centella asiatica) with jeera, mixed it in unboiled cow's milk and gave it to her twice a day for a week.' Says V Ganesan, a sidha vaidyar (folk healer) and programme coordinator of Gandeepam, a non-governmental organization (ngo) implementing the khg programme in the region, "Low nutrition, lack of hygiene, or early marriage cause this problem and can sometimes lead to infertility. The plants have proven to be very effective'.
Part of a network Organisations like Gandeepam are part of the medicinal plants conservation network (mpcn) of the Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (frlht). About 18 ngos in three southern states have been incorporated as part of its ex situ conservation programme since 1993.
A survey by Kasthuri Chandrasekhar, president of the Dindigul mahakalasam
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