The World of Curcuma

Five years back when I came to know about black turmeric (Curcuma Caseia) I tried acquiring them, considering it as exotic. Ultimately I was able to contact a trader in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) who traded in seeds and plant materials supplying them to institutions here and abroad. He sent me rhizomes of black turmeric but charged me a bomb: Rs 1200 for a kilo. The price was really steep as rhizomes of the regular turmeric variety were available for Rs 50 a kg. I knew I was paying for its exotic value like the way collectors pay for rare editions of Amar Chitra Katha comic. Rather than bear the cost individually, I shared some with my fellow farm owners who are equally crazy. Presently Black Turmeric is on the verge of extinction because of deforestation, unfavourable climatic changes, over exploitation and bio-piracy.

Black Turmeric In My Orchard

Over the years the volume of black turmeric with their bluish-black rhizomes in my orchard has increased several times. Sadly, I have not been able to get a buyer though initially I had been was told that Ayurvedic pharmacies could be my potential buyers. Come rains the rhizomes get a new life as leaves sprouts after being in hibernation for several months. One can identify black turmeric by the leaves as its middle is striped in black. 

Curcuma Caesia

Having been a host to three varieties of turmeric, namely Curcuma Longa, Curcuma Aamada, and  Curcuma Caesia  I have recently added Curcuma Zedoaria or white haldi in my orchard, thanks to a friend from Midnapore who sent me a handful of them. It’s native to India and Indonesia. In West Bengal, it’s known as Pala or Soty (also its Sanskrit name) and its powder which looks like maida is available for Rs 600 a kg. Those growing in villages of West Bengal in the 60s and 70s may have consumed it, given by their mothers or grandmothers, to soothe their troubled tummy or to bring down their fever.  Once harvested the rhizome is grated, soaked in water overnight, dried in the sun and pounded to make powder. In Maharashtra, it’s known as Pandhra Halad and its paste used to relieve fevers.  

Wild Turmeric Flowers. Courtesy

Curcuma Zedoaria is often confused with Curcuma Aamada or Mango Ginger used in making pickles in south India and chutneys in north India. A rare herb, white turmeric is considered to be healthy, much like yellow turmeric. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that keep you from any digestive or respiratory issues.

Though I have not planted them I have a couple of Curcuma Aromatica or Wild Turmeric plants growing in my orchard which sprout flowers in mid-July—pinkish-white with an orange lip. Leaves appear after the flower. I bring the flowers home and use the same as cut-flower for they have a good vase life, at times 10 days or more.

I have travelled with yellow turmeric powder grown in my orchard during assignments abroad and introducing it to the locals. I was in for a surprise when during my stay in a bed and breakfast facility owned by a pastor and his wife in Basel I was shown a bottle of turmeric powder with Kurkuma written on its label, that’s haldi in German. He unscrewed the glass bottle which merely contained 150g of it as if he was revealing something precious. No, he didn’t use it in his food as we Indians do. For him it was a precious medicinal herb, of which he took a tiny spoonful adding it to warm milk with pinch of black pepper every night before going to bed.

Searching for Weeds

The earth has dried up but is not parched as such, because of the morning dew which ushers in the moisture every day. Rains are a two-month-old memory now for it has been that long since the monsoon receded. Now, it’s opportune moment to watch for plants and flowers you’ve not been familiar with but which have taken home in the soil.


Like the two plants, I found last week. For me, they were weeds–a plant in the wrong place is called so. But then there are soil scientists who believe that weeds arrive or sprout to take care of the soil’s deficiency. And in their own way add nutrition which the soil till recently lacked. Well, that’s the way I too think. For I’ve never sprayed pesticides to exterminate the termites which are plenty on my soil. In fact, I’ve created a congenial environment for them. Come the second week of October when the soil is still moist having received incessant downpour beginning mid-June they start chomping on the twigs and branches strewn all around. They begin covering the twig/branch with a thin film of soil creating a cocoon and slowly as the days advance it chews it away and soon thereafter the dust joins the soil.

When I found two alien plants I clicked them with my phone and sent it my botanist friend, Ajit Gokhale.

tridex procumbance
Tridax procumbens

The tiny flowering plants he identified as Tridax procumbens, also called coat buttons. The flowers are bulbous and easily snappable with long delicate stalks. Its Hindi name is Khal muriya , Tal muriya and Ghamra. While in Sanskrit it’s known as Jayanti veda.
One can find this plant along roadsides and attracts a lot of low flying butterflies. The leaf juice has wonderful wound healing properties. In fact, its Telugu name is Gayam which means wound.

The second plant is Anantmool (Hemidesmus Indicus). Try pulling it out from the soil and you’re likely to find that its roots are unending or anant.

It has a sweet smell and at times prostrate or semi-erect shrub. Its roots are woody and aromatic. The leaves are opposite, short-petioled, very variable and elliptic-oblong. Its flowers are greenish outside and purplish inside.

Anantmool is one of the Rasayana plants of ayurveda and has medicinal galore. It is used for venereal diseases, herpes, skin diseases, arthritis, gout, epilepsy, chronic nervous disorders, abdominal distention, debility etc. Its saponin content is considered to have a steroidal effect that enhances the production of testosterone.

Did you know that a face pack made of anantmool root powder and milk and applying can make your face bright and clear complexioned?


Ms Van Tulsi

A fortnight back Mangal had pointed me to some plants he had planted between two coconut palms. Busy digging up earthworms I had not paid much attention and had totally forgotten about them. This Sunday I came across them, reaching my knees.
“Father brought them,” he told me. “They are called Van Tulsi and fetch a good price.”
van tulsiIn order to confirm I sent a pic via wat’s ups to KM. Yes, it was van tulsi. “Where did you get it,” she asked. I promised that when it seeds in March I shall deliver them to her.
The leaves of ‘Senticom Osium’ (Van Tulsi) are pale greenish-yellow in colour. The leaves have a sweet, spicy, herbaceous and slightly campherous odor.
The extracted oil from its seeds has intensely fresh, sweet-spicy herbaceous and vibrant aroma. The oil has medicinal properties and is considered excellent tonic for treatment of nervous disorders and stress related headaches. It also assists in relieving from intellectual fatigue and giving clarity to the mind. Further, the oil also assists in relieving gout through minimised uric acid in blood.

Why Milkweeds?

Most of my schooling was done in Air Force schools (which later became Kendriya Vidyalayas) and so we were used to vast open spaces. We played cricket and gulli-danda in fields which were twice the size of Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. We never faced the ire of neighbours complaining of broken glass windows. The houses stood at the  dge of the fields and very far from where we indulged ourselves in games like ped-ka-bandar , kho-kho etc. We trudged to our school through open fields, thick with vegetation. During summers we often came across remains of snake skins which we rarely touched. Rains were the times, when we often slipped and soiled our uniforms. This was in the seventies.

I don’t know whether the present-day Cantonments have so much open spaces, as was the case in our times. We familiarized ourselves with the names of fruit trees and flowering plants during our walks. Each would come up with the name in his/her mother tongue. Some of which were really tongue twisters, and had a good laugh at their expense. At times we would try to unravel the mysteries behind those names. Some plants, we were told were friendly and some to stay away from. One such plant was Akk  (Caliotropis) which we knew as milkweed. Once you struck the branch or the leaves a milky white emerged from it.

milkweedThe milky white liquid is harmful for the eyes, my father had instructed me.

Being kids  we were curious and didn’t strike the plant with our hands but used a stick to strike a blow and enjoyed seeing the milky white liquid flowing to the ground.

A friend who visited my farm who saw an Akk plant and cautioned me from growing it around. It’s a weed and not considered auspicious, he said and plucked couple of them along with their roots.

According to It has long been used in India for abortive and suicidal purposes. The dried root freed from its outer cork layer is called Mudar and is very largely used as a treatment for elephantiasis and leprosy, and is efficacious in cases of chronic eczema, also for diarrhoea and dysentery.

It’s unlikely you’ll come across an Akk plant in your neighbourhood. At least not in city gardens or parks.  But during my recent road trip to Nimbal from Dharwad I came across Akks as tall as 10ft. growing in the courtyard of several houses.

Ever since I came to know that leaves of Akk are one of the main ingredients of an organic pesticide I have let them grow, hoping to use them some day.

monarch butterfly photoCan someone tell me: why people grow Akk in their courtyards knowing well that it’s poisonous? a lethal sap flows through the canal system of milkweed plants. But for the Monarch variety of butterfly all the others shun it.  Monarch ans its relatives  have adapted by taking these chemicals and using it become distasteful to predators.

I’m told Akk is favourite of Lord Shiva and have seen its leaves made into a garland offered to the lingam during Mahashivratri. That couldn’t be the reason of having an Akk in the courtyard! What do you say?

Hope for Dengue victims

Papaya Leaf extract can help increase blood count

Anything about plants excite me because I believe we have still to learn a lot from the plant world. Let me share my experience with papaya leaf extract.

papaya tree

Few months back I was recipient of a mail which extolled the virtues of papaya leaf extract and how it helped increase blood platelet count among victims of dengue. I was sceptical of the mail and had forgotten about it until a friend called me to say that it had really worked in the case of his cousin.

Forty plus Bengalaru resident Rajlakshmi Nair was diagnosed with dengue and admitted to Manipal Hospital  on August 28. When admitted her platelet count had dipped to 16000. She was given blood transfusion which led to the platelet jumping to 30,000. The doctors prescribed pain killer, namely Dolo 650 and Paracetamol for fever.

Rajlakshmi’s brother-in-law, a NRI from the US, who was among the many recipient of the ‘papaya leaf mail’ advised the patient’s family to give the papaya extract a try. Since there was nothing to lose, her sister decided to give it a try.

As suggested, the family members took six leaves of papaya plant and crushed to make it into balls, the size of marbles. Rajlakshmi was given the first ball next day morning along with jaggery to counter the bitterness of the extract. By evening her platelets had shot up to 50,000.  She continued taking the papaya leaf balls along jaggery during her four-day long stay in the hospital. During this period she was not given any more blood transfusion. Discharged and recuperating at home Rajlakshmi continued taking one ball of papaya leaf extract for the next four days. At the end of eight days her platelet count  had reached  6.40 lakh giving credence to the fact that papaya leaf extract really worked on dengue victims.

In parts of the world papaya leaves are made into tea as a preventative for  malaria, though there is no real scientific evidence for the effectiveness of this treatment

Researchers have found that papaya leaf extract can be effective against various tumors and can be used as a traditional medicine.

Nam Dang, a researcher from the University of Florida and his colleague from Japan documented the anti-cancer effects of papaya against cervical tumors, breast, liver and pancreas. This research’s report has also been published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

The researchers used extracts made from dried papaya leaves and found the resulting effects can be more powerful. Dang and other scientists showed that the papaya leaf extract could increase the production of a key signal molecule called TH1 type cytokines, these molecules help regulate the body’s immune system.

“This could be a maintenance therapy to fight cancer cells by increasing the body’s immune system,” researchers said in the journal, which was released last February, as quoted from AFP, (10/3/2010).

Scientists said that papaya leaf extract has no toxic effect on normal cells, this of course can avoid the side effects which generally always occur in some cancer treatments.

Researchers used 10 types of cancer cells with a variety of different 4 papaya leaf extract and measure the effects after being given papaya leaf extract for 24 hours. The results show that papaya leaf extract can slow the growth of cancer cells. Clinical trials need to be carried now. If the research is successful, it will create a new treatment to fight cancer cells by using traditional materials. Some of Papaya leaf’s constituents include the fermenting agent myrosin, alkaloids, rutin, resin, tannins, carpaine, dehydrocarpaines, pseudocarpaine, flavonols, benzylglucosinolate, linalool, malic acid, methyl salicylate, another enzyme, chymopapain (latex and exudate), calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, beta-carotene, B-vitamins and vitamins A, C and E

Recipe for making extract:

  • Wash and partly dry several medium-size papaya leaves. Cut them up like cabbage and place them in a saucepan with 2 quarts/ litres of water. Bring the water and leaves to the boil and simmer without a lid until the water is reduced by half.
  • Strain the liquid and bottle in glass containers. You can keep the concentrate in the refrigerator for three to four days. If it becomes cloudy, it should be discarded.
  • The recommended dosage in the original recipe is 3 Tablespoons/ 50ml three times a day.

An encounter with a babu

Briefly: An encounter with a babu in National Medicinal Plants Board was enough to discourage me

Lately National Medicinal Plants Board has been buying space in newspapers to inform readers about different schemes to support cultivation of medicinal plants. In fact, the Board through its State agencies gives ample subsidies to farmers who are willing to take up cultivation of medicinal plants.

Being a Sunday farmer I thought why not? And so called up the board number of NMPB and tried speaking to the CEO. The man who picked up informed me, “Sahaab Bahar gaye hain.” Before I could ask whether I could speak to someone lower in the hierarchy, he had put the phone down.

I was not willing to give up, so I called up the number again and having got the names of other officials (thanks to its website) I just asked for one Dr Rawat.

I introduced myself and asked him for guidance.

“Sir one acre plot is too less for commercial cultivation,” he said.

That was enough to discourage me but I persisted.

He came up with an idea, which he might have thought was very brilliant. “Your plot is closer to Mumbai where the rates are very high. Why don’t you make it a nature park grow medicinal plants and herbs and invite people? You can tie up with a local hotel or resort so that you will get regular visitors,” he suggested.

I asked, “If I planted stevia.”

“That will not be commercially viable,” he stated. “You will not get more than Rs 20 per kilo.”

Dr Rawat was not aware that leaves of stevia are available for Rs 300 onwards per kg.

I said thanks and called up my friend, Jitendar and asked him to get me some info on stevia through his contacts in Benaras Hindu University.

Ten minutes later Jitendar was on the phone. “Areey Yar. A friend who grows stevia in Benaras sells its leaves for Rs 500 a kg. though he gave me the same for my pharmacy work for Rs 250,” he said adding. “For one kilo seeds he is asking for Rs 8000 though we can negotiate.”