Road­side rem­edy

A common plant grow­ing in the wild in Garhwal, basingu is traded both as a medic­i­nal herb and veg­etable


Rin Garhwal OAD­SIDE GREEN­ERY al­ways mes­merises me. It can be eaten as well, as I dis­cov­ered dur­ing a visit to my aunt’s place at Bah Bazar in Deo­prayag, Ut­tarak­hand. The green-white flow­ers and twigs, a common sight on road­sides and in open ar­eas dur­ing win­ters, can be served as a veg­etable, rare and de­li­cious. Basingu ka sabzi with fin­ger mil­let cha­p­atti was my first day’s break­fast. Adathoda vasica is called basinga or basingu in Garhwal and, aroosh or adush in Hindi. The best col­lec­tion time for its leaves and in­flo­res­cence (clus­ter of flow­ers) is De­cem­ber to Fe­bru­ary.

Peo­ple in Garhwal have al­ways de­pended on wild sources for food be­cause of their re­mote lo­ca­tion, where or­gan­ised mar­kets are ab­sent. Th­ese sea­sonal vegetables are not sold in the mar­ket be­cause of their limited avail­abil­ity. In­stead, peo­ple mostly barter the plants for other daily items of use.

I no­ticed an old lady with a bag­ful of green leafy ed­i­bles com­ing to my aunt’s place ev­ery third day to barter almost a kilo of basingu leaves for a bowl of rice. I was told she goes to almost seven houses ev­ery visit to barter the wild vegetables and wild fruits based on the sea­son.It is her liveli­hood.

As my aunt told me, “Every­body at home, es­pe­cially the el­ders, are fond of this veg­etable be­cause of the warmth it gives to the body dur­ing win­ters.”

The medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of basingu have been known in In­dia and sev­eral other coun­tries for thou­sands of years. It is heav­ily traded for medic­i­nal pur­poses by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­tries and is promi­nently used in Ayurvedic, Sid­dha and Unani medicines. Fresh leaves and in­flo­res­cence of the plant are traded in herb mar­kets of Ram­na­gar and Hald­wani in Ut­tarak­hand and Khari Baoli in Delhi. Its ex­pec­to­rant prop­erty is used in the in­dige­nous sys­tem of medicine to cure chest in­fec­tions. Leaves of the bit­ter-tast­ing basingu plant ac­ti­vate the di­ges­tive en­zyme trypsin and are also fed to chil­dren suf­fer­ing from small pox and chicken pox.

The bit­ter­ness of the plant can be re­moved by boil­ing it and then keep­ing it in a bam­boo bas­ket un­der run­ning wa­ter.

Though the plant is common in Garhwal, ac­cord­ing to the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (cites),it is threat­ened by over­ex­ploita­tion for ayurvedic and ho­moeo­pathic medicines.

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