Power herb

From en­hanc­ing mem­ory to cur­ing le­prosy, headache and cough, the thalkudi is a won­der plant, writes

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - R C MISRA

Thalkudi, the In­dian pen­ny­wort, has a va­ri­ety of medic­i­nal as well as culi­nary uses

Dex­plo­ration sur­vey UR­ING AN in the tribal belts of the Eastern Ghats and north­ern plateau zone of Odisha,I came across a group of women col­lect­ing leaves of the thalkudi plant from wild habi­tats. When I en­quired, I was told they use the leaves for sup­ple­ment­ing food items.But the story of thalkudi is a much ex­ten­sive one.

Thalkudi ( Cen­tella asi­at­ica), the In­dian pen­ny­wort, is a stolonif­er­ous peren­nial herb, com­monly found as a weed in sandy or clayey soils of marshy waste places, ditches, river banks and low wet ar­eas.It be­longs to the fam­ily Api­aceae and is na­tive to coun­tries in Asia, in­clud­ing In­dia, China and Malaysia.The plant is char­ac­terised by creep­ing green and red­dish green sto- lons; its leaves are roughly kid­ney-shaped; its flow­ers are pink or white in fas­ci­cled um­bels — flower stalks arise from a com­mon point.

It has dif­fer­ent names– thalkudi in Odia, saraswataku in Tel­ugu, val­larai in Tamil, von­de­laga in Kan­nada, ku­dan­gal in Malay­alam, tholkuri in Ben­gali, man­imuni in As­samese, pe­ruk in Ma­nipuri, brahmi in Marathi, brah­mi­booti in Hindi, man­dooka­parni in San­skrit and gotu kala in Sin­hala.

In­dige­nous in­ter­pre­ta­tions

The tribal and ru­ral peo­ple of Odisha use the leaves for var­i­ous food items such as sag, curry, chut­ney, cake, sher­bet, herbal tea, and even as an ad­di­tive to liquor. The tribal groups of Kha­dia and Mankir­dia liv­ing in the Sim­ili­pal

Bio­sphere Re­serve call this plant benga sag. The leaves in­clud­ing peti­ole are chopped and added with veg­eta­bles like pump­kin, brin­jal, tomato and gar­lic and cooked as sag. It is also con­sumed as pi­tha or cheka bhaja— rounded flat cakes pre­pared on a pan by fry­ing the shred­ded leaves with rice/gram flour and salt.

How­ever, the Don­gria Kondh, a tribe in Niyam­giri hills in Rayagada dis­trict, Odisha, call the plant dhuna kucha and cook the leaves with mus­tard, chilly and prawn, and con­sume it as a curry. This dish is also served in so­cial func­tions. Rama Wadaka and Peju Padraka res­i­dents of Kha­juri vil­lage re­veal that fresh leaves of dhuna kucha are added in sadapa mada, lo­cally pre­pared palm liquor, to en­hance its taste and flavour.

The Kolha and San­thals of Mayurb­hanj dis­trict call it chake­dopaah and pre­pare a chut­ney with the leaves,which is a com­mon dish among ru­ral and tribal in­hab­i­tants. They con­sume this chut­ney along with their morn­ing meal of pakhala (wa­tered rice) be­fore go­ing for work (see recipe: ‘ Thalkudi chut­ney’). Shri Ram Janka and Khudi­ram Hem­bram, tra­di­tional med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers of the Kolha tribe, treat pa­tients by pre­scrib­ing two to three raw leaves per day, which helps en­hance mem­ory and check tremor among el­derly pa­tients.

Thalkudi is also used to pre­pare herbal tea–a cup of boiled le­mon tea is poured over fresh or dried leaves al­low­ing it to brew a few min­utes. The leaves of tulsi ( Oci­mum sanc­tum) can be blended along with thalkudi to en­hance the flavour.The herbal tea is con­sid­ered to have an­tiox­i­dant prop­er­ties, states V Naithani, in a pa­per pub­lished in Food Re­search In­ter­na­tional in 2006.

The herbal thalkudi sher­bet is pre­pared by grind­ing the leaves and adding sugar or misiri (sugar candy) or salt along with small pieces of le­mon and served as a sum­mer drink. It has been proved that ap­pre­cia­ble amount of phy­to­chem­i­cals such as asi­ati­co­side, made­cas­so­side and polyphe­nol com­pounds present in the leaves are a good source of an­tiox­i­dants, states a re­search by S Kormin for Malaysia Univer­sity in 2005.Fresh juice is bet­ter than the pro­cessed juice, as it con­tains higher to­tal con­cen­tra­tion of volatile com­pounds, says a study in 2005 by P Wongthum in Food Chem­istry, a jour­nal.

Thalkudi is used as a leafy green in Sri Lankan cui­sine too. In Viet­nam and Thai­land, the leaf is used for sal­ads or to pre­pare a drink.In Bangladesh,the leaves are mashed and eaten with rice.

Medic­i­nal wealth

In an­cient times, thalkudi was re­garded as the most spir­i­tual of all herbs and was used by yo­gis to im­prove med­i­ta­tion. It is said to help de­velop the ‘crown chakra’, the energy cen­tre on the top of the head, as well as bal­ance the right and left hemi­spheres of the brain, as the leaf re­sem­bles. Thalkudi is highly val­ued in the in­dige­nous sys­tem of medicine. Asi­ati­co­side, a gly­co­side, iso­lated from this plant, is use­ful in the treat­ment of le­prosy and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, says the Wealth of In­dia, a doc­u­ment by the Coun­cil of Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search.

The plant ex­tracts have also been used in Chi­nese medicine as a brain tonic and to com­bat stress and de­pres­sion.It also en­er­gises men­tal pow­ers, and strength­ens the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. The mi­cronu­tri­ents in the ex­tract pre­vent brain age­ing and are ef­fec­tive for im­provinng con­cen­tra­tion power and re­vi­tal­is­ing the brain, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies by R H Singh ( Biogeron­tol­ogy, 2008) and by M Su­bathra ( Ex­per­i­men­tal Geron­tol­ogy, 2005). Phar­ma­co­log­i­cal and clin­i­cal tri­als also re­veal the leaves can change the be­hav­ior of men­tally-chal­lenged chil­dren.

A cold poul­tice of the fresh herb is used ex­ter­nally in rheuma­tism, ele­phan­ti­a­sis and hy­dro­cele. The leaf juice with palm jag­gery is given to women as a tonic af­ter child­birth. The leaf juice is rubbed on the fore­head to cure se­vere headache.The leaf syrup with ginger and black pep­per is used to treat cough. As a tonic, it is used to treat bron­chi­tis, asthma, gas­tric catarrh, leu­c­or­rhea, kid­ney trou­bles and dropsy.

Though no neg­a­tive ef­fects have been re­ported, it may cause mis­car­riage if it is con­sumed dur­ing preg­nancy. It may raise choles­terol and blood sugar lev­els, so it should be avoided by di­a­bet­ics and those with high choles­terol.

The au­thor is a se­nior sci­en­tist with ICAR-Na­tional Bureau of Plant Ge­netic

Re­sources, Cut­tack

RC MISRA

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