Ther­a­peu­tic weed

Karisalankanni is a medic­i­nal weed found across the world MEENAKSHI SUSHMA

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The Karisalakanni plant, de­spite be­ing a weed, has medic­i­nal prop­er­ties

KARISALANKANNI (Eclipta pros­trata) finds men­tion in L G Holm’s 1977 book, World’s Worst Weeds: Dis­tri­bu­tion and Bi­ol­ogy. It is a wor­thy con­tender, hav­ing the abil­ity to thrive among at least 17 types of crops, in­clud­ing sug­ar­cane, flax, corn, rice, taro, pa­paya, ba­nana, peanut, soy­bean and bar­ley, states the book. Na­tive to Asia, the herb spread to coun­tries like France as a con­tam­i­nant in rice seed.

Though karisalankanni is a small wild herb, grow­ing barely 8 cm, spinach-sell­ers in Chen­nai sup­ply it on de­mand. When I was young, my grand­mother would pre­pare por­riyal (a dry dish) or thogayal (a chut­ney-like prepa­ra­tion) from karisalankanni leaves. Un­like por­riyal, thogayal

is pre­pared from cooked or roasted in­gre­di­ents. It is gen­er­ally mixed with rice and served. The herb tastes bit­ter and pun­gent, but is full of medic­i­nal qual­i­ties.

Karisalakanni is con­sid­ered a pre­cious herb by Ayurveda and Sid­dha prac­ti­tion­ers. A non-ne­go­tiable in­gre­di­ent of hair oils, it is used to treat dry scalps. It is said to even cure bald­ness. This was sub­stan­ti­ated by a pa­per pub­lished in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Molec­u­lar Medicine in 2015. The pa­per said that ex­tract of the plant stim­u­lates the hair fol­li­cle and can be used to treat cer­tain types of alope­cia, a con­di­tion in which hair­less patches emerge on the head and other parts of the body.

The ben­e­fits of karisalakanni are not lim­ited to hair, though. Ac­cord­ing to the Foun­da­tion for Re­vi­tal­iza­tion of Lo­cal Health Tra­di­tions, a Bengaluru-based re­search in­sti­tute, com­mu­ni­ties across In­dia use the plant to treat fi­lar­i­a­sis, boils, wounds, headache, gid­di­ness, lack of vi­sion, in­di­ges­tion, en­large­ment of liver and spleen, jaun­dice, ab­dom­i­nal pain, cough, skin dis­eases and fever. Irula, a tribal group set­tled in the Nil­giris in the West­ern Ghats, uses the leaves to cure malaria. Malay­ali tribes of Yer­caurd hills in Salem dis­trict of Tamil Nadu cook the leaves and eat it along with boiled rice. Tribes in the Kolli hills of the East­ern Ghats in Tamil Nadu use the roots of karisalankanni to pre­pare a chut­ney that helps re­duce body heat and cure mi­graine and body ache.

Stud­ies have also found that karisalankanni is full of adap­to­genic prop­er­ties— it in­creases the body’s tol­er­ance to men­tal and phys­i­cal stress. It is rich in vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and mi­cro nu­tri­ents like sodium, mag­ne­sium, cop­per, iron, cal­cium, zinc and potas­sium.

The herb is avail­able across In­dia, at all el­e­va­tions, through­out the year. But it grows in abun­dance at the end of the mon­soon and dur­ing win­ter. It is called gara­gadas­appu in Kan­nada, bhringraj in Hindi and gala­gara in Tel­ugu.

Karisalakanni prefers a clayey soil which can store plenty of mois­ture. The herb is pan-trop­i­cal and the list of coun­tries it grows in in­cludes the US, In­done­sia, Sri Lanka, Philip­pines, Nepal, Laos, Cam­bo­dia, Pak­istan, Thai­land, Viet­nam, Malaysia and Myan­mar.

Com­mu­ni­ties across In­dia use karisalankanni to treat fi­lar­i­a­sis, boils, wounds, headache and gid­di­ness

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