Medicinal plants from Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong Regions

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We’re sure, there has been a moment in most lives where our grandparents or parents, whilst wandering in the village forest,  have taken a moment to teach us young children that,” every plant on this earth can be used for something or the other; but most of the times most plants serve the purpose of providing medicine to the people”.

Having said that, my grandfather would then reach out to the leaf that he’d been staring at for so long and rub it in his palm and then squeeze it to extract a green juice that would pour down a cut on his knee saying,” this is called banmara and the juice of its leaves help you disinfect wounds and start the healing process”. So the next time we were out on a picnic in the forest, and someone would get hurt, we’d quickly disperse to look for the leaf that our grandfather told us about and then do the needful.

Having had one too many of these educational journeys with our grandfather, today we have knowledge to quite an extent, about medicinal plants of the north eastern forests let us look at a few :

  1. Banmara (crofton weed, sticky snakeroot)

Names:

The scientific name for this wildly growing weed is Ageratina adenophora and it belongs to the family Asteraceae (Compositae). With many common names, the weed is colloquially known as hemp agrimony, sticky agrimony, sticky eupatorium, Mexican devil, cat weed, white thoroughwort, crofton weed and the sticky snakeroot.

Regions that the plant can be found in:

The weed was natively found in parts of Central America and Mexico as well and later travelled to other parts of the world mostly south East Asian nations. Along with South East Asia, the weed can also be found because of the naturalization of the plant in regions such as Southern Europe, Africa, Asia, South Western USA, oceanic islands and Australia.

Banmara is a kind of weed that grows most lushly in regions that have a warmer temperature or subtropical forest regions. It can be found nearby railway tracks, roadsides, waste areas, and riparian areas. The shrub is known to grow around 2-3 meters tall and is soft stemmed. The life of the plant is long and perennial. The plant is covered with minute glandular hair that gives it the stickiness that reflects in its common names. The younger leaves and stems of the plant when young adapt a reddish, purplish hue and turn dark green as they mature.

Medicinal uses:

When plucked, the leaves give off a carrot like smell and upon rigorous rubbing in one’s palm the leaves secretes a green colored juice that contains the medicinal aspects of the plant that is commonly used for healing. Though the weed is toxic to livestock in particular horses, it is of great medicinal value to humans. Since ages, the weed and its juices have been used to disinfect a wound by washing the wound with its juice not just that it helps with blood clotting.

In north eastern regions, we take a handful of leaves in our hands rub it nicely once or twice and after applying the juice on the wound, we also cover the wound with the leaves and tie the leaves around the wound to stop excess blood from flowing for the wound. In a matter of 3 days and the regular use of Banmara, the wound starts to show signs of healing.

  1. Teeteypatey (the common mugwort)

Names:

The scientific name for this wildly growing weed is Artemisia vulgaris and it belongs to the flowering daisy family Asteraceae. With many common names, the weed is colloquially known as felon herb, riverside wormwood, chrysanthemum weed, old Uncle Henry, wild wormwood, sailor’s tobacco, naughty man, old man and St. John’s plant.

Regions that the plant can be found in:

The weed was natively found in parts of temperate Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Alaska and later travelled to other parts of the world mostly south East Asian nations. Along with South East Asia, the weed can also be found because of the naturalization of the plant in in North America.

Teetepatey is a kind of weed that grows most lushly in areas that have subtropical forest regions. It can be found nearby waste areas, weedy parts and riparial areas. The shrub is known to grow around 3-4 meters tall and is soft stemmed. The life of the plant is long and perennial. The plant is covered with minute glandular hair that are not sticky rather dry and soft as well. When plucked, the leaves give off a mint-like pungent yet fresh smell and upon rigorous rubbing in one’s palm the leaves secrete a green colored juice that contains the medicinal aspects of the plant that is commonly used for healing.

Medicinal and purification uses:

The leaves are usually used in the north east for purification purposes and religious offerings. A handful of the leaves along with the stem of the plant are burnt not just for the incense but also so that the smoke from the plant kills bacteria in the air and purifies it. Since ages, the weed and its juices have been used to disinfect a wound by washing the wound with its juice not just that it helps with blood clotting.

In north eastern regions, when one feel nauseous or dizzy or has gone through a heat stroke, the leaves of the plant is rubbed rigorously and trusted into the person’s nose so that the symptoms lessen in effect and the person regains consciousness. A few drops of the juice of the plant are fed to the person so they regain consciousness and stay awake.

In case someone is injured or wounded, we take a handful of leaves in our hands rub it nicely once or twice and after applying the juice on the wound, we also cover the wound with the leaves and tie the leaves around the wound to stop excess blood from flowing for the wound. In a matter of 3 days and the regular use of Teeteypatey, the wound starts to show signs of healing.

  1. Abijal Jhar (Asiatic pennywort)

Names:

The scientific name for this wildly growing weed is Centella asiatica and it belongs to the Apiaceae family. With many common names, the weed is known as Dhungrey Patta, Gotu kola, kodavan, Indian pennywort and Asiatic pennywort.

Regions where the plant can be found:

The weed was native to South East Asia, South Eastern US, the Indian Subcontinent and the wetland regions. If one is curious to grow this in a closed region like a home garden maybe, it is easily possible to grow this in such a setting provided the plant is watered regularly.

Abijal jhar is a kind of weed that grows in areas that are temperate and swampy or even mildly swampy. It can be found nearby swampy water lands, forest swamps and riparian areas. The shrub is known to grow around 3-4 meters tall and is soft stemmed. The life of the plant is long and perennial.

Culinary and Medicinal uses of the plant:

The plant is not just a medicinal herb but is widely used in many cultures for culinary purposes as well. In Burma, the leaves, along with the stems of the leaf in its young and tender form are used raw to make salads. In Sri Lanka, the larger more mature leaves along with the stems are used to make vegetable side dishes along with masalas which is usually called the Malluma. It is then consumed with plain rice and lentils. In Indonesia the herb is again used in the form of raw salads. The leaves are also used in countries like Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to make drink called Bai Boa Bok and cold rolls that are popularly known as summer rolls that are rolls wrapped in thin rice paper. In Bangladesh, the leaves of the plant are used to make fritters or Pakoras that is enjoyed widely in the country.

Coming to the medicinal benefits, the herb, apart from being able to heal common injuries and wounds is popularly used to treat ailments such as high fever, cold, flu, psoriasis, diarrhea, varicose ulcers, eczema and female genitourinary illnesses. It is also a common treatment for severe anxiety problems as well as to increase the level of collagen in one’s skin. Women are known to consume this herm much more than men do to improve their skin quality.

These were some of the most commonly found medicinal plants in the Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kalimpong regions. These plants are also usually found in all the north eastern states. Next time you get a chance to visit the north east of India, be on the lookout for these medicinal plants just in case you need it on the road or on your way to a hectic trek that leaves you injured or wounded in the middle of nowhere.

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