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Posted at: Jul 27, 2015, 12:34 AM; last updated: Jul 26, 2015, 11:25 PM (IST)

Bountiful cures in Good Shepherd’s own land

Ajay Ramola

Tribune News Service

Mussoorie, July 26

Uttarakhand with its traditional ways of life, myths, lores and nature's bounty has always amazed, inspired and attracted people. This land of revered Char Dhams and Almora's Nanda Devi was the place where Rishis and Munis and even Lord Krishna sought solitude and peace. The rustic and simple people of this largely inaccessible part of India were full of generational wisdom and knowledge of unique medicinal practices based on largely locally found herbs and plants.

Besides its pristine landscapes and snowbound high peaks, Uttarakhand has a vast treasure trove of natural plants and herbs that various ethnic groups in Garhwal and Kumaon have been using for treatment of various diseases since ages. The traditional medicinal knowledge gathered over ages intertwined with religious faith, rituals, beliefs etc.

However, due to the advent of modern medicinal practices this wisdom could be lost if not preserved.

Local faith healers and priests played an important role in treating patients at the village level and were the bearers of the traditional medicinal knowledge that was propagated by word of mouth from Guru (teacher) to Chela (student) from one generation to other. Experts on tribal culture believe that wild animals, including monkeys, and wild cats, have also played an important role in enhancing the knowledge of ethnic groups about traditional medicines.

The close trading ties between tribal communities in Uttarakhand also enhanced their knowledge about various herbs available in forests and enriched their traditional medicinal practices further.

In Garhwal, every region had its own traditional method of treating various diseases and most of the cures were linked with religious practices followed by various communities.

In the Jaunsar and Bawar region different medicinal practices were prevalent. Most folk remedies were based on trial and error experience perfected with every passing generation. Fevers of different kinds were treated differently. Tea prepared from Banafshah available in mountains was used to treat fever caused by cold. Dried petals of Banafshah were boiled in water and its decoction was used to treat fever. For curing fever caused by heat, crushed leaves of cucumber (kheera) and its juice was given to the patient. Cumin (zira) seeds, ginger (adrak) grains of ajowan, kachoor, and chiraita available in nearby villages and mountains were also used to treat fever. Villagers treated diarrhoea and vomiting by using mint (pudina) and onion that was crushed and their juice was strained and used as potion.

For burns, sliced potatoes were put on the burnt part while for sprains fresh khaida (chir) gum was applied on the affected part.

For bone fracture, turmeric and wheat flour were fried and put on the affected part and then the bark of Bhimal tree was placed on it and bandaged. The Bhimal bark and an herb called Nona were powdered, and then boiled in water and when it curdled thick it was plastered on the affected part.

Precious Thuner

Himalayan Yew that has anti-cancer properties can be a source of handsome earnings for people of Garhwal hills. It is commonly known as Thuner in Uttarakhand and grows at an altitude of 1,800 metre to 3,300 metre in evergreen and conifer forests. Thuner shot into limelight in the recent times due to its uncontrolled harvesting in the Himalayan wild for extraction of anti-cancer drug Taxol. The cost of Taxol stands at 60 dollars per milligram in the USA (Rs 180 crore per kg ). Taxol is extracted from the needles and bark of Thuner. Leaves of Thuner tree are dried and boiled with water and concoction is given for external and internal healing. Tribals in Uttarkashi boil the dried bark of Thuner with tea to be used for the same purpose. 

Mussoorie owes its name to this shrub

Mussoorie got its name from a wild plant called Masuri. Large hairless shrub Masuri is abundantly present in the town.  The plant has medicinal values and is used in the traditional medicinal system to cure fungal infections. Coriaria nepalensis essential oil is extracted from the plant and is used as a medicine even by Chinese traditional medicine practitioners. The plant is a large hairless shrub, 3 to 4 m tall, with arching reddish-brown branches, elliptic pointed leaves and fruit that is black in colour. It is usually found between 800 m to 2,700 m height. Red flowers in several short clusters in leaf axils are seen blooming during February to April. One can eat the fruit raw but great caution has to be taken since most parts of the plant, including the seed, are very toxic. It is also believed that the hill town got its name from dacoit Mansoor who used the place as a hideout during the British period.

Snake bite, treatment fright

Traditional healers of snake and leech bites are not found in Uttarakhand anymore. This practice was common among tribes of Jaunsar Bawar, (Lakha Mandal, Tyuni and Chakrata), Tharus and Buxas settled in Sitarganj and other plains, and Van Gujjars. The family members of Birsu Das in Chakrata still recollect how their grandfather kept with him a stone that he only took out to heal people bitten by snakes, spiders and leeches during the rainy season. After a snake bite, a traditional healer sucked out the poison and then brushed the affected part with plants uttering a few mantras. Later the healer used plant extracts. Bachh, a plant commonly found near water sources in hills, was used to treat insect and other bites.“Based on folk wisdom, in some places such as Hanol and Chakrata, it was commonplace to find people queuing up before traditional healers for treatment for snake, leech and spider bites. They were called ojhas and they may have picked up the practice from elsewhere. The men were dressed in a manner that was highly intimidating, but that’s how they managed to attract attention,” said Dr OP Bahukhandi, senior medical officer in the Ayush Department.


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