As the veritable niche of healing herbs due to its versatile terrain, ranging from plains to hills, Central India is a homeland of dense forests that have rich species of medicinal plants that help cure ailments, care for the health and support the rural economy. Tribal communities and forests are symbiotically related. The lands of Satpura, Vindhyachal, Amarkantak, Pachmari and Patalkot serve an array of green health alternatives with their traditional resources.
As a home of numerous spices, it is known to have ideal agro-climatic conditions that offer a habitat for the natural growth of medicinal plants and herbs, holding the promise to enhance health and livelihood in a traditional fashion. Local beliefs have it and science has also backed that the herbs and trees have more optimum active ingredients and thus, more therapeutic value if harvested during a particular time and date only.
In time honored and time-tested systems like Ayurveda, Rigveda and Siddha Unani, rich ethnobiological and ethnobotanical knowledge has evolved as readily available, easy to transport and cost-effective remedy without any major health implications or side effects. Following are the indigenous varieties of trees that offer valuable inputs:
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Also known as Balya in Ayurveda, it means giving strength, in conditions like general debility by increasing the strength, stamina and endurance. The active ingredient of ashwagandha is withanolides, which is used as an adaptogen to help the body cope with daily stress by inhibiting levels of cortisol, as a general tonic and improves the thinking ability. Moreover, it is a promising alternative to the treatment of mental degenerative diseases by the promotion of new nerve cells and protecting the brain cells from the harmful effects of the environment. It has the potential of a serious anti-cancer agent as it slows the growth of cancerous tumors. By production of vital compounds and proteins for healthy skin, it acts as a stimulator for DHEA. It also regulates the production of melanin, thus, delaying the graying of hair and strengthening it by improved circulation and reduced hair loss.
- Bel (Aegle): The tree is middle-sized, with slender branches and pale brown bark. It has unique trifoliate in shape and the fruit is globose in shape. Revered as the favorite tree of Lord Shiva and sacred importance with relevance to Goddess Laxmi, it is a treasure trove of medicinal and healing qualities. Rich in beta carotene, protein, vitamin C, it serves an array of eye problems, digestive disorders, heart ailments and develops immunity by fighting infections. Feronia gum, the active ingredient majorly contributes to control diabetes by regulating the production of insulin from cell into the bloodstream. It also nourishes the follicles with nutrients and improves the circulation, and normalizes the secretion of stress hormones to prevent breakage of hair and hair fall.
- Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis): Known as the plant of immortality, it is succulent, erect and short-stemmed plant that stores water in its leaves. Extensively used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetic and food industries, the aloe vera gel is known to contain beneficial bioactive compounds. The water dense leaves alongside special plant compounds called plant carbohydrates, making it an effective face moisturizer and pain reliever. Comprising of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants, it helps inhibit the growth of infection-causing bacteria, especially Streptococcus mutans and thus, treats tooth decay and gum diseases. As a topical medication, it works as an effective treatment for first degree and second-degree burns. It helps ease other digestive problems, alongside its low toxicity functioning well as a gentle remedy for heartburn. It also holds strong prospects in the treatment of diabetes.
- Sitaphal (Annona Squamosa): The fruit has a green exterior that is non-edible, while the inside is soft and fleshy. It has rich antioxidants and minerals like calcium, potassium; the leaves are nutritious and have healing abilities. As a storehouse of benefits, it helps relax the muscles of the heart and prevent skin aging. It contains antioxidants like Vitamin C, that fight the free radicals in the body. As an excellent source of Vitamin B6, it plays a role in the creation of neurotransmitters, that help regulate the mood and reduces the risk of depression. It helps boost immunity by fighting pathogens and the high calorific value provides sustained energy. It is also rich in nutrients that help regulate blood pressure. By supporting healthy bowel movements and healthy gut bacteria, it helps promote optimal digestive health.
Also high in potassium and magnesium, it helps protect the heart from cardiac diseases. The copper content helps cure constipation and treats diarrhea and dysentery.
- Neem (Azadirachta Indica): Neem is known to poses 130 biologically active compounds. It is used for the treatment of skin disorders, heal wounds, cure ear ailments. The leaves have anti-bacterial properties, and it works wonders on infections, burns and any kind of skin problem. It destroys the bacteria that cause infections, stimulates the immune system and encourages rapid healing. Neem flowers can be used to treat anorexia, nausea, belching and intestinal worms. The flowers are used in cooking and the twigs help fight germs by maintaining the alkaline level in saliva and promote whitening of teeth. Ayurveda suggests that neem leaves are good for the eyes and useful in treating skin disease and headaches. Neem oil is used in medicinal, cosmetic and beauty products. purify the blood, prevent damage caused by free radicals in the body, remove toxins, treat insect bites and ulcers. It is also used in aromatherapy because of its calming effect.
- Babool (Acacia Arabia): With its indispensable medicinal qualities, the bark, gum, leaves, seeds and pods of babool are known to poses anti-bacterial, antihistaminic, astringent and hemostatic properties. It is an abundant source of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and helps improve the libido and vitality in men and women. The twigs are used as a natural toothbrush, and the extract, the datum, is used as a tonic for gums. It helps strengthen the gums, teeth, reduce plague and inflammation. Sprinkling the powdered form of babul on wounds helps in quick healing, the leaves help sustain skin radiance and glow and help in dry skin problems of itchiness and dandruff.
- Gulmohar (Delonix): Better known as the “flame of the forest”, it is an evergreen tree that is deciduous with branches. with an impressive range of medicinal and biological properties, has been used in the folk medicine systems of several civilizations like for the treatment of constipation, inflammation, arthritis, leucorrhoea and rheumatism. The flowers have been used as traditional herbal remedies for gynaecological disorders and they are also used as a tablet binder. Seeds of Delonix regia contain flavonoids are used as a wound-healing agent in households. The oil also finds use in soap- making, illuminating and pharmaceutical preparations. The oil cake is a good fertilizer. The seed is carminative, purifies and enriches the blood and is used in cases of inflammation, earache and discomfort of the chest.
- Bhringraj (Eclipta Alba): The leaves of Bhringraj are lance-shaped and arranged in the opposite orientations. Another common name for it is the false daisy. Bhring Arajasva, the chemical compound helps improve body metabolism, increases libido and treats emaciation. The oil is found to be beneficial for hair and skin by improving the texture and quality. The creeping herb is found in three colors: Shvet, Peet and Neel. It works as an appetizer, stimulates digestion, helps cure skin diseases and inflammation.
Thus, the ecological surroundings of Central India have excited Phyto-chemists, pharmacologists, botanists and practitioners of herbal medicine to pursue the inventory of the fragile ecosystem to obtain quality material on a sustainable basis and as a tool for conservation.