Friday, February 17, 2017

A Garden that heals - Meet Venugopal, a self - taught medicinal plant grower from Kochi, Kerala

Self -taught medicinal plant grower T K Venugopal has a garden that is visited by those looking for cures and botany enthusiasts alike

A higher official from Kochi corporation met his long-time acquaintance, T K Venugopal. The former was then suffering from severe knee pain. Venugopal soon handed over his ‘ Methiyadi’ (wooden sandals) and asked him to use it for a few days. Next time, when the official met Venugopal, the former was completely cured of his knee pain. “Methiyadi is made of wood and when one walks wearing it, it would tap the heels of the leg, frequently which increases the blood circulation. That’s how he was cured of his knee pain,” explains Venugopal.

Perhaps, it was to make us realise its importance that he was waiting for us, wearing it. And it hardly came as a surprise when he said that he had a garden full of medicinal plants.

The compound and terrace of this self-taught medicinal plat grower, who formerly served in the logistics department of the Navy, are full of medicinal plants - right from ‘Vayambu’, ‘Koovalam’, ‘Shatavari’ to ‘Nithyakalyani’. The ‘Amritu’ tree was tall and its long extended string-like roots are tangled in a knot. The garden would surely remind of a time when houses had plants and flowers which could be used as a single medicine therapy, in their backyards. In the garden, there is swing hanging from a tree.The number and varieties never seemed to confuse him for he could narrate the properties of each one.

Venugopal planted most of these medicinal plants in 2000. His experience with them are so plenty that he does not mind prescribing an ‘Ottamooli’ or single medicine therapy, occasionally.

While walking through the garden, we came across a plant which has small yellow flowers.   “It is called ‘Akrov’ in Malayalam and it is a good remedy for tooth ache.” But when we seemed a bit skeptical about it, he asked us to chew it. Surprisingly, after doing so, our mouth went numb.

He also told us the trick to identify the gender of certain trees. “There are trees like nutmeg which bear fruit only when male and female trees are planted together. In such cases, you have to hold a gold chain just above one of its leaves. But its tip should slightly touch the leaf. Then lift it a bit. There should only be a small gap between the chain and the leaf. If the tip of the chain oscillates back and forth, then it is a male and if it the motion is circular, then it is female. I usually give this tip to Botany students who often come here in groups to learn about plants,” he says.

Venugopal, then pointed to some leaves which were purple in colour. “These leaves are called ‘Murikootti’. This is usually found in Wayanad. Its juice can cure wounds or burns,” he explains. There is also a story behind it, he continues. “Lord Hanuman was returning with the ‘Maruthwamala’ from the Himalayas. But on his way, a part of the mountain fell to the ground. It contained many medicinal herbs and one among them was ‘ Murikkootti’”.

Asked to suggest some ‘Ottamoolies’, he says - “A mix of grounded ‘Moringa’ leaves and garlic is good to cure swelling. To get a good sleep, you can store water in a clay pot, put ‘Ramacham’ in it and drink two glasses of this water before sleep. A sound sleep will kiss on your brow,” assures Venugopal with a smile.

He lives with his wife Valsala Kumari at Elamakkara. Many people come to him, seeking medicinal plants and he is always happy to give them away. “Clay is also a good cure for many ailments,” he says. He has a stock of it which he gives to those in need. Venugopal has never charged a penny from anyone. “I grow these trees and plants out of sheer passion,” he says.

published in the New Indian Express

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