Friday, December 25, 2009

Chikki greens

This is the famale flower of the Chikki green, which looks like it is made of paper. The Chikki leaves are a popular salad green. It has a slightly sour taste, which adds a tang to the salad.
The leaves can also be cooked and eaten with dal or ground into a tasty chutney. The leaves are very nutritious like the spinach.Unlike the spinach, chikki leaves are very delicate and cook within seconds. It retains its slight sour taste even after cooking, so that you don't have to add lemon juice .

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Flower of the Sun-Calotropis gigantea

The Crown flower Calotropis gigantea is a wild flower in this part of the world. Its Sanskrit name is Arka, which also means the sun. The crown shape of this flower hasgiven it the common name. Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii considered the flower a symbol of rayalty and wore leis made from the flowers.
There is a white variety of the Crown flower too, which is considered more useful for medicinal purposes. There are many medicinal uses for the whole plant in Ayurveda. One very effective folk remedy to take out splinters from your hand is to put one or two drops of the white milk of the plant on the attected place, and after half an hour, the thorn will come out by itself. Very useful for gardeners.
One or two leaves in the bath water will prevent skin infections during winter.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Toor dal

This is a type of beans called Toor dal , which Indians are very fond of. Because of the floods in the Toor dal growing region, its price has gone sky high now. My bush of Toor dal , which came by itself, gave me a good amount of the fresh beans which I used in 'sambhar'.
The flowers are an attractive yellow, and they attract bees and bumblebees. The vegetable tastes somewhat like the pea. The seeds of the beans are sun dried and are stored to be used as a dal.It is full of proteins and vitamins.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Honey is an important ingredient of a kashaya used for cold , cough and flu. This enormous beehive is one of the three which are built year after year in my school by the wild bees, Apis indica.
Mint is another ingredient which helps in flu.

Peppercorns help to bring out the phlegm.

The Indian Borage is another ingredient which is good for all bronchial ailments.

Lemon grass is good for colds.
To prepare the Kashaya, take five leaves each of mint, Indian borage and basil in a vessel. Add a 2 inch piece of the lemon grass to it. Add 2 cups of water and boil it for 2 minutes. Strain, add a teaspoon of honey to the tea and sip slowly.
There are many types of kashayas; teas to bring down fever, to relieve pain, even to help in childbirth! Every Indian family has a different recipe, some Kashayas are made from dried and powdered herbs. Being a herbal tea, kashaya gives one a sense of well being .

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Flowers on the Fences

The Coral vine is flowering profusely on the fences
of gardens now. The Chinese Hat, Holmskioldia sanguinea flowers all through the year. It is a native plant, and has many coloured flowers.

Some people call it Cup-and Saucer Plant.

The violet Petrea is another vine which can be grown as a shrub. It also flowers all through the year.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Caraonda Carissa carandas is a native thorny bush found all over India. The leaves are an attractive bronze colour when young. Its fruit is much loved by birds and humans. The pretty pink berries turn deep red and purple. The sour fruit is made into jelly, preserves and pickles which are great favourites .
The flowers of the Caraonda resemble jasmine, and are sweet scented. The plant flowers twice a year. Although Caraonda is a jungle plant, people plant it ar the edge of their property for the fruit . It makes an effective hedge as its thorns can stop humans and cattle. Its root is supposed to keep away snakes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Giant Cane

A stream runs through the northern edge of the suburb where I live. Long time ago, it was a fresh water stream which fed the vegetable gardens . Now it is a malodorous and polluted stream carrying mainly the discharge from various factories. The water treatment Plant upstream makes sure that it does not become a dead creek. The Giant Cane, Arundo donax along its banks is another thing which keeps the creek full of fish and birds.
The Giant Cane is a native of India, which has naturalised itself in many tropical and sub tropical lands. In some places, it is considered a pest as it uses up large amounts of water.
The Giant Cane has been used to make flutes since 5000 years. Reeds of the woodwind instruments like the oboe, clarinet and saxophone are made from this plant. It is also used as a bio fuel. Animals do not eat it as it contains toxins like silica. The plant is rich in the alkaloid tryptamine.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Snake Jasmine

The white flowers of the Snake Jasmine Rhinacanthus nasutus bloom profusely in winter, making the bush look as though it is speckled with yoghurt.
This is a native Indian flower, native to the Western Ghats. The flowers have no smell. It is a nice plant to have in a small garden as it flowers profusely from November to March, until the Jasmines take over.
The roots of the Snake Jasmine are believed to possess extraordinary aphrodisiac qualities. The leaves and roots are used for skin infections. Theplant gets its name from the shape of the flower , which looks like the hood of a cobra, and also because the roots are used as an antidote for snake venom.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Aubergine, the King of Vegetables

The Egg plant, or aubergine is called in Brinjal in India. It is considered to be the king of vegetables because it wears a crown!Belonging to the same family as the potato and the tomato, the Solanum melongena was first domesticated in India. It was introduced to Europe by the Arabs who monopolised the spice trade with India. It is called the Egg plant in some parts of the world because some of its fruit are egg shaped.
Many varieties of the Aubergine are cultivatd in India, ranging from deep purple to white.I grow the two pale varieties shown above. The aubergine I like best is the huge, dark purple one grown in North India during winter. You can roast it in fire, peel it and add some onions and tomatoes and green chillies to make a dish called Baigan Bharta.

The long green brinjal is famous in these parts for its taste. It has white flowers.The white egg-shaped egg plant is called 'black brinjal', because its leaves have black veins. The flowers are purple.

The whole plant of the aubergine is used in Chinese medicine to stop intestinal bleeding.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sacred Plants of the World

Many plants were considered sacred by the ancient civilizations. The Datura was a sacred plant of the Aztecs. It has always been used in shamanic rites, and as a hallucinogen. Recent research shows that the Maya considered the Silk Cotton tree, Ceiba pentandra a sacred tree representing the Universe.
The Hindus consider the Sweet Basil, Ocimum sanctum sacred. They have a festival in autumn in honour of the plant, which they consider to be the representative of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and beauty and the Universe.

For the Buddhists, the Bodhi Tree is most sacred because Buddha attained Enlightenment under the tree. The Bodhi Tree is thought to represent the Universe.
All these plants have special healing powers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Red Ginger

The Red Ginger Alpinia purpurata is also called Ostrich Plume. The attractive bright red bracts contain small, insignificant , white flowers. The Red Ginger is the native of Malaysia and the national flower of Samoa. After the flowers have been pollinated, small plantlets appear at the end of the bract. The stem slowly bows and reaches the ground, where the baby plants take root.
The Red Ginger bracts are useful for flower arrangements as they stay fresh for a long time.
The name 'Ginger' comes from the Sanskrit name Shringa bera meaning horned root, which describes the ginger root. There is an ancient town named Shringeri, named after the ginger, in India. The ancient monastery in Shringeri was established more than two thousand years ago by Shankaracharya. The forests of the Western Ghats which surround the monastery, are full of different types of ginger.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Flamingo Plant

Jacobinia carnea has many names. In Australia it is called the Feathe-duster Plant , and in India it is called the Flamingo Plant. It is also known as Brazilian Plume Flower. Its curious shape and its preference for shade makes it a favourite of gardeners. Although the flowers are numerous, they do not produce seed , as they are sterile.
There is a yellow flowering vareity and a white one also in this. You can propagate it by tip cuttings taken during the rainy season.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bromeliad Flowers

The Friendship Plant or Queen's Tears Billbergia nutans, a grass like plant, bursts into flowers in autumn and spring. The pink bracts are very striking- no less the dark blue and green flower. Since it is an epiphyte, it can be grown on a tree.

The Pyramid Billbergia, Billbergia pyramydalis has no such time restrictions. It flowers whenever it feels like, throughout the year. One has to protect the flowers from marauding snails.

The Matchstick Plant, Aechmea gamosepala is also flowering now. The small plants are easy to propagate, as they give forth lots of pups.I have lined a border with them. They don't seem to flower profusely when planted in the ground.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Oil from Plants

Humans have been extracting oil from plants since pre-historic times. More and more uses have been found for the vegetable oils.
Jatropha, the plant with the red flowers, yields an oil which is used as a substitute for deisel in some parts of the world. I visited an organic farm called Navadarshanam near Bangalore, where they use the Jatropha oil to run their flour mill. The waste is composted.
There are innumerable uses for the coconut oil, which has been known to humans for millenia. Coconut oil is used as a cooking medium, for the preparation of beauty aids, as an addition to food, for making soap, in industry...
The tree you see on the right hand corner is the sandalwood tree. It gives a very precious oil which is used in the perfume industry, and also for religious purposes by the Hindus and the Buddhists.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Snake Repellant Rue

A nursery near my house specializes in the 'snake repellant' Garden Rue Ruta graveolens. The owner of the nursery confessed to me that snakes slither past the rue, but people believe the malodorous plant to be snake repellant, and plant it in many places in their gardens.
The plant has lime yellow flowers, which also have the same oily smell. The leaves are feathey and bluish green.
The plant has many uses in Ayurveda. The leaves are used for curing cough, cold and influenza. The oil from the plant is very effective in alleviating rheumatic pains.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Canna indica

Canna indica, the Indian Shot is not a native of India as its name suggests, but of the West Indies. It has attractive flowers ranging from yellow to a deep red. Its leaves are large and sometimes variegated.
The Canna has naturalized itself in India, and can be seen growing wild along riverbanks and along canals.The seeds are hard , black spheres reminding of pellets of a shot gun. Hence the name Indian Shot.
The seeds are used for making jewelry. In Vietnam, noodles are made from the Canna plant. In China, a wine is made using the flowers of the Canna.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Castor Plant

Many of us have orally taken caster oil as a medicine and hated it. Castor oil is taken out from the seeds of the castor plant, Ricinus communis.The plant, although originally from Ethiopia, has naturalized itself in India and other parts of the world. India is the largest producer of castor oil, followed by China.
The castor plant grows in all sorts of inhospitable places. Although some cultivars of it are grown by gardeners for the colour and shape of the leaves, one must remember that it is a highly poisonous plant. 8 to 10 seeds of the castor plant can kill a man. The poison recin is in the husk.
Castor oil has been used as a medicine since 2ooo B.C. to cure arthritis .
In Brazil, it is used as a biodiesel. Castor oil is used as a lubricant for racing cars.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Vinca, the Always Cheerful

In India, Vinca is known as Sadabahar, which means always cheerful. Ihe plant has flowers throughout the year. It does not need any special care . It thrives in poor soils also.
The flowers are many colours , the most common being the white and the pink . Vinca which is a tropical and subtropical plant has been used in Indian and Chinese traditional medicine since centuries. In India, it is used to treat diabetes and malaria and for insect bites. It is also used to treat certain cancers. The substances, Vinblastine and Vincristine obtained from Vinca are used in the treatment of leukemia. The patenting of medicines from vinca has given rise to controversy as Vinca has been used for thousands of years in India and China for its medicinal properties.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Butterfly Pea

The butterfly Pea, Clitoria ternatea, is a wild flower which one encounters on walks in the woods. It has two colours, white and blue. There is a single and a double variety too. It is called Shankha Pushpa ( conch flower) in Sanskrit and Kannada.
The roots of the butterfly pea are used for curing whooping cough in children. The blue flowers are used as a food dye. The extract from plant is known to have anti oxidant properties.
The flowers are used in Ayurveda to enhance memory and sharpen the intelligence.
The Shankha Pushpa is the favourite flower of Ganesha, the Hindu god of success.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Adhathoda Vasaka is a herb that has been used in Indian traditional medicine for centuries to alleviate cough, cold and asthma. It is also called Malabar nut . The name 'Adhathoda' comes from Tamil, which means that goats do not touch this plant.
A tea made from the leaves of the Vasaka plant is helpful in bringing up phlegm.
The plant has white flowers which attracts bees.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Indian Borage

The Indian Borage, Plectranthus amboinicus is a no-trouble plant which grows with very little fuss wherever you plant it. The leaves have a pungent smell, reminiscent of aniseed. There are two types, a green one and a vareigated one. Both are good herbs, used in cooking and healing.
The leaves alleviate cough when chewed. Ground leaves mixed with pepper and yoghurt is good for indigestion and dispepsia.
The herb looks pretty when grown in a pot.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


The hibiscus is one of the best loved flowers in India. Many varieties and colours of hibiscus are grown in Indian gardens. The flowers are used to offer in worship to Hindu deities. The red hibiscus rosa sinesis is used with coconut oil to give strength and shine to hair. The ground leaves are used as a natural shampoo.
Hibiscus is used as a food in South Kanara. Delicious preserves are made using the flower. My grandmother was given a diet of boiled hibiscus flowers when she had the typhoid, in an age when typhoid was a deadly disease, and she was cured.
Tea made of hibiscus flowers is a well known recipe for lowering blood pressure.
The white hibiscus is used in Ayurveda for kidney problems. It is a natural diuretic.
The hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Brahmi, the Brain Food

Brahmi, or Centella asiatica is a common herb growing near rice fields in India. Yogis have used this herb since ancient times to increase their powers of concentration necessary for meditation. It strengthens capillaries, and so is helpful for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
Brahmi is called the fountain of youth in China as it has anti wrinkle properties.
A few leaves of Brahmi , eaten daily as a salad , enhances memory. Brahmi is also known as Gotu Kola in some parts of the world.It darkens grey hair naturally too.
A few leaves should be steeped in coconut oil for a week and the oil should be applied to hair every day..

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The grass that flavours

This is lemon grass, which is used extensively in Thai and Cambodian cooking. A small piece of lemon grass added to your tea refreshes you greatly. It is also a mosquito repellent, and so it is planted near bedroom windows. But beware! The blades of lemon grass are razor sharp. I have cut my hands many times trying to pull out a blade.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Beauty of the Konkan

The Ixora is seen everywhere in the west coast of India. The flowers range in colour from red to orange to pink to white and yellow. It is used by the people of the region for decoration and for worship. An interesting story about the origin of its name goes like this: An early Portuguese botanist saw a woman taking these flowers to the temple and asked her whose temple it was. The woman replied "Ishwara", which is another name of Shiva, one of the Hindu Trinity. The Portuguese recorded it faithfully in his language,"Ixora".

Monday, July 6, 2009

How to fight cholesterol the herbal way

Everybody knows about the 'good' and the 'bad' cholesterols- HDL and LDL cholesterols.High blood cholesterol is thought to be a major risk factor for heart disease. According to South Indian cuisine, the curry leaves, which are used in most of the South Indian cooking, is supposed to keep the cholesterol level at the optimum.
Curry leaves can be dried and powdered and sprinked on salads, or they can be added to the dal, or ground with tamarind and green chillies and made into a chutney.Eating 10 raw curry leaves a day is supposed to bring down your weight to the correct weight.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How to make your papaya tree bear more fruit

Just plant some pineapple tops around it! Pineapples and other bromeliads seem to have a symbiotic relationship with papaya. Next time you gring a fresh pineapple fom the store, don't throw away the top. Plant it near one of your fruit trees.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

pink surprise

This is the surprising flower of the bromeliad billbergia zebrina which is a rare flower indeed. The flower has large pink bracts and a chandelier of jade and blue flowers hanging down. I could pursuade the plant to flower by strewing tomatoes all round it .