Herbs of India: Ayurvedic and Tibetan knowledge of wild herbs. With English subtitles

Herbs of India: Ayurvedic and Tibetan knowledge of wild herbs. With English subtitles


„These roots can help when you have joint pains. And since I started working with this herb, I´ve never had a cold anymore!” Indians know more than 6,000 useful plants. Most of them grow as wild plants and are used for healing purposes. “For us, all herbs are medicine – really all of them!” Demand is rising not only for medical use, but also for cosmetic use. “Many people pluck and sell herbs, but only few people replant them. Some herbs are not easy to find anymore.” INDIA´S WORLD OF HERBS On swampy meadows in tropical Kerala [southern India], Brahmi [water hyssop, bacopa monnieri] is growing. This plain-looking herb is supposed to strengthen memory and intellectual power. By collecting herbs, many farmers in India can make some extra money. Brahmi is seen as a potential substance in the treatment of Alzheimer disease. Demand is rising, so Koram´s family started cultivating Brahmi. “You plant some seedlings and they will start to spread without any help, and soon you can harvest them. When children are sick, you grind some Brahmi and give it to them with some sugar, or just plain. Brahmi makes sick children healthy, and healthy children don´t even get sick. Brahmi makes them tall and strong, and smart as well.” Koram sells his Brahmi yield to a small manufactory. The mountains in Kerala´s heartland provide a range of plants that play an important role in the daily lives of Indians. When herbs are being delivered, the boss is present. In his manufactory [´Changampally Ayurveda´], Abdul Jabbar Gurukkal processes more than 500 medicinal herbs to Ayurvedic drugs. Ayurveda means ´the science of life´. During British colonial times, it was banned for a long time. Some manufacturers however kept the ancient recipes. “We produce 300 different pharmaceutical drugs, for diseases which can be cured in an easy, difficult and very difficult way. Some diseases can not be cured until today. But Ayurvedic medicine at least knows ways to give relieve. Even for diseases that are seen as incurable there are probably medical plants – only they weren´t discovered yet.” Brahmi is an ingredient to many Ayurvedic drugs. Koram gets paid around 20 Euro for 10 kg of Brahmi. That´s not a bad profit for an Indian farmer. Herbs like Brahmi are processed immediately. The freshly squeezed juice contains the strongest active agents. The heart of the manufactory is this oil kitchen. Together with ghee [clarified butter], Brahmi juice is poured into an oil that is already combined with other herbs. This herbal mixture will now boil on firewood for 3 days. “Today, people all over the world are more and more interested in Ayurveda. So the demand for Ayurvedic drugs is also rising. That makes us optimistic for our future.” Most pharmaceutical drugs are a mix of dried plants. Among these plants are also some potentially toxic ones, if dosed in the wrong way. Mixing master Abdullah is not allowed to make any mistake when he weighs the plants. “We use dry ginger, the bark of the Indian-almond tree [terminalia catappa] and the elephant-apple tree [limonia acidissima]. Amla, the Indian gooseberry [phyllantus emblica] with its sour and bitter taste, is contained in many mixtures as well. Here we store hundreds of plants. We use the roots, they are most important, but stems and leaves are used as well, depending on the drug.” Savanaprasa (?) consists of 36 ingredients. This drug is supposed to keep youthfulness and strengthen joy, mind and life energy. Demand for Ayurvedic balms and pills is constantly rising, and therefore demand for herbs. In India with its almost 1.5 billion inhabitants, especially the rural population relies on this inexpensive herbal medicine. But until now, there are only few herb plantations, and only few species are being cultivated. Replenishment problems for entrepreneurs like Abdul Jabbar are rising. “It´s getting harder to find wild herbs. Forests are logged off everywhere, and with them medicinal plants disappear as well. At the same time, more and more people start plucking them. Before, herbs used to grow everywhere. This is not the case anymore.” Abdul Jabbar´s family doesn´t only produce drugs: An Ayurvedic clinic also belongs to the family business. With the feet, an oil enriched with herbal extracts is rubbed in against back pains. This treatment is not only supposed to relax mind and muscles, but mainly to have an effect on the energy flow. Abdul Jabbar´s brother Abdul Raheem is running the clinic. For ´Shirodhara´ treatment, the oil is being poured on the patient´s forehead during 20 minutes. Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old holistic medicine that equally considers body, mind and soul. “The pulse can reveal us from which disease the patient is suffering. Is it jumping like a frog, or crawling like a snake, or flying like a bird? Only from examining the pulse, I can prescribe an appropriate treatment; only because I have the relevant experience, that´s for sure. The oil for this treatment got enriched with various herbs. This treatment is applied in case of head injuries, also of brain haemorrhage or clots. But this treatment also helps to get rid of stress. The kinds of herbs we use depend on the patient´s problem, but our treatment procedure is always the same.” In the clinic, Nadia Mansour takes care of the female patients. First, the doctor determines the ´doshas´, the elements with which each of us is born: Air (for movements), fire and water (for biochemical processes) and earth (for all that is firm in the body). “If someone doesn´t feel well, his or her doshas are not in balance. Ayurvedic medicine prescripes different drugs to different patients for the same disease, since everyone has an individual mix of ´doshas´. I have to know the patient´s ´doshas´, only then I can prescribe appropriate medicine.” The patients receive their drugs directly at the pharmacy inside the clinic. Some of the ingredients for Ayurvedic drugs only grow in the mountains of Northern India. The village of Battat (?) in the federal state of Himachal Pradesh lies deep in the heart of the Himalayas. In this village shop run by Jinduh Ram, the few village inhabitants can find things they don´t cultivate themselves. Those who have ailments can also find help from this shop owner; Jinduh Ram replaces the doctor in this village. A neighbour has arrived because of stomach pain. 20 years ago, this village still had a traditional healer. When he died there was no successor. So the shop-owner decided to learn from an herbal healer in the neighbouring valley. “Hospitals or even simple health stations are too far away from this village. So for the people here it´s difficult to get treatment. Before, almost each village had its own herbal healer. Today, there are less and less of them.” For the man with stomach pain, Jinduh Ram prepares a drug containing five herbs. He only uses smallest amounts. “Many of the local wild herbs have almost disappeared. It´s getting more and more difficult to find them in the jungle. Take this herb, Jatamansi [spikenard, nardostachys jatamansi] which is comparable to valerian: People have plucked everything, but no-one ever bothered to replant it.” Depending on the dose, Jatamansi has a stimulating or calming effect. In India, it´s regarded as a cure-all, and today only hard to find in nature. The neighbour is supposed to consume this mix twice a day, for four days. Without inexpensive herbal medicine, the inhabitants of this village could not afford any treatments anymore. Jinduh Ram walks regularly up into the mountains. Collecting herbs in the forests or on the high alpine meadows is strictly regulated or even prohibited, but not everyone adheres to the law. The black market for wild herbs is flourishing. After two hours, Jinduh Ram reaches his destination: a little herb garden on an altitude of 3,500 metres, set out by the forest administration. This is a rarity in the mountains of the Indian Himalaya. Here, Kutki is growing, the Indian gentian. It was used as a remedy for leprosy. Today, its extremely bitter roots can help asthma patients. Brahmi is also growing in this herb garden. Brahmi is named after Brahma, the creator deity of the Hindus. Jinduh Ram knows three different sorts of Himalayan Brahmi: “This one we use for open wounds, cuts or fractured bones. I dry the Brahmi and then mix it with two other herbs. Minki Brahmi is a sort I use against stomach problems. And the best and most powerful Brahmi sort makes you strong and is good for bodybuilding. You dissolve it in milk and drink it daily.” More and more medicinal herbs are hard to find in wild nature nowadays; like Bankakri [Indian may apple, sinopodophyllum] which is supposed to fight tumors, but can be highly toxic when wrongly dosed. “If things continue like this, these herbs will be gone in 4 or 5 years. Today, we still manage to find some herbs in gardens like this one, but I suppose this is also going to stop. It´s a loss for the population, and for me personally as well. What shall I do with small amounts of herbs like these? How many drugs can I make? Will I have to stop soon? For people who know nothing about herbs, this is only grass. But those who have knowledge know how important these herbs are.” Tamil Nadu in Southern India: Land of paddy fields, sugar palms and Dravidic temples. Since ancient times, people in India extract aromas and essences from herbs. In temples, they burn incense to honour the gods, and donate holy basil [Tulsi, ocimum tenuiflorum] to them. Already in the era of the Harappa civilization 4,000 years ago, people here unveiled the secret of this herb. The hot and humid climate of southern India is perfect for this bosky plant from the leguminous family. It is related to beans and lentils, but its seeds are inedible. Its value comes from a dyestuff that is produced out of its leaves. The ancient Greeks called it ´indikon´, meaning ´coming from India´. The British then named it ´indigo´. This manufactory was built in British colonial times. Today, Bala Manikam´s family processes 3,000 tons of indigo every year. “For many years, we´ve been supplying the textile industry. But then foreign companies abroad started using indigo for cosmetic products as well, above all for hair dye products. This has increased our sales enormously.” Indigo owes its comeback to the growing demand for natural products. 10 grams of indigo is enough to dye one kilogram of fabric. After the fabric has been immersed into the indigo dye, it´s yellow at the beginning. But in the air, indigo oxidises, and the colour starts changing within seconds, from green to blue. Indigofera plants contain indican, a colourless chemical compound. The herb is being soaked in water for 18 hours. Through fermentation, indican transforms into yellow indoxyl. Then the water is diverted into another tank. It´s a back-breaking job for these workers. For one hour, they pump air into the liquid through their movements. Only after oxidising at the air, yellow indoxyl becomes a blue dying agent. This water is not toxic and gets diverted onto the fields. The indigo can be collected from the ground of the basin and will now be processed. First, the workers have to heat the colorant, and later filter and press it. “You need two tons of herbs to get five kilograms of pure indigo colorant. It´s said that in ancient times, indigo was more expensive than gold. But after the invention of synthetic indigo colorant, the market for natural indigo blue crashed almost completely. My family however never stopped believing in indigo and continued to produce it. And today we are confident to stay successful in this business.” The indigo cakes have to dry for 6 weeks now, and after that they are ready for sale. Indian cuisine is mostly a cuisine of spices. Only few fresh herbs are used, except coriander (cilantro). And on South India´s markets, the leaves of the Curry tree [murraya / bergera koenigii] can be found of course. Freshly stir-fried in oil, they are vital to Southern Indian cuisine. On the South-western coast, vetiver [chrysopogon zizanioides] is also growing. This plant belongs to the family of grasses and is used in many ways in India. Vetiver is an ingredient to medical and cosmetic products. It adds aroma to some food and also serves as protection against erosion, because it can stabilise the soil. To find out the perfect time for harvesting, farmer Dasen must examine the roots. Only the roots will be processed; the grass itself will be fodder for the cattle. Before, mainly curtains were made out of vetiver, because its fragrance keeps out mosquitos. Indira Satiyan and her friend Deviya braid the roots into mats. “A vetiver syrup with cold water is very refreshing. Soap made of vetiver oil smells very nicely. We make perfumed fans from vetiver, and even shoes. Shoes from vetiver, and all foot problems will be gone! And they are very comfortable to walk in.” With her mats, Indira supplies to a niche market. Today, most of Indian vetiver crops are processed into essential oils. A holiday in Mysore. In this Southern Indian city of aromas and fragrances, marigold and jasmine blossoms are woven into garlands, to offer them to Ganesha, the god with the elephant head. People all over Southern India celebrate his holiday. To honour him, a 2 m incense stick is being lit in Mysore. Ayun Ranga has 300 employees, but the boss oversees the combination of fragrances. “To make incense, especially our specialised incense, we use an entire kaleidoscope of aromatic herbs. Extracts of tulsi, basil, curcuma and of course vetiver perfume our incense sticks.” Established in 1950, today the Cycle Company is India´s market leader for incense sticks [cyclepure.com] . Ayun Ranga runs this family business in its third generation. Every year, he oversees the production of 8 billion incense sticks in Mysore and its surroundings; almost 22 million per day. “Our first successful brand entered the market in 1952. We just re-issued this fragrance, with some modern aromas added. But the core of the fragrance still remains the same fragrance my grandfather created 60, 70 years ago.” The bamboo [needed for the sticks] comes from North-eastern India. The sticks get rolled in 25,000 houses and small-scale enterprises. Meanwhile Ayun exports them all over the world. “Since 2000, demand is rising all over the world. Ayurveda, yoga and spirituality are booming, and so Indian incense sticks have become a synonym for Eastern culture. You light a stick and instantly create an Eastern atmosphere.” Ayun´s sticks burn on family altars and in temples all over Asia. In India, some incense aromas are supposed to have a healing effect. The foothills of the Indian Himalaya. The river Beas runs through the small town of Pangan (?). Around 9 a.m., vendors like Bodhi Singh open their shops. Bodhi Singh runs a small shoe shop. In summer, his wife runs the shop, because in this period, Bodhi Singh follows a more profitable business than selling shoes. “Until now, almost no herbs have been collected, but in two weeks my store will fill up. And then I´ll start selling wherever I get the best price, on markets in Amritsar or Delhi. In two or three weeks from now, business will be fine.” For this day, Bodhi Singh has rented a car. He is driving through the mountainous landscape of Himachal Pradesh, one of India´s most bio-diverse regions. 3,500 different plants grow here. 800 of them can be used in a medicinal way. Bodhi Singh trades in wild herbs that are growing in the medium-high mountains. Even in the most remote settlements, the businessman has his middlemen. Seshram doesn´t collect plants; he buys for Bodhi Singh what people collect in the surrounding forests. In villages like these, collecting herbs provides an important extra income for the families. The forest administration issues licences. 2,500 tons of medicinal plants are collected and sold per year in this part of Himachal Pradesh alone, equalling a value of almost 2 million Euro. The price depends on the quality. Bodhi Singh examines the herbs, then both men come to an agreement. In dry state, many herbs look similar, and not all of them have healing power. Some can be toxic, so it´s important that the traders know their products. “In this part of the Himalaya, 165 herbs are growing that can be used as medicinal drugs. But business is profitable with only 9 or 10 sorts. I buy these species in mountain villages like this one. These herbs can help in case of skin problems or digestion disorders. They are useful against gastritis and flatulence. Another herb can help diabetics, and another one is even supposed to heal cancer.” Traders like Bodhi Singh can´t provide the most precious and effective medicinal herbs, because these are mostly traded illegally and sold on the black market. “The most expensive herbs can only be found on an altitude of 3,500 to 4,000 metres or more. Here we are on an altitude of around 2,500 metres. Even if we cultivated these herbs on this altitude, we couldn´t really use them as medicinal herbs, because they would contain less beneficial agents. Herbs that grow wild on high altitudes are simply much stronger.” In India, 130 medicinal herbs are being used commercially on a big scale. More than half of these plants are at risk of extinction today. And only 20 species are being cultivated. Through traders like Bodhi Singh, these herbs find their way to central markets. Established in the Moghul era in the 17th century, ´Khari Baoli´ is situated in the centre of Delhi´s old city: Asia´s largest market for dry fruits, spices and herbs. To reach his warehouse, Aqil Galodir walks through the ´Tambaku Katara´, the tobacco lane which leads into a patio. This is the heart of India´s business with medicinal herbs. For 130 years already, the Galodir family works in the herbal business. He strikes his deals via telephone. Aquil is a wholesaler. He can offer over 500 different herbs, and sells more than 300 tons per year; all of them are dry plants. His customers can be found all over India. They are producers of medicinal drugs or cosmetics, and trust Aqil to deliver best quality. “Those old people who knew about wild herbs of the jungle have disappeared. And young people don´t have the knowledge, and they don´t like to go into the forests. That´s why some plants are hard to get anymore. And the rising demand intensifies the problem.” This is a world of its own, without any drop-in customers. Those who enter this patio normally work in the herbal business, or work for the herbs´ businessmen, like the ´chai wallah´ who prepares tea for them. “This Indian gentian costs 15 Euro per kilo. It purifies the blood.” India´s medicinal herbs´ trading has an estimated turnover of 1.5 billion Euros. Aqil´s buyers are mostly looking for the ´allrounders´ among the herbs. “This is Indian valerian, a very important medicinal herb. It´s used against hair loss, among other things. You boil it in oil and then rub the oil into the scalp, and the hair loss will be finished. That´s why there is high demand for this herb.” India´s market for medicinal herbs grows at an annual rate of 20 %, with a rising tendency. “Day by day, Ayurveda gets more popular all over the world. Ten years ago, the herbs we sold always were of very high quality, and cheaper. Today, herbs with lower quality cost more, and some herbs we can´t even find anymore.” In other parts of the country, large-scale cultivation of medicinal herbs has begun. Tulsi, the holy basil, is supposed to help against so many diseases that it got the Indian byname ´the incomparable´. It´s supposed to act against viruses, heal inflammations and enhance longevity. This crop has already been sold. It will go to Bangalore, capital of federal state of Karnataka, into the largest factory of Ayurvedic medicine in the world. [´Himalaya Drug Company´] The basic ingredients for their drugs are delivered daily into this storehouse: extracts of 166 different herbs. Biochemist Sham Ramakrishna is head of the R&D department. Under his direction, 200 scientists examine herbal agents, test them and develop new products. The company tries to cultivate rare plants in vitro. Dhataki [woodfordia fruticosa] for example is an ingredient to many Ayurvedic drugs. An extract of its blossoms is supposed to help against herpes, for example. “Our attempt has always been to bring Ayurveda to a contemporary level. We perform clinical tests, we work on a molecular biological level. What we are doing here is to combine modern technology with ancient Ayurvedic science.” 10 million pills per day. Annual revenue: 300 million Euros. In more than 90 countries, doctors prescribe drugs of the ´Himalaya´ brand. India is the most important market of course. A few years ago, the company started to produce cosmetics for this market as well. Indira Kumarisen is developing new scents. At the moment she works on hand sanitizers with basil scent. “We try to cater to the growing upper middle class, and especially for working women. They don´t have that much time for traditional body care. Our products contain extracts of the neem tree, tulsi, aloe vera… High quality natural products are what the customers want; that´s a growing trend on the Indian market.” -“Our philosophy has always been: wellness in every home, thanks to herbs and herbal medicine. For us, herbs are the centrefold for everything.” Healing methods of Tibetan medicine are based on herbs as well. Since the Chinese annexed Tibet, this more than 1,000 year old healing wisdom is mostly taught in India. The town of McLeod Ganj is situated in the Dhauladhar mountains, the seat of Tibet´s exile government. Since his escape from the Chinese, the Dalai Lama lives in McLeod Ganj, together with 11,000 people, most of them Tibetans in exile. Tibetan culture is preserved best in McLeod Ganj. That´s one of the reason why young Tibetans are attracted to this residence town of the Dalai Lama. Tensing Tsomo and her friends came from far away to McLeod Ganj to study Tibetan medicine. They will stay for six years. “For Tibetan science, Buddhist philosophy is very important, and then comes medicine. For me, Tibetan medicine is a precious tradition that enables us to help not only Tibetans, but people all over the world. And I hope I´ll be able to contribute a bit to preserving this tradition. I want to be up to this task and help many people.” Tensing Tsomo is 23 years old and in her fourth study year. At the Men-Tsee-Khang Institute, 125 young women and men are studying Tibetan medicine. This medicine dates back to the 8th century and combines elements of Indian-Ayurvedic, Chinese and Persian medicine. Learning about herbs is vital. Soon it will be time for exams. Attached to the Men-Tsee-Khang there is a clinic, and the institute also produces its own drugs. At the end of their study, future doctors like Tensing Tsomo must have knowledge about 175 Tibetan drugs, some of them consisting of up to 32 ingredients, and the students must know how and out of what these drugs are produced. Some of these drugs contain minerals, but Tibetan art of healing mostly relies on herbs, like in Ayurveda. “The elementary text about Tibetan medicine, the so-called ´Four Tantras´ dating from the 8th century, says in a verse ´ there is no substance on this earth without medical value´. As soon as the effect is identified, each plant can actually be used as medicine. That´s why herbs are so important for me!” For their study, the students regularly have to go into the mountains. They have to gain 1,500 elevation metres. The biggest variety of medicinal herbs can be found near the tree line. The students learn in which season the amount of beneficial agents inside the different plants is highest. As a general rule, roots mostly get collected in autumn; leaves and blossoms in summer. At the end of their study, the students must be able to distinguish more than 200 herbs in nature, and their effects. “This herb is a sort of forget-me-not, I can recognise it from the leaves in the form of donkey´s ears. If I´m asked for which diseases this herb could be used, I know it can help after bone fractures, and it makes wounds heal. Apart from its roots, all parts of this plants can be used, leaves, blossoms and stem.” During collecting the herbs, the students recite the mantra of the medicine Buddha. This mantra pleads to heal all sick people in this world for all times. The students were given four hours to examine plants in their natural surroundings. Now an exam follows on the spot. Tensing will soon work as a doctor. The rural population above all is in need of inexpensive and well-tolerated medicine, meaning herbal medicine. These students will only be able to care for their future patients if India succeeds in preserving its diversity of herbs.

4 Replies to “Herbs of India: Ayurvedic and Tibetan knowledge of wild herbs. With English subtitles”

  1. Because Ayurveda is becoming more and more well known, more and more people are also going to use the products (herbal products and the like). This video taught me one thing again. A bit related to "Black Friday". In fact, 'they' are selling their future. The quick way of earning money without thinking about the future. So … many herbs and plants are plucked everywhere, so that they will probably not be there anymore. A lot of people live on this earth. If we 'sell out' the 'planet', then there will not be much left. The saying that says: "When the last fish has been eaten and the last tree has been cut, we will understand that we can not eat money …".
    Hopefully they will realize that maintaining their plant kingdom is of the utmost importance for their own future ..?

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