Botanist on mission to save rare Indian herbal remedies

November 23rd, 2008 - 1:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Lucknow, Nov 23 (IANS) Ethno-botanist Deepak Acharya has spent eight years in the Satpura mountains in Madhya Pradesh, parts of which lie cut off from civilisation, driven by a single goal — documenting and salvaging India’s traditional herbal remedies before they are lost to the world.Dubbed as a ‘modern day herb hunter,’ 32-year-old Acharya has been painstakingly tracking traditional healers, called Bhagats in Dang (Sahyadri ranges) and Bhumkas in Patalkot (Satpura) in central India whose repertoire of remedies is known to cure some of the most unyielding human ailments.

“I also conducted my research to know about how tribals in Patalkot are living happily by staying close to nature. How they are involved in forest conservation,” Acharya told IANS on e-mail from Chhindwara where he is based.

Prompted by concerns that the priceless heritage of tribal medicine residing within the ageing generation of healers would be gone with them, he made up his mind to help preserve the pool of knowledge, nurtured by oral tradition.

The younger generation is leaving the impoverished valley in droves for livelihood.

Besides, the ravages of deforestation and modernisation are compounding the problem. For example, gymnema sylvestre is a marvellous herb for treating diabetes, which grew abundantly in the 1990s but has now become a rarity in Patalkot. Being a climber, it could not survive after the big trees were cut down.

Acharya accordingly familiarised himself with the local dialect to gain the tribals’ trust as they still remain deeply suspicious of outsiders. He undertook hundreds of gruelling, four-hour bumpy rides to Patalkot, from Chhindwara before climbing up the steep inclines.

The valley, located at a depth of 1,200 to 1,500 feet in the Satpura ranges, has been aptly named as Patalkot, implying great depth in Sanskrit, spread over 80 sq km. Locals inhabiting Patalkot belong to the Bharia and Gond tribes.

The young botanist’s quest paid off years later. He painstakingly built up a catalogue of hundreds of medicinal plants and tribal treatments. Take, for instance, a herbal cigarette, based on a tribal formulation. It has been observed to inhibit tumour growth before eliminating it completely.

Acharya, who holds a PhD in botany, recalls, “I came across many interesting and potential herbal practices which can definitely give direction to medical science. My research involved various aspects of their healing methodologies,” including amazing cures for some deadly disorders.

Acharya, who has also been featured on the covers of the Wall Street Journal Asia, proposed that the knowledge of traditional healers should be protected under intellectual property rights (IPR), as a way of making them economically independent and self-reliant, fully integrated with the mainstream.

Among the slew of proposed products based on traditional medicine, Acharya says, are preparations to combat plant infections, healing of wounds with a single application and irreversible weight reduction.

Nutricandy, a multi-herbal formulation for kids and lactating women, would act as a preventive tool for digestive problems, infections in the mouth, cough and cold, tooth- and gum-related problems.

There are formulations for removal of blood clots and treating kidney disorders and a low cost yet efficacious cream for healing cracked heels and palms.

DoodhNahar to raise milk output by 20 to 30 percent is a cattle feed based on tribal medicine from Patalkot, Dang and Sawai Madhopur in Aravalli. This herbal feed sans side effects and known to improve the immune system has passed toxicity, heavy metal and steroid content analysis.

“The vital discovery of herbs and their role in healing would encourage cultivation, generating direct and indirect rural employment while redefining the economics and cultivation of these plants in India,” concludes Acharya.

(Shudip Talukdar can be contacted at

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