One of the commonest herbs with an array of medicinal uses is 'Welpenela'. Its botanical term is Cardiospermum halicacabum and some of its other names are heart seed, black liquorice and balloon vine. It is found aplenty in markets and growing in many a home garden. This small and delicate wiry climber can be used to treat piles, rheumatism, nervous disorders and chronic bronchitis. Its power lies mostly in its leaves which can also be used as a poultice for skin diseases. A paste of the leaves is a dressing for sores and wounds. Crushed leaves can also be inhaled to relieve headaches and the seeds used to relieve fever and body aches.
A popular flavouring leaf that is used widely in Sri Lankan curries known as 'karapincha' is also very medicinal. The leaves, roots, bark, stalk and flowers can be either boiled or powdered together to relieve any type of stomach disorder.
The leaves of the Bittergourd plant or 'karavila' can be crushed and the juice massaged into the scalp for a good growth of hair and to help prevent hair loss. The 'karavila' fruit, bitter as it is, increases the flow of milk in nursing mothers, when eaten in sufficient quantities.
This is known as Eclipta prostrata botanically, and it is a herb used in many forms to cure various diseases. In Sanskrit it is known as 'kasaraja' which refers to growth of the hair. This herb prevents the hair from becoming prematurely grey. Diseases of the skin can also be cured through this herb.
Cucumber, popular in salads, is a herb which is known to keep the kidneys healthy. Cucumber seeds when roasted, powdered and made into a coffee-like drink have been known to relieve colic. Thin slices of cucumber placed on tired eyes is supposed to have a soothing effect.
For sore eyes, the flowers of the pomegranate (Punica granatum) tree known as 'delun' can give great relief. The buds of the tree are boiled and the infusion given to stop chronic diarrhoea especially in children. The same infusion also relieves bronchitis. Bleeding from the nose can be checked by powdering the flowers of the pomegranate tree and applying it on the bleeding area.
The intriguing jak fruit is extremely nutritious and medicinal. Jak (Artocarpus reterophyllus) comes in two varieties in Sri Lanka. They are soft or 'vala' and hard or 'waraka'. The latter is more popular than the soft. The bark of the jak tree is used mainly for medicinal purposes including sprains and fractures.
Tender jak which is known as 'polos', can be made into a delicious curry and, in the diet of ancient Lankan royalty this was a dish that was rarely absent. Nursing mothers are given 'polos' and boiled jak to increase milk. 'Polos' curry also helps those recovering from diarrhoea, because 'vala' or the soft ripe jak is a laxative which can be eaten as it is. It helps clear the bowels and assists in digestion. It also helps relieve bronchitis when kept in bees honey and given to the patient each morning. 'Waraka' or the hard jak variety is beneficial to diabetic patients.
The leaves are dried, powdered and made into a coffee-like drink to be given to diabetics. According to an ancient recipe the ripe jak leaves are pounded and fried in gingili (sesame) oil and given to the diabetic patient each day. It is hard to imagine that such a simple recipe can be a cure for diabetes but the fact that it has been mentioned often in ancient books is proof of its efficacy.
The delicious mango (Mangitera indica) too has its share of medicinal properties. All parts of the tree can be used medicinally. Tender leaves dried and powdered are given for diarrhoea and diabetes. The smoke from the burning leaves can be inhaled for the relief of throat disorders and hiccups. The ash is an effective remedy for burns. And to remove warts on eyelids, the midrib of the mango leaves is burnt and the ash applied on the wart.
The juice of the mango tree bark has a remarkable effect on the mucus membrane. It can be given as a medicine to stop the discharge of mucus from the uterus, bowels and intestines. Bleeding piles and dysentery can be cured by the juice in addition to the white of an egg and a pinch of opium. The green skin of the raw fruit is dried and powdered and two teaspoons of this powder in half a cup of cow's milk with a teaspoonful of bees honey is another tonic for dysentery and piles. Meanwhile, the white juice that oozes near the stem when unripe mangoes are plucked, can be mixed with lime and applied as a remedy for skin infections or diseases.
An excellent gargle for sore throats is the fruit juice of the 'timbiri'. Known botanically as Diospyris malabarcia, the tree of this fruit is found commonly in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. The ripe fruit is said to contain a high quantity of tannin contained in a gummy juice which is also useful in diarrhoea and internal haemorrhage. A poultice of the bark helps in boils and tumours while a decoction of the bark mixed with ghee is a soothing remedy for burns. A powder of the root bark can be prepared in a manner similar to coffee, which helps cure coughs.
For an earache 'erabadu' (Erythrina variegeta) and also known as Coral Tree is highly recommended. The juice of the leaves of this decorative tree with brilliant scarlet flowers, can be gently applied in drop form to the ears for relief. The fresh juice of the leaves mixed with a bit of bees honey is a good remedy for tapeworm, threadworm and roundworm and the dosage is one teaspoon once a day. A preventive against worms is the cooking of tender leaves with coconut milk. The juice of the leaves can also be applied to the gums to relieve toothache. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to joints of the body for relief from rheumatic pains.
Another important fruit-medicine is the 'nelli'. This is a small, green sour fruit with a very high quantity of vitamin C. There is hardly any disease for which the 'nelli' is not used either singly or in combination with other herbs.
The 'nelli' is given to strengthen the retina and improves weak and defective vision. If dried 'nelli' is soaked overnight and the juice extracted and drunk each morning, it makes a good laxative. Leaves boiled and applied on skin eruptions is said to be beneficial. The ground leaves are said to cure eczema. Two tablespoons of 'nelli' mixed with a tablespoon of bees honey, taken regularly each morning helps reduce bleeding piles, while raw 'nelli', sour as it may be, improves complexion. Half a cup of 'nelli' juice twice a week helps keep bowel movements in order.
These are medicinal properties of just a few of the many invaluable plants found in Sri Lanka. For every ailment there is probably a plant cure with none of the side-effects that strong synthetically processed drugs on the market have. In ancient Sri Lanka such remedies were commonly and effectively used although down the ages many of these medicinal remedies have become extinct.
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