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A herbal plant which requires very little watering and is an extremely hardy plant is Adhatoda zeylanica. (It is also known as Justicia adhatoda, and Adhatoda vasica). If there is one herbal plant that needs to be singled out for propagation and planting on a large scale, it would be this one. Adhatoda in Tamil, meaning a plant shunned by herbivorous animals, it is also known as the Malabar Nut in English and Vasa in Sanskrit. Propagated easily by cuttings, grows to a height of eight to 14 feet and has attractive white flowers.

Adhatoda is useful for curing coughs, colds and asthma and is easy to administer. As with most herbal medicines it is most effective if administered as soon as symptoms begin to manifest themselves. Boil three leaves of the herb (after washing) in a cup of water. (It should be boiled and reduced to half.) Half a cup of the decoction can be taken each time three or four times a day.

Adhatoda zeylanica Medic. syn. A. vasica Nees (Malabar nut, Vasaka)

Bengali- Basak; Gujarati-Aradusi; Hindi- Arusa, Bansa; Kannada- Adusoge, Kurchigida, Pavate; Malayalam- Adalodakam; Oriya- Arusa, Basung; Sanskrit-Shwetavasa, Vasa, Vasaka; Tamil.--Adhatodai, Pavettai; Telugu- Addasaramu, Garhwal- Bangra; Kashmiri- Bahekar, Baikar, Basuth, Bhenkar; Kumaun- Arus, Basinga; PunjabI-Bansa, Basuti, Bhekar, Vasaka.

If you grow the plant at home or if you are sure that the leaf surface is unlikely to have pollutants like pesticide or diesel particles you can grind two leaves in a mixer (after washing) with a little water. Half a spoon of the juice can be administered with ΒΌ spoon of ginger juice two or three times a day. For those who find its bitter taste unpalatable, having it with half a spoon of honey should help. (Honey should help with the cough or cold.)

While this drug has no toxic side effects, your child should be gradually introduced to the herb. Start with about a quarter spoon and then increase the dosage. It is recommended for children who have completed one year. For very young children start with a few tablespoons of the boiled decoction with honey. Those children who have been on a regular course of antibiotics will generally take a little longer to respond.

Adhatoda works two ways. It improves the functioning of the respiratory system and the immune system. It has been used for centuries, and is mentioned in Sanskrit scriptures. It is an expectorant and is a constituent of many herbal cough syrups. A study by Shah et al in 1987 indicates that it is the vasicine and vasicinine in the herb that is responsible for its bronchodilatory effects and usefulness even in cases of asthmatic bronchitis.

The juice relieves an irritable cough with its soothing action, liquefying the phlegm and mucus in the clogged channels and facilitating expectoration. If a child brings out phlegm, do not worry. Similarly, a little more or less of the juice is not harmful.

It is indeed unfortunate that instead of upholding we are spending crores of rupees on toxic chemical formulations very often produced in ecologically damaging ways. Adhatoda could become a symbol of our commitment to eco-friendly medicine. Can we ask for more?

For saplings and further information contact:

  • The Medicinal Plant Development Area, Forest Department, Government of Tamil Nadu, Pulleri, Chingleput.
  • Centre for Traditional Medicine and Research, Chennai.

    Telephone: 495 8198, 440 5583, E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


    The writer is Chairperson, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board.

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