How does one connect the ongoing pandemic, people’s health, traditional knowledge and the sowing season?
Social entrepreneur Lakshmi Menon has the answer, with her latest initiative, Farmacy. Lakshmi is the inspiration behind the iconic Chekutty doll, that became a symbol of the weaving community’s resilience in the face of the 2018 floods.
Farmacy — an ancillary of her outfit Pure Living, will now retail and home-deliver indigenous herbs and plants that were consumed in traditional food and commonly used in home remedies.
The plants will be delivered along with information on their properties, curative powers and recipes. The service will be operated through social media or an app, and the plants will be collected and sourced by villagers who are experts in identifying them and know their uses.
“We learn from doctors that one of the ways to counter the current health crisis is by building immunity, and diet plays a vital role in it,” says Lakshmi, explaining that, around 50 years ago, most houses in Kerala had herbs and plants growing naturally. “Our grandmothers and people of that generation knew the efficacy of the sap, juice, leaves, roots, and stem of these indigenous plants.”
Many people today consider these plants to be weeds. In the last couple of decades, these plants have been replaced by imported ones brought in for large-scale landscaping of public spaces. Even home gardens now have lawns with Korean grass and imported plants.
“This has resulted in the disappearance of indigenous plants from the ecology,” says Lakshmi, adding that this is true especially in cities.
A bigger problem, she says, is identification. “Very few people can now identify these plants or know of their goodness,” she says.
“The thiruvathira njattuvela (14 days around the summer solstice) is the best time to sow these plants, as they need a lot of water,” says Nibu John, who has grown a food forest and a medicinal garden at Thiruvankulam on the outskirts of the city. According to him, plants like thazhuthama (spreading hogweed) and even thumba (Ceylon slitwort), which grew in every nook and corner, cannot be seen now.
“The thumba is one of the most important flowers in the Onam pookalam (flower carpet). As kids, we used to see it blooming everywhere but it is invisible now. Its juice was believed to relieve sinus attack,” he recalls.
Anand P Kamath of Alungal Farms, a two-acre repository of medicinal plants and herbs in the heart of the city, says, “The kurunthotti (flannel weed) and the kallurukki (licorice weed) have completely vanished.” He also mentions the Government’s employment scheme and the clearing of foliage from public spaces.
Another reason he offers is the shrinking of home plots and the usage of every inch of land in construction, which leaves no chance for growth of natural plant life.
Anand learnt all about the efficacy of these plants from his father, Puroshottam Kamath, who set up this unique farm in the early 1990s and is wary of commercialising them. “Once grown commercially, I am not sure if its medicinal properties will remain as required.”
Farmacy will retail in collaboration with Marari Fresh home delivery agency, and Kochi based stores Ente Bhoomi and SHOHM retail shop. Products will be available from June 10. For more information contact: 9895040899