Herbal medicines of the Narikoravas
Folklore, Vol. 14, October, 1973: 363-366
Gift Siromoney, D.Giles Lal and C.Livingstone
Also in, Studies on
Vaagrivala, A Collection of Papers on the Narikorava
People of Tamil Nadu
Edited and Compiled by J.P.Vijayathilakan, STAT-27/ 77, February
Many claims have been made about the efficacy of herbal medicines of our country and during the last fifty years a lot of work has been done in the chemical analysis of plant material and identification of chemical
substances in the different
The people of the Narikorava2 tribe (Vaagrivala)3 depend primarily on herbal medicines prescribed by their medicine men. Many of the
vaidyas have settled down in a village called Vayalur near Uttiramerur town in Chinglepet district. They also go round the villages nearby and sell their herbal preparations.
Most of the plants they use appear in the Glossary of Indian Medical Plants but often they use the plants in a manner hitherto unrecorded. Only in a few cases does their use agree with the common use. For example
Manjakarasalankanni is a well known specific for jaundice and the Narikoravas use it for that purpose. On the other hand
Keelanelli which is equally well
known as a specific for jaundice does not seem to be used for that purpose, but for the treatment of intestinal worms.
In a few examples they may be using by mistake toxic plants for medicinal purposes and such an example is the use of
Paalai (Cryptostegia grandiflora) for snake-bite. They claim to use
Naayuruvi (Achyranthes aspera) for dog-bite and one wonders whether it is partly due to the common Tamil name associated with the dog. They classify
Nannari (Hemidesmus indicus) into two different kinds depending on the shape of leaves even though such differences are not
recognized as significant by botanists for the purposes of plant classification.
A team of students and staff of the Madras Christian College visited Vayalur village in July, 1972 for collecting anthropometrical serological data about the Narikoravas. Student volunteers collected plant specimens from the
Narikorava families and noted down their medicinal uses as given by them. The
Vaagri names are given in brackets and the Tamil names used by these people are also noted. We follow
Gamble4 for the botanical nomenclature. The list of plants and their uses is in no way exhaustive and further work is needed to get a more complete list. Most of the plants listed are common plants and
they did not present any serious problem in their identification.
While going through the list one finds the common ailments of these
Narikoravas who lead a nomadic life. For example there are specifics to reduce the pains and
aches of the body, for dog-bite and scorpion sting. The Narikoravas are highly superstitious and many of their claims for some of the herbs are likely to be exaggerated but nevertheless we record here what we have collected from them. More intensive work of this nature is called for to cover
the other primitive tribes of Tamilnad before the knowledge of the folk-medicines get lost due to pressures of
The contributors wish to thank Messrs S.Mohanram, R.Gopinath and V.Murali, the student investigators who helped in the collection of
data at Vayalur.
A List of Medicinal Plants Used by Narikoravas
- Cynandropsis pentaphylla(Singidikibaji) Leaf juice used in ear ailments.
- Portulaca oleracea(Thalkabaji) Stems and leaves are boiled with
tamarind, garlic and chillies. The decoction is used for pain in the joints and for gas trouble.
- Sida veronicaefoliaLeaves ground into a paste and applied for thorn poison.
- Melia azedarachTarn : Malai vembuLeaf juice used for worm troubles and also to encourage conception in women.
- Dodonaea viscoseTam : AnaarLeaves boiled with water and the liquid used for fomenting swollen scrotum.
- Abrus precatoriusTarn : Kundu maniFor the aching of limbs, first apply
neem oil and then cover it with the leaves of this plant and bandage.
- Caesalpinia coriariaTarn : Ingi maramThe dried seeds
powdered and mixed with milk and used in the treatment of piles.
- Cassia auriculataTarn : Aavaram thazhaiFor a cooling effect, leaves are ground into a paste and applied to the head before bathing.
- Tamarindus indicaTam : Puliya maramTo make bony children healthy,
three handful of leaf juice given once in a weak for three weeks.
- Coccinia indicaTarn : Kovai thazhaiLeaf juice used as
eye-drops for eye ailments. Leaf juice mixed with cow's milk is taken in for urino-genital ailments.
- Trianthema portulacastrum(Chiyathkabaji) Tarn :
CheruppadaiLeaves made into a paste and applied to fresh wounds and to scorpion
sting. Also gives a cooling effect and remedy for gas trouble.
- Mollugo oppositifoliaTarn : ThorakkeeraiPlant juice is a tonic to mothers soon after delivery.
- Alangium salvifolium(Akhola) Tam : AvinjilLeaves ground and applied to tongue or lips crack. For dog-bite young leaves ground with
garlic and taken in for three days, thrice a day. Bark ground and taken in if
bitten by a rabid dog.
- WedeIia calendulaceaTam : ManjakkarasalankanniLeaves ground and taken in for jaundice.
- Vinca roseaTam : Othaikadalaickaai pooLeaves ground and taken in for leprosy.
- Hemidesmus indicusTam : Aan nannariDecoction of root used for anemia in women. This is the plant before flowering showing narrow leaves.
- Hemidesmus indicusTam : Pen nannariDecoction of root used for anemia in men. This is also the same plant (previous one), but shows broader leaves and
it is the flowering stage.
- Cryptostegia grandifloraTam : Pal nangaiRoot used as an antidote for scorpion
sting and snake-bite.
- Gymnema sylvestreTam : Chiru kurinchanPlant dried and powdered and taken in for urinary complaints.
- Rivea hypocrateriformisTam : Uttha maniFor boils, the
latex (milky juice) of the plant is applied and dressed.
- Evolvulus alsinoidesTam : Mookkutlhi poo,
ulcers plant ground into a paste and applied.
- Solanum xanthocarpumTam : Kandan katthiriFruits
ground into a paste and applied to the head for a cooling effect.
- Justicia prostrataTam : Chinna mookkuthi
kanthiLeaves made into a paste and applied to fresh wounds and for
- Ocimum basilicumTam : Thiru nootthu pachaiDecoction of leaves used for stomach upset in children. Also as ear-drops.
- Ocimum adscendensTam : Kattu thulasiLeaves dried and
powdered, palmyrah jaggery crystals also powdered, both mixed and made into
pellets, taken in for rheumatism.
- Coleus aromaticusTam : Karpoora valliLeaf juice given to children for cold and fever.
- Leucas aspera(Kadar kumbam) Tam : ThumbaiLeaf juice applied for scorpion
sting. For cold and cough applied to chest and throat.
- Leucas diffusaTam : ThumbaiLeaf juice taken in for scorpion sting.
- Boerhaavia diffusa(Siyathsigabaji) Tam :
keerraiFor scorpion sting, roots rubbed into a paste with saliva and applied. Also roots chewed and
the juice swallowed.
- Celosia argentea(Lambrikabaji) To be more healthy, the leaves used
- Amaranthus viridis(Kagalabaji) Used as a green for gas trouble.
- Achyranthes asperaTam : Navirinji keeraiLeaves pounded with chillies and administered for dog-bites.
- Euphorbia hirtaTam : Amman pacharisiDecoction of the plant used as a blood-purifier.
- Phyllanthus niruriTam : Keela nelliLeaves ground and taken in, gives a cooling effect, encourages conception in women. Also useful against
- Acalypha indicaTam : Kuppa maniPounded leaves taken in for lung complaints.
1. R. N. Chopra, S. L. Nayar and I. C. Chopra, Glossary of Indian Plants, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, 1956.
2. K. R. Rajagopalan and J. P. Vijayathilakan, "Religious ceremonies and practices of the Narikoravas", Aaraaichi, (1972) 3, 193-198.
3. G.G. Srinivasa Varma, "Vaagriboli, an Indo Aryan Language",
Annamalai University, Chidambaram, 1970.
4. J. S. Gamble, "Flora of the Presidency of Madras", Botanical
Survey of India, Calcutta, 1958.
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