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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 1977

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 plants.1

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 modernization.

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