Subashree Vijay, a resident of Chennai, is an entrepreneur who sells herbal products from food to cosmetics and is an expert in gardening.
For the past two decades, she has maintained a herbal garden with over 400 varieties of medicinal plants. She also runs her own company, Atria, which offers functional food products, herbal cosmetics and herbal plants.
Subashree, who grew up in Madurai, was always fond of gardening since her childhood. It was her favourite pastime.
“After marriage, my family became my priority but I always tried to maintain a mini-garden even when we were staying in an apartment,” Subashree tells The Better India.
“Later, I happened to meet Mr Nellai Nayakam, a traditional Siddha (medicine) practitioner based out of Chennai and I started assisting him. He was the one who introduced me to herbs. Eventually, it became my passion and I started learning more about medicinal plants and their benefits,” says Subhashree who also did her postgraduation in Physics.
“Every house should have a couple of herbal plants in their garden,” she says with conviction. “There are a lot of medicinal plants that can be easily grown even in small spaces with a little care.”
Besides growing a herbal garden, the 50-year-old also helps in setting up these gardens for schools and colleges. She runs a seed bank and sells medicinal plants. It is for this reason that she received a mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ for her work with herbal plants and for making a herbal deodoriser, a substitute for naphthalene balls.
Talking to The Better India, Subashree shares a list of 10 medicinal plants that you can grow at home for respiratory and digestive health.
Herbs to grow for respiratory health:
1. Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Considered ‘the queen of herbs’, Tulsi can help in maintaining good respiratory health. The Tulsi leaves can be used as chooran (powder) or kashayam (decoction) and can also be used to make tea, by adding turmeric and pepper.
2. Karpuravalli or Ajwain (Arisochilus carrosus or Mexican mint)
The leaves of this herb can be chewed or its extract can be consumed with honey for soothing sore throats and treating a cold. During winter these leaves can also be used to make ‘bhajis’.
3. Thoothuvalai (Solanum trilobatum)
The leaves can be used to make chutneys, its powder and can also be added in soups. Dried leaves can be used in ‘dhal’ powders. “Their flowers are boiled in milk and given to cure cough,” she says.
4. Aadathodai or Vasaka (Justicia Adhatoda)
Aadathoda Manapagu is an effective cough syrup in Tamil Nadu. “A decoction made out of its leaves can help cure wheezing,” she adds.
5. Chitharathai or Kulanjan (Alpinia Galangal)
The roots of this plant are dried and powdered and mixed with honey for “treating cough and cold,” she says. Their leaves can also be used in herbal tea.
6. Nochi or Sambhalo (Vitex negundo)
“The leaves of Nochi can be used while steaming to cure headaches, sinusitis and wheezing. It can also be used in bath water for reducing body pain and fever,” says Subashree.
Herbs to grow for digestive health:
1. Pirandai or Hadjod (Veld grape)
It is also a well known bone strengthening herb. “The tender stems of Pirandai can be used to make chutneys, which can help in curing indigestion and piles,” she says.
Mint leaves are usually used for making chutney, soup, rasam and also tea. “It can improve the digestive process, cures ulcers in the mouth and also cure bloating,” she adds.
A great additive to tea, it also is a good ingredient for dishes like pulav. “It helps in improving metabolism, blood circulation and is also good for digestion,” she says.
4. Lemon Basil
Usually used in salads and tea, they are a good agent of flavour and aids digestion.
5. Curry leaves
Common ingredients in Indian cuisine, curry leaves can promote digestion and help in reducing gastric problems. Besides, it is a good source of iron and vitamins.
Other than the ones mentioned above, she says, “Some herbs help in rejuvenation, bone strengthening and liver stimulation such as Guduchi, Ashwagandha, Ponnanganni (Alternanthera sessilis), Bhringraj, etc.”
All of the herbs listed here can be grown by beginners with a little effort and can easily be maintained on a terrace or a balcony, says the gardening expert.
“These herbs just require well-aerated and nutrient-rich soil, ample sunlight and a little care from the gardeners,” she adds.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)