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Call to keep away from raw herbs

June 21, 2012


KARACHI, June 20: While even those looking for quick allopathic cures for their ailments often get tempted to try something natural on stumbling over all those aloe vera plants, small bitter melons or pumpkins and yellow creepers, not to mention the many jarred herbs, being sold by the roadside, experts in Eastern medicine warn such adventurous individuals to think twice before blindly buying that stuff.

The roadside vendors also call themselves experts in the medicinal value of all these herbs and advise who should have what and when.

“Aloe vera is for easing joint pains. The gel you acquire after peeling a leaf can be applied to the scalp for getting rid of dandruff or for helping in faster hair growth,” says Shakil Ahmad, a vendor on Shahrah-i-Liaquat.

“You can mash it up to make a paste of the jelly part or you can cook it in mustard seed oil and apply to the aching joints after cooling,” he adds.

The plant seemingly pulled at the roots is sold at Rs40 or 50 depending on its size. “You can also replant it at your place,” Mr Ahmad adds.

Pointing at another item on display, the vendor says: “They are so bitter that if you cut one into half and rub it on the soles of your feet, the bitterness will reach your tongue and not go away for two or three days even. We call it Tumba in local lingo, and it grows abundantly on creepers or climbers in the wild, though we have brought ours from Balochistan,” he claims.

Asked what it does other than leave a bad taste in the mouth, he explains: “First and foremost, it is a great natural medicine for diabetic patients. Then if you dry it out and have it in its dehydrated form, it cures indigestion, gas and constipation,” the vendor says, adding that Tumba was selling at Rs50 per kg.

Another fresh material on offer was a pile of yellow threads that looked like corn silk or bhuttay ke baal but turned out to be something else on closer inspection. “We call it Amarbel or simply yellow creepers [peeli bail],” he says. “If you take a handful and sprinkle it over any other healthy plant, this creeper will simply kill it. But believe it or not, it, too, carries its medicinal value and people use it for easing pain in their joints,” he adds.

And who buys all this stuff? “Well, people, young as well as old, come to buy all this stuff and the medicines we have prepared out of these,” he says while showing a jar of murabba he has prepared from Tumba.

Reading the ingredients, one is surprised at the rich contents used in its preparation such as khoya, asli ghee, sugar, etc. “This is only for curing joint pains, not suitable for diabetics,” he warned with a smile and the shaking of the finger.

But an informative and very eye-opening chat with an expert trained in Eastern medicine reveals more than just keeping away from the murabba if you were diabetic.

Prof Usman Ghani Khan, visiting professor at the Faculty of Eastern Medicine, Hamdard University, Karachi, advises staying away from all these herbs in their raw form.

“We have read and heard that aloe vera eases inflammation of the joints to reduce arthritis pain but as far as I know it is all hearsay, with no significant documentary evidence available to date,” says the professor while speaking to Dawn.

“And even if you want to consume the stuff as the roadside vendor may encourage you to do, you don’t eat the entire plant. Just a one-inch or even smaller piece should be enough as dosages, too, should be considered,” he says.

‘Tumba is toxic’

More shocking information referring to the other item on sale, the Tumba, reveals that it is more harmful than helpful. “Tumba or the Citrullus colocynthis is poisonous! It is so toxic in nature that it can hurt a man’s reproductive system,” warns the professor. “But our simple gullible folks would eat anything without thinking,” he adds.

“Yes,” he admits, “it may have some medicinal properties and it is used in some medicines in hikmat but not before detoxifying it,” explains Prof Khan.

“People say that it has anti-diabetic properties, but you have to understand that diabetes is more of a condition than an illness where the pancreas stop making enough insulin. Walk along with other healthy exercises and taking care of one’s diet may itself bring blood sugar under control,” he adds. “Finding a herbal cure for controlling sugar is a difficult job anyway.”

As for the yellow creeper or Amarbel, the professor says that it is also not for eating just like that. “The creeper’s scientific name is Aftimun and we use it in medicine for controlling anxiety or sleep disorders. We normally use it in combination with three other things and I don’t believe it will be as effective when taken alone in its raw form,” he concludes.