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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Alsi a wonder herb.

esearch Note - Pankaj Oudhia© 2001,2002,2003 Pankaj Oudhia - All Rights Reserved
As a student of Agronomy, we have read about Alsi in famous book titled "Modern Techniques of Raising field crops" by eminent Agronomist Dr. Chidda Singh that "Linseed is an important oilseed and fibre crop. It is grown both for its seed as well as fibre which is used for manufacture of linen. Seed contains a good percentage of oil which varies from 33 to 47 percent in different varieties. The oil is edible and also due to its quick drying property is used for the preparation of paints, varnishes, printing ink, oil cloth, soap, patent leather and water proof fabrics.’ In Chhattisgarh, it is grown as oilseed crop, in winter season. Although for the farmers it is oilseed crop but for the traditional healers of Chhattisgarh it is a valuable medicinal crop. They use all parts of Alsi (Linseed) both externally and internally in treatment of many common diseases. Alsi is considered as hardy crop and in general, farmers do not use chemical fertilisers. As it causes harms to the cattle, the farmers grow this crop without protection. The traditional healers fulfil their requirement of Alsi herb from crop fields. They never take the herb from the crop fields where fertilisers are used in order to get more yield. The healers also avoid to use new improved (high yielding) varieties for preparation of medicine . According to them, they avoid its use because they have not tested its effects on their patients. Although many research organisations are engaged in development of new varieties but unfortunately there is not a single breeding programme focused on increasing medicinal properties of Alsi herb.
Common and popular names of Alsi (Linum usitatissimum) around the world.
1) ArabicBazar-ul-katan, Bazr-ut-kattan, Kattan
2) BengalMasina, Mosina, Musni, Tisi
3) BrazilLinho
4) ChineseHou Ma
5) DanishHoer
6) DutchVlas
7) EgyptKittan
8) FinlandLin, Pellavan
9) EnglishCommon Flax, Flax, Linseed, Lint, Lyne
10) FormosaHu-ma
11) FrenchLin,Lin chaud, Lin commun, Lin cultive
12) GermanFlachs, Lein, Haarlisen
13) GreekLinon
14) GujaratiAlshi, Alsi
15) HebrewBad
16) HindiAlsi, Tisi
17) KurdishGosh
18) ItalianLinon
19) MorweiahLin
20) PersianBasarak Katun
21) PolishLen
22) PortugueseLin haca, Linho
23) RussianLen, Lyon
24) SanskritAtasi, Chanka, Deri, Huimwati, Nilapushpi, Madagandha, Parvathi, Masruna
25) SpanishLinon
26) TamilAlshi, Alsi
27) TeluguAtasi, Ullusulu
28) TurkiZiggar
29) UrduAlasi
30) UriyaPesu
I personally feel that there is a strong need to focus and start research works on this important aspect. Before describing the traditional medicinal knowledge about Alsi in Chhattisgarh, I am describing its botany. Alsi belongs to the Lineaceae family and genus Linum. The genus Linum consists of about 100 species which are widely distributed in the world. It is a herbaceous annual plant which attains height of 30 to 120 cm depending on the type of cultivar. Cultivar grown for seed (Oil) are usually shorter than those grown for fibre production. The root system is usually shallow. Stems are narrow and may branch from the base. The leaves are short and narrow; they are alternate on the stem and are sessile. The leaves are linear to lanceolate and blunt at the apex. The inflorescence consist of terminal panicle that bears numerous flowers. Flowers are white or blue, complete and perfect with five petals, five sepals and five stamens. The pistil is compound and the ovary matures into a capsule having four to ten cells, each of which may contain two seeds. The fruit is a capsule known as seed ball. It is globular in shape. These capsules are divided into five locules or compartments, in which the seeds are borne. The seeds are flat, shiny and relatively small. The seed colour varies to white, shining yellow or light brown. The traditional healers of Chhattisgarh extract the oil from Alsi seeds adopting traditional indigenous method. They extract two types of oil. In first method, freshly harvested seeds are used. In second method, the healers roast the seeds and roasted seeds are used for oil extraction. The healers use the oil extracted by using first method mostly. The oil extracted by second method is used for the treatment of specific skin troubles. It is also good for carbuncles. The oil extracted by first method is used as purgative commonly. Its use as purgative is reported in reference literatures. The healers suggest the patients having constipation to taken 3 spoonful of Alsi oil with a glass of milk before going to sleep. According to the traditional healers, the oil is good remedy for Bavasir (Piles).
The traditional healers of Rajnanadgaon area use this oil internally in treatment of Sujak (Gonorrhoea). The healers add Sonth (dried ginger) and other herbs specially Nirgundi (Vitex negundo) in Alsi seed oil and apply it externally in case of rheumatic pains. The patients suffering from Mirgi (Epilepsy) are advised by the healers to boil the oil and inhale the fumes in order to get rid from this disease. The healers give this treatment under their strict supervision. The fumes are harmful to eyes and over inhalation of fumes can produce harmful effects. This is the reason the healers avoid to take the risk. The eyes of patients are covered during this treatment. The traditional healer of Narharpur region apply the few drops of Alsi seed oil inside the penis. According to him, it is beneficial for the patients having Sujak (Gonorrhoea). For the treatment of burns, many healers prepare a special paste by mixing Alsi seed oil in lime water (Chuna Pani). This white coloured paste is applied externally on affected parts. The natives are also aware of its medicinal properties. In case of insomnia, the natives suggest the patients to massage the sole of legs with the special oil prepared by mixing the equal quantity of Castor (Andi) and Alsi oils. In many parts of Chhattisgarh, the natives collect the herb from crop fields and after drying burn it . The ash is collected and applied on whole body during bath. It is considered good for skin. The herb before flowering is preferred. The innovative herb growers utilize this ash as pest control measure. They prepare an aqueous solution by using this ash and spray the solution on standing crops. According to them, this solution repel away the harmful pest. I have seen its successful use on medicinal crop Kasturi Bhendi (Abelmoschus moschatus). The natives boil the Alsi herb in water and inhale the fumes as treatment of initial stage of coryza. During field work, in case of injury, the farmers of Chhattisgarh, use Alsi herb as styptic. The leaves and bark are used for this purpose. For dressing the old wound, the natives apply the ash of burnt barks. As many other alternatives are available, its use for these purposes are not so common and popular among natives but from research point of view it is important information. The herbal tea prepared from Alsi seeds and Kusum petals (Carthamus tinctorius) is very popular among natives. For the preparation of herbal tea, the seeds of Alsi with Sugar are boiled in water and for taste few drops of lemon juice is added. After boiling it is kept for two hours. After this duration, the tea is filtered and used. As its taste is not agreeable to every one, its popularity is decreasing. The natives add the leaves of lemon grass and powdered Mulethi (Glycrrhiza glabra; family : Leguminoseae) to make it more tasty.
According to the traditional healers of Chhattisgarh, the herbal tea prepared by using Alsi seeds possess valuable medicinal properties. It is good for urinary troubles and diseases of respiratory system. Most of the natives are not aware of these medicinal uses. The Alsi seeds are used most frequently as medicine as compared to other parts. For the treatment of respiratory troubles, the healers used aqueous leachate of Alsi seeds. They dip the seeds in clay pot overnight and next morning suggest the patients to drink the leachate empty stomach. It is considered as good Lung tonic. As the nature (Tasir) of Alsi is hot, the healers give this treatment during winter season. After boiling the Alsi seeds, in another method, the healers suggest the patients having respiratory troubles, to eat the boiled seeds with honey. In reference literature, this use in mentioned. According to these literatures, during winter it should be taken with honey whereas in summer, sugar should be used. The traditional healers of Chhattisgarh are not aware of this fact. They use the boiled seeds with honey only. The traditional healer of Mudpar village, use the Alsi seeds in different way. He roast the seeds and convert it into powder. The powder is given with Sugar to the patients for same trouble. The use of Alsi seeds as poultice is also common in Chhattisgarh. This special poultice is applied on wounds, swellings and joints having pain. The traditional healers of Bagbahera use the Alsi seeds as sex tonic. They use the seeds in combination with three types of Musli i.e. Safed Musli (Chlorophytum borivilianum), Kali Musli (Curculigo orchioides) and Semal Musli (Bombax ceiba). Two parts of Alsi seeds and one part of all Musli are used to prepare a herbal combination. The patients are advised to take this herbal combination during winter season. According to the healers, one season use is enough for round the year. The combination is given with milk. The traditional healers of Chhattisgarh plains are also aware of this formula but they add Satavar (Asparagus racemosus) roots and Kevatch (Mucuna pruriens) seeds in this herbal combination to make it more potential. Many healers utilize the flowers of Alsi in treatment of many common diseases, but its use is not much common. Alsi holds a reputed position as medicine in all systems of medicine in India. I am describing the reported medicinal uses of this important herb, I have noted from reference literatures. According to Ayurveda, the seeds are oily, hot, hard to digest, tonic, aphrodisiac and useful in treatment of biliousness, backache, inflammations, ulcers, urinary discharges, eye troubles, leprosy etc. Leaves cure asthma. According to Unani system of medicine, seeds are mucilaginous, diuretic, aphrodisiac, galactagogue, emmenagogue, and useful in treatment of cough and kidney troubles. Bark and leaves are good for gonorrhoea. Oil from seeds removes biliousness and impure blood. It is useful in loss of appetite, internal wounds and ring worm.
During my post graduate studies, I evaluated the allelopathic potential of selected weeds Parthenium hysterophorus, Blumea lacera, Lantana camara, Ageratum conyzoides, Ipomoea carnea, Calotropis gigantea and Datura stramonium on germination and seedling vigour of Alsi (Linseed). I have found the encouraging effects of Blumea lacera on Alsi. The leaf extracts of Blumea resulted in stimulatory allelopathic effects. In nature, Blumea and Alsi grow in same season. In many parts of Chhattisgarh, Blumea occur as weed in Alsi fields. It is common observation by the farmers that the presence of weeds in Alsi fields do not harm the crop and hence, in general they never go for weeding or use the weedicides to manage these weeds. My preliminary experiments have indicated that the presence of some specific weeds in Alsi fields may be beneficial for Alsi crop. In small experiment, I planted one, two and three plants of Blumea, around the Alsi herb (one plant). The Alsi plant surrounded by three plants of Blumea resulted in higher yield. The detailed experiments are in progress. In nature, it is difficult to maintain the Blumea population in specific manner, as it occur as weed. I am trying to learn from the mother nature’s arrangement. I personally feel that Blumea growing with Alsi is a result of nature’s selection and I am sure that there must be some positive interactions between them. Later , I conducted many experiments to evaluate the allelopathic potential of Alsi (Linseed) on common weeds. I have found many extracts and leachates of different parts of Alsi effective in management of obnoxious weed Gajar ghas (Parthenium hysterophorus). The detailed studies are in progress.
At present, Alsi is considered as oilseed and fibre crops but I am sure that with the help of detailed ethnobotanical surveys and systematic research, we are capable of establishing this crop as potential medicinal crop.