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  • Nisha Dhanasekaran

Nature’s bounty: Plant-based alternatives

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

While most of us savour coconuts and bananas in their simple raw forms, we seem to have forgotten the wholesomeness of the coconut and banana trees- right from roots to fruits. The coconut tree or Kalpa-Vriksha which literally translates to “the tree which provides all necessities of life” in Sanskrit, is termed as one of the most useful trees in the world.

The white inner substance known as the coconut meat/flesh is a part of different cuisines and helps in stabilizing blood sugar, improving immunity, support weight loss and improve digestive health etc. The coconut husks or shells is considered extremely effective for removing impurities as it is an abundant source of activated carbon. These shells were once upon a time used to neutralise poisoned drinks! Coir (the fibre from the husk of the coconut) is used in ropes, mats, doormats, brushes, sacks, as caulking for boats, and as stuffing fibre for mattresses, as compost in horticulture, washing and cleaning utensils etc. While the leaves are used for thatching houses, making brooms and eco-friendly straws, the trunks are used for building small bridges and huts. Coconut timber is also being used as an ecologically sound alternative for endangered hardwoods. The roots are used as a toothbrush, dye, mouthwash and for treating diarrhoea and dysentery while coconut flowers also have various medicinal uses.

While we colloquially refer to banana trees as trees, they are in fact tall plants. Most of us may not like the idea of eating them, but banana peels are edible and are a rich source of nutrients. Banana peels are also great natural fertilizers that enrich the soil with nutrients. The fibres from banana stems can be used as natural threads. These threads can even be used to make eco-friendly clothes. Plastic and styrofoam plates can be replaced by banana leaves, which serve as biodegradable plates. The roots have medicinal uses and are used in Ayurveda. While the entire banana plant is multi-faceted, every part of it except the leaves can be eaten to derive a whole bundle of nutrients.

Another commonly mistaken grass for a tree is bamboo. Bamboo is so versatile that it has a countless number of uses- from construction, medicines, clothes to food, fuel, paper, furniture and much much more. The fact that it is the tallest grass in the world should rank below its multiplicity in terms of popularity. It rarely needs replanting and requires no irrigation, produces 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. It can be grown in a wide range of environment, is an excellent inhibitor of soil erosion, and is one of the best eco-friendly substitutes for synthetic fibres. Bamboo secretions are also used in the treatment of asthma, cough and other debilitating diseases.

Have you ever noticed that one tree that is all by itself in the corner of your neighbourhood? Yes, the one that looks like a grandpa smiling at his grandkids play. The eucalyptus with aromatic leaves is a charmer. Apart from using it as a substitute for Vicks during a cold/flu, the oil from its leaves can be used to relieve sore muscles, treat different types of fever, help reduce blood sugar levels and increase cardiac action. It is also an excellent topical remedy for aching joints and rheumatism. Eucalyptus wood, known for its presence in the paper industry, is also used as an eco-friendly material in the construction of huts, houses, doors, plywoods, windows etc. Its acts as a natural Malaria deterrent with its ability to drain swamps. All parts of the Eucalyptus tree also make for a good natural dye by simply processing the plant part with water. Who knew an old, lonely tree could be of this much use?

In contrast to the old eucalyptus, one tree that you can find anywhere and everywhere in Southern India is neem. Neem or the Indian Lilac is like your very affectionate naani (grandmom) and has a solution for almost every problem of yours. With more than 130 different biologically active compounds, it is an effective anti-bacterial and anti-viral remedy. Neem leaf is used for leprosy, eye disorders, bloody nose, intestinal worms, stomach upset, loss of appetite, skin ulcers, diseases of the heart and blood vessels, fever, diabetes, and liver problems. It also helps maintain excellent oral hygiene. So the next time you forget to pack your toothbrush for a trip, simply pluck a twig or two from a neem tree and brush away! Did you know neem leaf could even be used as a birth control alternative? That is why it might be unsafe for pregnant women to consume neem oil, bark or leaves. Neem is also a dominant player in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry and helps treat dandruff, acne, wounds, ear boils and many other skin disorders.

Using plant-based alternatives not only improve your lifestyle but also but in promoting sustainable and eco-friendly living. So the next time you’re planning on visiting a doctor, buying a new skincare product or engaging in a fancy diet, simply turn around and look at all the bounty nature has provided us to help ourselves with!


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