Introduction: The Great Outdoors : in Search of Medicinal Plants

About: I like to make things more simple with easily available resources. My favorite quote: A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a…

Our home town, located in Cumbum Valley, Tamil Nadu, India, is surrounded by hills (Western Ghats) on all sides which host a variety of flora and fauna. The hills also contain lots of medicinal plants growing in abundance.

When our children wanted to go for an outing, I took the opportunity to take them to the hills and asked them to identify medicinal plants which they might come across in the wilderness. Our three children, one of my niece and myself undertook this trip to the hills, which was just a few kilometers away from our home.

With my assistance the children identified so many medicinal plants growing in the hills. I hope our little expedition will be helpful for those who are interested in medicinal plants.

I have given the medicinal properties of the plants as it appears on the websites I have referred to without any alteration.

Step 1: Safety

Safety first...

The waterfalls you can see at the background is home for lots of wild animals including wild elephants. So, the children had to contain themselves and not to wander into deep jungle. Also we carried enough water, some snack food for the children and a first aid kit.

With my guidance, the children started exploring the surroundings for any plants which may contain medicinal value.

Step 2: Acalypha Indica

The first one the children came across is the Indian acalypha also known as Indian nettle. It grows in most of the Asian countries and also in Africa as a weed.

Botanical Name Acalypha indica, from the family Euphorbiaceae

Local Names : Kuppai meni in Tamil and Harita manjari in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

An erect herb growing up to 3 feet high, leaves are about one to two inches long, ovate or rhomboid-ovate in shape. Flowers in axillary spikes, female flowers below, held in shallowly cup-shaped bracts and male flowers above, very small, yellowish-green in color.

Medicinal value (Quoted from the referred website)

The juice extracted from the leaves, mixed with lime and applied on skin to cure diseases caused by Ringworm. Fresh juice of leaves mixed with oil and salt is used for Rheumatoid_arthritis and to cure Scabies. Powdered leaves are used to cure bedsores and infected wounds. The active medicinal compounds like Acalyphine and Triacetoneamine are extracted from this plant.They contain cyanogenic glucoside and alkaloids.The paste of the leaves can be applied to burns.


Step 3: Amaranthus Viridis

The Green Amaranth is a very common species growing in our back yard. So, it is very easy for the children to identify this plant. The leaves are used as green vegetable.

Botanical name Amaranthus viridis from the family Amaranthaceae.

Local Names : Kuppai keerai in Tamil and Tanduliya in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

An annual herb with stems erect or occasionally ascending, 10-80 cm long with branched stems. Leaves are triangular-ovate to narrowly rhombic, 2-7 cm long, 1.5-5.5 cm wide, hairless.  Tip usually narrow and stalks 1-10 cm long. Flowers are green, in slender, paniculate spikes, in leaf axils or at the end of branches. Both sexes are mixed throughout the spikes, but female flowers are more numerous.

Medicinal value (Quoted from the referred website)

A decoction of the entire plant is used to stop dysentery and inflammation. The plant is emollient and vermifuge. The root juice is used to treat inflammation during urination. It is also taken to treat constipation.


Step 4: Cynodon Dactylon

Cynodon dactylon, commonly known as Bermuda grass, is not only native to Africa, but native to Asian countries also and used in most of the Hindu temples by the priests for performing holy rituals. Our children have seen our pets eating this grass when they are not feeling well.

Botanical Name: Cynodon dactylon from the Family: Poaceae

Local Names : Arugampul in Tamil and Niladurva in Sanskrit


The blades are a grey-green color and are short, usually about 10 centimeters long with rough edges. The erect stems can grow up to 30 centimeters tall. The stems are slightly flattened, often tinged purple in color.

Medicinal Value (Quoted from the referred website)

A traditional use of Cynodon is for eye disorders and weak vision; the afflicted are advised to walk bare foot on dew drops spread over Cynodon plant each morning. According to Ayurveda, India's traditional pharmacopoeia, Cynodon plant is pungent, bitter, fragrant, heating, appetizer, vulnerary, anthelmintic, antipyretic, alexiteric. It destroys foulness of breath, useful in leucoderma, bronchitis, piles, asthma, tumors, and enlargement of the spleen. According to Unani system of medicine, Cynodon plant is bitter, sharp hot taste, good odor, laxative, brain and heart tonic, aphrodisiac, alexipharmic, emetic, emmenagogue, expectorant, carminative and useful against grippe in children, and for pains, inflammations, and toothache. Virus-affected discolored leaves of Cynodon are used for the treatment of liver complaints.. In Homoeopathic systems of medicine, it is used to treat all types of bleeding and skin troubles


Step 5: Euphorbia Hirta

Children found another plant growing among the Bermuda Grass. They have also seen this plant growing in open grasslands, roadsides and pathways. It is commonly called as 'Asthma Weed' or 'Snake weed'.

Botanical name : Euphorbia hirta from the Family : Euphorbiaceae

Local Names : Amman Paccharisi in Tamil and Dugudhika in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

The leaves of this plant are simple, elliptical in shape and hairy on lower surfaces of leaves and also on the veins. Leaves occur in opposite pairs on the stems. The hairy stem produce an abundant white latex when plucked.

Medicinal value (Quoted from the referred website)

Euphorbia Hirta has been known to keep the body temperature under control and helps to keep the body cool. It cures the thirsty feeling often faced by people and increases body resistance. It also keeps the body strong.

Reference :

Step 6: Phyllanthus Amarus

Phyllanthus amarus, commonly known as 'Carry Me Seed' is one of the very valuable medicinal plant growing in the wild. It is a well known plant to the children as it is being commonly used by everybody for treatment of Jaundice in our area.

Botanical Name Phyllanthus amarus, from the family Phyllanthaceae

Local Names : Keela Nelli in Tamil and Bahupatra in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

'Carry Me Seed' is a small herb, about 30 centimeters tall, with numerous small oblong-elliptic leaves. Small yellowish flowers and the fruits form below the leaves hanging down in beautiful array hidden by the leaves.

Medicinal Properties (Quoted from the referred website)

The plant is bitter, astringent, stomachic, diuretic, febrifuge and antiseptic. Whole plant is used in dropsy, gonorrhoea, menorrhagia and other genital affections. It is useful ingartropathy, dropsy, jaundice, diarrhoea, dysentery, intermittent fevers, ophthalmopathy, scabies, ulcers and wounds. Young shoots and leaves are given in dysentery and ulcers. Fresh root is an excellent remedy for jaundice. The decoction of the plant is a remedy for intermittent fevers and intermittents with infracts of the spleen and liver. Also as a good tonic and diuretic.

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Step 7: Sphaeranthus Indicus

Sphaeranthus indicus, commonly known as 'East Indian Globe Thistle' .. Children found this wonderful medicinal plant growing under a rock cover

Botanical Name Sphaeranthus indicus from the family Asteraceae

Local Names : Visnukkarantai in Tamil and Mahamundi / Tapasvini in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

The plant cane be identified with its purple colored globose flower heads appearing in bunches

Medicinal Properties (Quoted from the referred website)

Sphaeranthus indicus Linn. (Asteraceae) is widely used in Ayurvedic system of medicine to treat vitiated conditions of epilepsy, mental illness, hemicrania, jaundice, hepatopathy, diabetes, leprosy, fever, pectoralgia, cough, gastropathy, hernia, hemorrhoids, helminthiasis, dyspepsia and skin diseases. There are reports providing scientific evidences for hypotensive, anxiolytic, neuroleptic, hypolipidemic, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, bronchodialatory, antihyperglycemic and hepatoprotective activities of this plant. A wide range of phytochemical constituents have been isolated from this plant including sesquiterpene lactones, eudesmenolides, flavanoids and essential oil.

Reference :

Step 8: Argemone Mexicana

Argemone mexicana, commonly known as 'Mexican prickly poppy' and 'Flowering thistle' is found in many parts of India. It is a medicinal plant used in Siddha medicine.

The translated old Siddha text reads like...

"Raw sore, eczema in children, small itch and poisons
Irritating cough, tooth ache and insect bite poisons
Venereal induced rheumatism and copiuos urination
With Argemone Mexicana all come to termination"

Botanical Name Argemone mexicana, from the family Papaveraceae

Local Names : Kudiyotti in Tamil and Swarnakshiri in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

Very easy to identify with its prickly thistle-like leaves and bright yellow colored flowers. If you break a stem or leaf you can find a bright yellow latex oozing out from the stems.

Medicinal Properties (Quoted from the referred website)

According to Ayurveda the plant is diuretic. purgative and destroys worms. It cures lepsory, skin-diseases, inflammations and bilious fevers. Roots are anthelmintic. Juice is used to cure ophthalmia and opacity of cornea. Seeds are purgative and sedative.

Reference :

Step 9: Solanum Nigrum

Solanum nigrum, commonly known as Black nightshade is the next one the children came upon. Some people suggest not to eat this plant but we used to cook the leaves and berries as vegetable. This plant is also growing in our back yard.

Botanical Name Solanum nigrum from the family Solanaceae

Local Names : Manathakkaali in Tamil and Kakamachi in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

The plant grows to about four feet tall, the leaves are oval to diamond shaped having little white star-like flowers with yellow cores, The raw berries are green, small in size and turn to a shiny black when ripe. 

Medicinal uses (Quoted from the referred website)

S. nigrum is an important ingredient in traditional Indian medicines. Infusions are used in dysentery, stomach complaints and fever. The juice of the plant is used on ulcers and other skin diseases. The fruits are used as a tonic, laxative, appetite stimulant; and also for treating asthma and "excessive thirst". Traditionally the plant was used to treat tuberculosis. It is known as Peddakasha pandla koora in the Telangana region. This plant's leaves are used to treat mouth ulcers that happen during winter periods of Tamil Nadu, India. It is known as Manathakkali keerai in Tamil Nadu and Kaachi Soppu in Karnataka, and apart from its use as a home remedy for mouth ulcers, is used in cooking like spinach. In North India, the boiled extracts of leaves and berries are also used to alleviate liver-related ailments, including jaundice. In Assam, the juice from its roots is used against asthma and whooping cough

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Step 10: Solanum Trilobatum

Solanum trilobatum, commonly called as the Purple fruited Pea Egg plant grows so wild in hills. We used the leaves as green vegetable after removing the thorns

Botanical Name Solanum trilobatum from the family Solanaceae

Local Names : Thooduvalai in Tamil and Agnidamini in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

The plant is a creeper and is full of thorns, even the leaves have thorns. It has purple flowers and the leaves have 3 or 5 lobes. the fruits are about one centimeter in size and have lots of seeds inside.

Medicinal uses

Cough and Cold

The herb is very effective in treating cold and cough. It also cures throat congestion. Recently I found that Vallarai chocolates are being sold in medical shops. This is for people who are suffering from cough.

Asthma and other respiratory diseases

People suffering from Asthma can take the juice of the herb. The fruits of the plant can be consumed in honey and consumed. It can also be used in treating various respiratory diseases, carcinoma, dyspnoea, anrexia, etc

Reference :

Step 11: Abutilon Indicum

'Abutilon indicum' commonly known as Indian Mallow, is the next  to be found in the hills

Botanical Name Abutilon indicum from the family Malvaceae

Local Names : Thuthi in Tamil and Atibala / Svadukoshataki in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

The leaves of Abutilon indicum  are veined like a palm and have wavy or serrated edges. Flowers are solitary, paired, or borne in small inflorescences in the leaf axils or toward the branch tips. The flowers are most often yellow or orange. The fruit is rounded or hemispherical in shape with many segments, each containing a few seeds.

Medicinal Properties

In traditional medicine, various parts of the plant are used as a demulcent, aphrodisiac, laxative, diuretic, sedative, astringent, expectorant, tonic, anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic, and analgesic and to treat leprosy, ulcers, headaches, gonorrhea, and bladder infection. The whole plant is uprooted, dried and is powdered. In ancient days, maidens were made to consume a spoonful of this powder with a spoonful of honey, once in a day, for 6 months until the day of marriage, for safe and quick pregnancy.

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Step 12: Senna Auriculata

'Senna auriculata'  also known as Tanner's Cassia is an attractive plant with lots of big yellowish flowers growing in the hills as well in the plains

Botanical Name Senna auriculata, from the family Fabaceae

Local name : Avaram in Tamil and Charmaranga in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

The leaves are alternate, very numerous and closely placed with an erect linear gland between the leaflets of each pair. The flowers are bright yellow in color and are bigger than the leaves.

Medicinal uses: (Quoted from the referred website)

This plant is said to contain a cardiac glucoside (sennapicrin) and sap, leaves and bark yield anthraquinone anthraquinones, while the latter contains tannins.

The root is used in decoctions against fevers, diabetes, diseases of urinary system and constipation. The leaves have laxative properties. The dried flowers and flower buds are used as a substitute for tea in case of diabetes patients. It is also believed to improve the complexion in women. The powdered seed is also applied to the eye, in case of chronic purulent conjunctivitis. In Africa the bark and seeds are said to give relief in rheumatism, eye diseases, gonorrhea, diabetes and gout.

The plant has been shown to have antibacterial activity in the laboratory.

Reference :

Step 13: Glory Lily

Children found some exotic flowers in the bushes... They are Glory Lilies

Botanical Name Gloriosa superba, from the family Colchicaceae

Local Names : Senganthal / Kallappai kilangu in Tamil and Agnimukhi / Garbhaghatini in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

This is a creeper climbing on bushes and shrubs to a height of about five to six feet. The leaves are mainly alternately arranged, lance-shaped and tipped with tendrils. They have showy flowers, many with distinctive petals, ranging in color from a greenish-yellow through yellow, orange, red and sometimes even a deep pinkish-red

Medicinal Uses (Quoted from the referred website)
  • For the expulsion of worms from the body.
  • As a laxative and as an agent to promotes labor pain or to bring about abortion.
  • Chronic ulcers,leprosy,inflammation,piles,abdominal pain and itching.
  • Gives tone and vitality to the body.
  • For the removal of mucous secretion from the bronchial tubes.
  • For neuralgic pains and skin troubles.

How to use :

  • The decoction of the tuber is useful to take care of the first 5 problems under Medicinal use.
  • The tubers are crushed and used externally for neuralgic pains and skin troubles.

Reference :

Step 14: Calotropis Gigantea

'Calotropis gigantea' commonly known as Crown flower, is very easy to find.

Botanical Name Calotropis gigantea, from the family Apocynaceae

Local Names : Erukku in Tamil and Svetapushpa / Alarka in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

It is a large shrub growing. It has clusters of waxy flowers that are either white or lavender in colour. Each flower consists of five pointed petals and a small, elegant crown rising from the center, which holds the stamens. The plant has oval, light green leaves and milky stem

Medicinal uses: (Quoted from the referred website)

According to Ayurveda, dried whole plant is a good tonic, expectorant, depurative, and anthelmintic. The dried root bark is a substitute for ipecacuanha. The root bark is febrifuge, anthelmintic, depurative, expectorant, and laxative. The powdered root used in asthama, bronchitis, and dyspepsia. The leaves are useful in the treatment of paralysis, arthralegia, swellings, and intermittent fevers.

Reference :

Step 15: Solanum Virginianum

Solanum virginianum, another thorny plant, commonly known as Thorny Nightshade or Yellow Berried Nightshade

Botanical Name Solanum virginianum, from the family Solanaceae

Local Name : Kandangkathiri in Tamil and Kantakari in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

Thorny Nightshade is a creeping herb, copiously armed with sturdy, needle-like, broad-based Leaves, which are unequal and prickly. Flowers are purple in color.

Medicinal Uses (Quoted from the referred web site)

Kantkari (Solanum Virginianum L.) is a very prickly perennial herb. In ayurveda it is used in preparation of various medicines. This herb is used in treatment of epilepsy, pain relieving, head ache, migraine, hair fall, bronchial asthma, skin problems, cough and other diseases.

Ayurvedic medicine Swasari Kwath contain Kantkari along with other herbs. It is also used in preparation of chyavanprash. Dashmularista which is a ayurvedic tonic contain roots of this plant.

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Step 16: Tribulus Terrestris

'Tribulus terrestris' also known as Puncture vine is an obnoxious weed whose seeds are incredibly painful to step on

Botanical Name Tribulus terrestris, from the family Zygophyllaceae

Local names : Nerunchi in Tamil and Gokshura in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

The leaves are pinnately compound with leaflets less than a quarter-inch long. The flowers are 4-10 mm wide, with five lemon-yellow petals. The fruit falls apart into four or five single-seeded nutlets which are hard and bear two sharp spines. These nutlets strikingly resemble goats' or bulls' heads. The horns are sharp enough to puncture bicycle tyres and to cause considerable pain to unshod feet.

Medicinal uses (Quoted from the referred website)

Tribulus is mentioned in ancient Indian Ayurvedic medical texts dating back thousands of years. Tribulus has been widely used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for the treatment of sexual dysfunction and various urinary disorders. The Greeks used Tribulus Terrestris as a diuretic. In China and Vietnam it has been used in the treatment of post-partum hemorrhage, epistaxis and gastro intestinal bleeding. Tribulus terrestris is being promoted as a testosterone booster for the purpose of building muscle and increasing sex drive. It does not work like DHEA and androstenedione 100, which are progenitors of testosterone. Instead, claims have been made that it enhances testosterone levels by increasing luteinizing hormone levels.

Reference :

Step 17: Achyranthes Aspera

‘Achyranthes aspera‘, commonly known as Devil's horsewhip and Prickly chaff-flower is a common weed found everywhere in our area.  This plant is one of the 12 varieties whose leaves are used for worship in Hindu temples

Botanical Name Achyranthes aspera, from the family Amaranthaceae

Local names : Nayuruvi in Tamil and Apamarga in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

This plant can grow up to 120 centimeters tall, with an angular, ribbed stem. The leaves are elliptical-oblong and the spike is terminal and auxiliary. The ripened seeds get attached to your clothing when you walk through the bushes 

Medicinal uses: (Quoted from the referred website)

According to Ayurveda, it is bitter, pungent, heating, laxative, stomachic, carminative and useful in treatment of vomiting, bronchitis, heart disease, piles, itching abdominal pains, ascites, dyspepsia, dysentery, blood diseases etc.

Reference :

Step 18: Leucas Aspera

Leucas aspera, common English name Thumbe, growing in all parts of India, is well known for its various uses in the fields of medicine and agriculture.

Botanical Name Leucas aspera, from the family Lamiaceae

Local names : Thumbai in Tamil and Dronapushpi / Chitrapathrika in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

Tumbae is an erect and diffusely branched annual herb. Leaves are linear or oblong, 2.5 to 7.5 cm long with blunt tips and scalloped margins. Whorls are large, terminal and axillary, about 2.5 cm in diameter and crowded with white bell shaped flowers.

Medicinal uses (Quoted from the referred website)

Used in jaundice, odema, asthama, as a wormicide. Used as a nasal drops in sinusites, cold and jaundice - - Juice of leaves applied externally in psoriasis, chronic skin eruptions and painful swellings. Flowers given with honey in coughs and colds. Herb used as an antipyretic. It is used in fevers, cold, psoriasis, scabies and chronic skin eruptions. Leaves considered useful in. Chronic rheumatism.

Reference :

Step 19: Pergularia Daemia

Pergularia daemia, commonly known as Trellis-vine is also one of the well known medicinal plants to our children. We used to cook the raw fruits as green vegetable after removing the seeds

Botanical Name Pergularia daemia, from the family Apocynaceae

Local names : Veli paruthi in Tamil and Uttaravaruni in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

Pergularia daemia is a perennial twining herb, foul-smelling when bruised; Stems bears milky juice and covered with longer stiff erect hairs. Leaves are thin, broadly ovate and heart-shaped, covered with soft hairs. Greenish yellow or dull white, sweet-scented flowers born in axillary, double white corona at the base of a stamina column. Fruits are paired with follicles, covered with soft spinous outgrowth and release many seeds with long white hairs when they split open. Seeds are densely velvety on both sides.

Medicinal properties (Quoted from the referred website)

Pergularia daemia Forsk. (Asclepiadaceae) is a perennial twinning herb grows widely along the roadsides of India and also in the tropical and subtropical regions. The whole plant posses high medicinal value and traditionally used in treating various ailments for human beings. Some of the folklore people used this plant to treat jaundice, anthelmintic, laxative, anti-pyretic, expectorant and also used in infantile diarrhoea. Phytochemically the plant has been investigated for cardenolides, alkaloids, triterpenes and saponins. The plant has been demonstrated to possess multiple pharmacological activities such as antiinflammatory, hepatoprotective, anticancer, antidiabetic, antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, antiinfertility and central nervous system depressant activity. This review highlights on the existing information particularly on the phytochemistry and various pharmacological properties of Pergularia daemia which may provide incentive for proper evaluation of the plant as a medicinal agent.

Reference :

Step 20: Tephrosia Purpurea

Tephrosia purpurea, commonly known as Wild Indigo, grows in abundance at our place. This plant is also grown as green manure crop in paddy fields after harvest. it is also used by some people as fish poison to paralyze fishes in the river.

Botanical name Tephrosia purpurea, from the family Fabaceae

Local Names : Kolunchi in Tamil and Sarapunkha in Sanskrit

Plant Identification

This plant has pinnate leaves and white or purplish flowers and flat hairy pods. 

Medicinal properties (Quoted from the referred website)

Used as a fish poison; the leaves and seeds contain tephrosin, which paralyzes fish. Larger doses are lethal to fish, but mammals and amphibians are unaffected. It is also used traditionally as folk medicine. According to Ayurveda, the plant is anthelmintic, alexiteric, alterative, and antipyretic; it is used in the treatment of leprosy, ulcers, asthma, and tumors, as well as diseases of the liver, spleen, heart, and blood. A decoction of the roots is given in dyspepsia, diarrhea, rheumatism, asthma and urinary disorders. The root powder is salutary for brushing the teeth, where it is said to quickly relieve dental pains and stop bleeding. An extract, termed 'betaphroline' (not a systematic name) is claimed to promote release of endorphins, and finds use in certain cosmetic preparations.

Reference :

Step 21:

Alice is happy as she is the one who found more plants than the others. Kavya thinks she can find more plants by lookin down from a coconut tree. Anitha is searching for plants in the bushes. Ananth also found a few plants to his share. Overall, all the children are happy to learn something from the nature.

Step 22: It Is Time for Some Rest and Fun...

Children took a break and had some snacks sitting over rocks in a stream. They also spend time exploring the water for any aquatic life and playing in the water. We also met with some persons washing clothes in the stream.

Step 23: End of the Journey

Time to return back home....

The children are exhausted. But they are very happy to return back more knowledgeable from the expedition. The next time when they see any weed, they will first try to identify the plant before pulling it out.

In most of the commercial farm lands, the use of chemical weed-killers have killed almost all medicinal plants which were growing as weeds. Knowingly or unknowingly, we deprived ourselves of the most valuable medicinal plants, used by our ancestors from time immemorial. I hope this instructable will help in identifying and preserving medicinal plants growing as weeds in our back yard, road sides and on farm lands.

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