Spot the herb with a heart

By TheHindu on 12 May 2017 | read

Do you live with a tiny patch of earth or a few soil-filled pots where things sometimes grow? Do you pull out weeds every now and again from these tiny patches of soil, or just notice they’re there?

If so, this article and the others in this series are for you. We explore the common plants that grow all around us — sometimes invited and sometimes just visitors who arrive with wind and soil. We return to the knowledge bases of our village lives and our grandmothers. And, in the midst of our busy, hyper-mediated lives, we rediscover what's edible in our mostly ornamental urban garden spaces.

Let’s start with the indravalli, or mudakkathan keerai. This is the love-in-a-puff “balloon vine”, so named because of its distinctive balloon-like seed pods and seeds with a little heart-shaped mark on its sides. Mudakkathan keerai is part of a constellation of medicinal ingredients used in nattu vaidyam or patti vaidyam and Siddha maruthuvam. The plant extract shows “significant analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity and sedative effect on the central nervous system”.

Fried in ghee or ground into a poultice, mudakkathan keerai is used to kill head lice, as a laxative, to treat rheumatism, lumbago, skeletal fractures, nervous diseases, amenorrhoea, haemorrhoids, fistula, eczema, psoriasis, swellings and earaches.

What else can you do with it? The easiest option, which masks its naturally bitter taste, is to grind a generous handful of the leaves into your next batch of dosa batter. (Buy your batter? No problem. Just grind the leaves into a bit of it and mix into the rest). If you don’t mind bitter flavours, then throw a little into your next tomato rasam and let it infuse, or fry it with green chillies and grind it with tamarind and salt for a chutney to be had with hot rice and ghee.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore or weed out this delicate little keerai. Although it grows hidden from view, it’s part of the world’s vast wilderness come quietly to you.

This column helps you figure out how those pesky weeds in your garden serve a purpose. Reddy is a cultural anthropologist who lives, works, cooks and gardens between Pondicherry and Auroville. She blogs at