Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge
Vol 5(4)-October 2006 -pp 501-509

Weeds of Kanyakumari district and their value in rural life


S Jeeva1*, S Kiruba2, BP Mishra1, N Venugopal1, SSM Dhas2, GS Regini3, C Kingston3,
A Kavitha3, S Sukumaran3, ADS Raj3 & RC Laloo1*

1Ecology Research Laboratory, Department of Botany, School of Life Sciences, North - Eastern Hill University,
Shillong-793 022, Meghalaya
2Research Centre in Zoology, Scott Christian College, Nagercoil 629 003, Tamil Nadu
3Research Centre in Botany, Scott Christian College, Nagercoil 629 003, Tamil Nadu


Received 21 April 2005; revised 26 July 2005

The paper deals with enumeration of medicinally important weeds frequently used by local communities of Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. A total of 93 medicinal weedy species from 85 genera used in traditional medicines were identified. Majority of species are used for curing skin diseases, fever, cold and cough, etc. Of 42 families, 20 families were monospecific. Plants of family Fabaceae was largely represented (7 species) family followed by Asteraceae, Lamiaceae and Euphorbiaceae.

Keywords:      Indigenous people, Kanyakumari, Medicinal plants, Traditional medicine, Weeds, Western Ghats

IPC Int. Cl.8A61K36/00, A61P1/00, A61P1/08, A61P1/10, A61P1/16, A61P9/14, A61P11/00, A61P11/14, A61P13/00, A61P13/02, A61P15/00, A61P17/00, A61P17/02, A61P17/14, A61P19/00, A61P19/02, A61P29/00, A61P31/00, A61P31/02, A61P39/02


Weeds are comprised of the more aggressive, trouble­some and undesirable elements of the World’s vegeta­tion1. More than 80% of the developing world continues to rely on traditional medicines predomi­nantly plants, for primary healthcare2,3. The global demand for herbal medicine is not only large, but also growing4. The market for Ayurvedic medicines is estimated to be expanding at 20% annually in India5. Only 15% of pharmaceutical drugs are consumed in developing countries, and relatively more affluent people take a large proportion of even this small per­centage6. Medicinal plants can provide a significant source of income for rural life in developing countries, especially through the sale of wild-harvested material. Between 50-100% of households in the northern part of central Nepal and about 25-50% in the middle part of the same region are involved in collecting medicinal plants for sale, the materials being traded on to wholesale markets in Delhi7.

Knowledge of medicinal plants is rapidly dis­appearing. Every year, the sum total of human knowledge about the types, distribution, ecology, methods of management and methods of extracting the useful properties of medicinal plants is declining rapidly-a continuation of a process of loss of local cultural diversity that has underway for hundreds of years8. Knowledge of the natural world is typically a very important part of the knowledge-worlds of rural people following more traditional life ways9. The revitalization of traditional systems of medicine can be high on the agendas of those promoting local and indigenous cultures8. Kanyakumari district (77º7-77º 35’ E and 8º 5’-8º35’ N), a part of western Ghats occupies an area of about 1672 sq km and is inhabited by 11,37,181 people (Fig. 1). The rainfall varies from 103-310 cm and altitude is about 1829m asl10. Most of the district is composed of gneissic rocks11. Fourteen types of forests occur in this district because of diverse locality factors and harbour plenty of medicinally important weeds12. Topographically, the district may be broadly classified as coastal region, middle region and mountainous region13-14.

Ethnobotanically, the area remains unexplored and no comprehensive account of local tradition is available. The earlier studies on medicinal plant of the area were fragmentary and with limited objectives1518. In view of this fact, the present work was carried out to provide a comprehensive account of medicinal weeds of Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. During the study an extensive survey of the medicinal weeds was done and the species used in traditional medicines were enumerated.



Detailed methodology of the field survey of folk medicines has been used19. The weedy species were collected from different forest patches, plantations and roadside vegetation. Informants were asked to guide as to the places where these weeds grew or to bring the drug they use. Each interviewee was shown plant specimens collected. The medicinal property of each species was accepted as valid if at least five separate informants had a similar opinion. The medicinal use of species was crosschecked through the literature available. Plant specimens were identified with the regional and local floras20, 21. The voucher specimens are deposited in the herbarium of Botany Department, Scott Christian College, Nagercoil.


Results and discussion

The weeds, which are best known and most highly regarded in traditional medicine, are enumerated with botanical name, local name (in Tamil), family, and use of different plant parts in various ailments (Table 1). 93 medicinal weeds species belonging to 42 families and 85 genera have been recorded (Figs 2-6). Fabaceae was the dominant family with 7 species, followed by Lamiaceae (6 species), Asteraceae and Euphorbiaceae (5 species each), Asclepiadaceae, Caesalpiniaceae, Convolvulaceae, Poaceae and Verbenaceae (4 species each). 20 families were represented by single species. The curative properties of some very important weeds like Cassia tora, Centlla asiatica, Evolvulus alsinoides Kuntze, Leucas aspera Spreng. and Oldenlandia umbellate Linn., Tylophora indica are used to heal respiratory ailments. Acalypha indica Linn., Achyranthes aspera, Daemia extensia R. Br. are used for skin diseases. Anisomeles malabarica R. Br., Boerhavia diffusa, Cardiospermum halicacabum Linn., Enicostema littorale Blume are useful in rheumatism. Jaundice is treated with effective remedies like Alternanthera sessilis R. Br., Eclipta alba Linn. and Phyllanthus niruri Linn. The therapeutic use of Coccinia indica Wight & Arn., Sida cordifolia Linn., Tribuls terrestris Linn., Tridax procumbens Linn., Tylophora indica (Burm.f.) Merrill and Vernonia cinerea was reported from this area resemble the previous reports18, 22-26.


Table 1—Ethnomedicinal uses of weeds

Plant /Local name



Abrus precatorius L. (Kuntumani)


Root paste is used in cough, cold, wounds and menstrual trouble. Leaf juice is taken orally twice daily for urinary complaints.

Abutilon indicum (L.) Sweet (Thutti)


Leaf extract with buttermilk is given orally to cure dysentery. Leaf extract with castor oil is used to cure piles.

Acalypha indica L. (Kuppaimeni)


Leaf paste with common salt and mixed with curd is applied on sores and scabies.

Achyranthes aspera L. (Nayurivi)


Plant decoction is used to cure swelling. Seed powder mixed with honey is given to cure cough. Inflorescence and seed paste is applied on the wound of snakebite.

Acorus calamus L. (Vasampu)


Rhizome paste is massaged on the body to relieve body pain and headache; paste of rhizomes of the plant and Curcuma zedoaria Rosc. is given in ulcer and abdomen pain. Rhizome decoction is given in dysentery.

Aerva lanata L. Juss. (Sirukanpulai)


Leaf and tender shoot decoction is taken for urinary bladder stone and to stop burning of the male genitalia.

Aloe vera L. (Sothukattalai)


Fresh juice is useful in fever and for healing wounds. Leaf pulp is useful in menstrual suppression.

Alternanthera sessilis R. Br (Ponnannkannikirai)


Paste of root and fennel seeds is taken orally thrice a day to cure piles. Root extract with sugar is taken to cure tuberculosis.

Ammannia baccifera L. (Kalluruvi)


Leaves are used as poultice in rheumatism.



Table 1—Ethnomedicinal uses of weeds—Contd

Plant /Local name



Andrographis paniculata Nees (Nilavembu)


Plant and turmeric paste is applied on the body for seven days to cure scabies and other skin diseases. Leaf juice is taken as preventive medicine for malaria.

Anisomeles malabarica R. Br. (Peyimarutti)


Leaves are used to expel gas from intestine. Leaf paste is applied on affected part of scorpion sting and snakebite.

Argemone mexicana L. (Ponnummattai)


Root extract in water is taken to cure roundworm. It is also said to purify blood. Leaf juice and latex is applied for eye complaints and conjunctivitis.

Aristolochia bracteolata Retz. (Atutinnappalai)


Plant is used as vermifuge. It is also used to rectify menstrual disorders.

Aristolochia indica L. (Iswaramuli)


Leaf and root paste is applied in stomachache and as an antidote for snakebite & scorpion bite.

Asparagus racemosus Willd. (Sathaveli)


Root decoction is used in diarrhoea and dysentery. Roots with sugar and milk are used as galactagogue. Dried root powder is used as tonic. A traditional drink is prepared by mixing powdered root and boiled rice.

Asteracantha longifolia Nees (Nirmulli)


Decoction of leaves and roots is used in rheumatism.

Bacopa monnieri (L.) Pennell (Nirpirami)


Whole plant is used as brain tonic. Leaf juice is taken twice a day to cure fever.

Boerhavia diffusa L. (Mukkurattai)


Root decoction is given in jaundice.

Calotrophis procera (Ait.) R. Br. (Erukku)


Leaf extract is used in scorpion bite. Root extract is used in fever, chest and abdomen pain. Leaf extract mixed with butter is applied in sprains. Latex is applied in burns.

Cardiospermum helicacabum L. (Mudukkottan)


Dried plant powder mixed with coconut oil is applied to cure sores and wounds. Plant decoction is used to treat rheumatism.

Cassia absus L. (Mulaippalvirai)


Leaf ash is used as a healing agent for cuts & wounds.

Cassia obtusa (Roxb.) Wight & Arn. (Nilavakai)


Dried leaves and pods are used as a laxative.

Cassia occidentalis L. (Ponnavirai)


Paste of fresh leaflets warmed in groundnut oil is applied on cuts &wounds.

Cassia tora L. (Tagarai)


Leaf extract is applied on ringworm and itch. Seed paste is used in skin diseases. Seeds are given to the animals for inducing fat.

Catharanthus roseus G. Don. (Sudukattu mallikai)


Fresh leaf extract is anticarcinogenic. Leaf infusion is used in diabetes and diarrhoea. Root decoction is used as a vermifuge.

Centella asiatica (L.) Urban (Vallarai)


Plant juice is used to cure inflammations and as a tonic for improving memory. Plant infusion is massaged on the forehead to get relief from headache.

Chenopodium album L. (Paruppukkirai)


Cooked leaves are used in seminal weakness, cardiac disorders and general debility.

Cissus quadrangularis L. (Pirantai)


Stem and leaf juice mixed with honey is used to cure menstrual disorders. Stem juice is used to cure earache and swellings.

Cleome viscosa L. (Naikkaduku)


Leaf juice is used as a vermifuge, to relieve earache and to cure boils. Seed paste is useful in worm infestations.

Clerodendrum serratum (L.) Moon (Sirutekku)


Root paste is useful in skin diseases. Leaf paste is useful for cephalalgia and ophthalmia. Seed is used in dropsy.



Table 1—Ethnomedicinal uses of weeds—Contd

Plant /Local name



Clerodendrum phlomides L. f. (Taludala)


Infusion of leaves of plant and Diospyros is applied externally to treat rheumatic trouble.

Clitoria ternatea L. (Sangupuspham)


Leaf paste is applied around the neck to remove fish bone from the throat and on thorn-prick to expel the thorns.

Cocculus hirsutus (L.) Diels (Kattukodi)


Leaves are used for stimulating saliva secretion. Roots are used to treat rheumatism, reduce bile and burning sensation.

Coleus aromaticus Benth. (Omavalli)


Leaves are used as a vermifuge. Leaf juice is used for treating asthma, cough, bronchitis and abdominal pain. Leaf paste is applied on forehead to relieve headache.

Colocasia esculenta (Linn.) Schott (Sempu)


Corn juice is a laxative and is useful in congestion of the portal system.

Commelina benghalensis L. (Kanavalai)


Plant is useful in treating bedsores, breast sores and pimples.

Cressa cretica L. (Uppumarikkoluntu)


Decoction of the plant is useful in diabetes, leprosy and general debility.

Crinum asiaticum L. (Vishamungil)


Leaves are useful in wound healing, body swellings and backache. Leaves are also used in a preparation to treat permanent retraction of the testis. A root preparation is given to aid childbirth and for postpartum haemorrhage. Bulbs are used as an emetic and as poison antidote.

Crotolaria juncea L.


Leaves are used to purify blood.

Crotolaria retusa L. (Kilukiluppai)


Leaves are used for curing scabies and impetigo. Seed powder boiled with milk is useful for increasing body strength and life span. Seeds are useful in skin diseases, leprosy, flatulence and fever.

Croton bonplandianum Baill. (Milakaipoondu)


Leaf infusion is used to cure fever caused due to infection of glands.

Curculigo orchioides Gaertn. (Nilapanai)


Water poured over a piece of red-hot iron & mixed with tuberous root paste is given three times a day to cure enlarged spleen.

Cyclea peltata Hook. f. & Thoms (Patakkilangu)


Leaf decoction of the plant and Urena lobata Lam. is given just after delivery for taking care of postnatal problems, pain and abdominal swellings.

Cymbopogon citratus Stapf (Chukkupullu)


Leaf paste of the plant is used in poisonous bites, bronchitis, leprosy, epilepsy, sprains, and skin diseases.

Cymbopogon travancorensis Bor (Inchi pullu)


Plant extract distilled in lemon grass oil is used against pains, coughs and colds.

Cynodon dactylon Pers. (Arukampillu)


Plant paste mixed with cow or goat milk is given to stop bleeding from piles. Plant paste is also taken as a tonic and laxative. Plant decoction with Punica granatum Linn. leaves is given in menstrual disorders. Plant paste mixed with turmeric is applied to cure scabies and other skin infections.

Cyperus rotundus L. (Korai)


Plant decoction made with leaves of Azadirachta indica A. Juss. & Ocimum sanctum Linn. and black pepper is given three times a day for three days to cure malarial fever.

Datura metal L. (Vellaiyummathai)


Fruit is smoked for toothache. Powdered seed mixed with warm coconut oil is used in earache.

Eclipta alba (L.) Hassk. (Kayyantakara)


Powdered leaves are used as hair shampoo. Roots are used in snakebite and scorpion sting.

Elephantopus scaber L. (Yanaiccuvati)


Roots are used in abortion, menstrual disorders and to relieve toothache.



Table 1—Ethnomedicinal uses of weeds—Contd

Plant /Local name



Enicostemma axillare (Lam.) A.Raynal Vellarugu)


Plant paste is locally applied in snakebite. Plant powder is applied to cure rheumatism.

Euphorbia hirta L. (Amampatchaiarisi)


Leaves and flowers mixed with milk are given for increasing lactation. Latex is applied on vitiligo, pimples, corn & warts.

Evolvulus alsinoides Kuntze (Vishnukiranthi)


Leaves made into cigarettes are smoked in case of chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Gloriosa superba L. (Kalappai kizhangu)


Dried powdered tubers mixed with Pongamia pinnata Pierre oil are applied on the scalp to kill lice and remove dandruff.

Gynandropsis pentaphylla DC. (Thaivalai)


Plant juice is administered to treat cough and bronchial infections.

Heliotropium indicum L. (Telkodukkai)


Extract of stem and onion is drunk thrice a day to cure rabies. Plant paste is useful for ulcer, sores, wound, ringworm, skin affections, and insect stings.

Hemidesmus indicus R. Br. (Nannari)


Root powder added with hair oil is used for hair growth. Roots are used as spice or flavoring agent in syrup preparations. Root decoction relieves inflammation and ulcers of the alimentary tract.

Hyptis suaveolens Poit. (Thiruneetrupacchai)


Plant paste is applied on skin infections.

Indigofera tinctoria L. (Avari)


Root is used as an antidote for poisoning. Leaf paste is applied on boils.

 Ipomea pes-caprae (L.) Sweet (Atappan koti)


Leaf paste is used to cure skin diseases, boils, swellings and wounds.

Jasminum angustifolium Vahl (Kattumalligai)


Root juice mixed with boiled rice water is taken orally as antidote for poison.

Jatropha curcas L. (Katalamanakku)


The bark is chewed to cure mouth sores. Juice is used in scabies. Seed oil is used in rheumatism and paralytic affections.

Lantana camara L. (Unni)


Plant decoction is given in rheumatism.

Leucas aspera Spreng. (Sirutumbai)


Leaf decoction is massaged on forehead to relieve headache. Few drops are inhaled to cure sinusitis and put in ear for earache. It is taken orally in asthma and also applied on genital organs to cure venereal diseases.

Ludwigia adscendens (L.) H. Hara (Hara)


External application of poultices made of pounded fresh plant is prescribed against snakebite, burns impetigo and diseases of the scalp.

Merremia emarginata (Burm. f.) Hall. f. (Elikkatukkirai)


Whole plant is crushed and applied externally to treat wounds and boils.

Mimosa pudica L. (Thottalchinungi)


Macerated root is taken thrice a day to cure epilepsy and sexual weakness. Few drops are put in eye to cure eye troubles.

Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC. (Punaikkali)


Leaf paste is used in boils, blisters and ulcers.

Ocimum americanum L. (Kattutulasi)


Leaf paste is applied on skin diseases.

Ocimum basilicum L. (Karpuratulasi)


Leaf decoction relieves mucous secretions from the bronchial tube. Leaves are also used for stomach and intestinal disorders.

Oldenlandia umbellata L. (Inpura)


Leaf decoction of the plant and Centella asiatica is given to remove the phlegm from the respiratory tract.

Oxalis corniculata L. (Puliyarai)


Plant pounded with cumin seeds is taken with water thrice a day for dysentery. Plant paste is massaged to relieve headache.

Passiflora foetida L. (Siruppunaikkali)


Paste prepared from the leaves and fruits is used in coating boils for 2 or 3 days for relief of pain and absorption.



Table 1—Ethnomedicinal uses of weeds—Contd

Plant /Local name



Pedalium murex L. (Perunerunci)


Paste prepared from the leaves, ginger and common salt is given to cure tympany.

Pergularia daemia (Forssk.) Chiov.(Veliparuthi)


Plant extract is useful in uterine & menstrual disorders and in facilitating parturition.

Phyla nodiflora (L.) Green. (Potuttalai)


Leaves are used in the treatment of boils and burns.

Phyllanthes niruri L. (Keelanelli)


Plant is used as a diuretic and in diseases of urinary tract.

Portulaca oleracea L. (Karikeerai)


Except for the roots, entire plant is used as an antibacterial. Fresh plant juice diluted with water serves as an anthelmintic against oxyuriasis and ascariasis. It is administered in the morning, for 3–5 days. Leaf poultice is used to treat mastitis, boils and impetigo.

Rauvolfia serpentina Benth. ex Kurz (Sarpaganthi)


Rhizome and leaf decoction is orally given in snakebite. Root extract is also given in stomach pain, intestinal worms and blood pressure.

Saccharum spontaneum L. (Nanal)


Root extraction is taken for intestinal worms, fever and body pain.

Scoparia dulcis L. (Kallurukki)


Leaf extract is taken orally to cure kidney stone.

Sida cordifolia L. (Nilatutti)


Leaf juice is applied to cure snakebite and scorpion sting. Root powder is applied on wounds for early healing.

Solanum nigrum L. (Manattakkali)


Leaf juice is given to cure indigestion and colic pain. Fruit paste is used for piles. Fruit decoction is gargled to cure throat infection. Leaf juice is used to treat leucorrhoea.

Sphaeranthus indicus L. (Kottakaranthai)


Plant paste mixed with coconut oil is used for painful swellings. Oil prepared by using root is useful in scrofula. Powdered leaf is used for skin diseases and as a nerve tonic. Flowers are highly esteemed as an alternant, depurative, refrigerant and tonic.

Tephrosia purpurea Pers. (Kolinchi)


Root decoction mixed with black pepper is given two times a day for three days for fever.

Tinospora cordifolia (Willd.) Miers ex. Hook. f. & Thoms (Amirthavalli)


Warmed leaves are wrapped round fracture and painful joints.

Toddalia asiatica (L.) Lam. (Kattumilagu)


Fresh leaves are eaten for curing bowel pain.

Tribulus terrestris L. (Yanainerunci)


Decoction of leaf and root is used to cure kidney stone. Plant ash is applied externally for rheumatism. Leaf paste is applied on wounds.

Trichodesma indicum R. Br. (Kallutaitumbai)


Root paste is applied externally on wounds.

Tridax procumbens L. (Murianpacchilai)


Plant juice is applied to cure wounds and boils. Leaf juice is applied on the head after shaving for better growth of hairs.

Tylophora indica (Burm. f.) Merrill (Nancaruppan)


Leaf extract of the plant and Tinospora cordifolia with goat milk is given orally in insect bite.

Vernonia cinerea (L.) Lees. (Puvamkuruntal)


Leaf decoction is given in fever.

Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal (Amukkira)


Root paste is used in rheumatism and painful swellings.











Most of the medicinal plants are common and growing in wild condition as weeds. Traditional healers use some of the weeds like Centella asiatica, Chenopodium album and Lippia nodiflora. Aloe vera (L.) Burm. f. used for wound healing has a similar purpose in Europe27.

It was also observed that some weeds used as a medicine in this region are not used elsewhere in the country. On the other hand, some well-known weeds are rarely used in Kanyakumari district in contrast with their common use in other parts of the country, may be due to lack of exchange on Knowledge28. The inventory findings reinforce that indigenous know­ledge is dynamic and botanical knowledge is dimini­shing29-42. As communities change, knowledge about plants once considered essential may become anach­ronistic43. The paper highlights new findings about the weeds relating to their sustainable use. The data may provide enough opportunities to study their actual principles in the treatment of human diseases by rural communities. Even though their medicinal value and economic importance are elaborated, pharmacological uses of these weed demand further intensive research for finding uses for human welfare.



Authors are thankful to Dr M Reginald Appavoo for being the source of novel and useful ideas, support and encouragement. Authors are also thankful to the traditional medicine practitioner Mr GSR Dhas from Puthalam, Mr David Asan from Parvathipuram, and the local people who shared as their knowledge.



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