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Weed and wonderful!

Attempting a balance between tackling invasive weeds and letting the wild vegetation flourish is both humbling and edifying.
Last Updated : 05 November 2022, 23:57 IST

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My younger son loves flowers. When at Navilu Kaadu, he gifts me flowers from every blooming wild weed around.

He called out to me one afternoon while on the farm. As I stepped out, the prettiest floral arrangement greeted me on the seat of our cane sofa.

A wreath of gliricidia leaves placed along stems of tridax daisies (attige soppu in Kannada) encircled six purple morning glory flowers (nettarulu or kallana gida). Red-orange lantana blooms graced the space between the morning glories. A sprinkling of blue porterweed (kari uttaraani) and pristine white common leucas flowers (thumbe hoovu) over the purple morning glories, completed the dainty floral art.

An ample supply of wildflowers for my little boy to gift me at will is among the many rewards of choosing to interfere sparingly with nature’s ways at Navilu Kaadu.

Besides, the wild verdure nourishes and nurtures life aplenty. Beetles, earthworms, skinks, lizards, snails, field mice and their ilk thrive in the soil. Butterflies, bees, dragonflies, grasshoppers, spiders, mongooses, black-naped hares, snakes, a profusion of birds, and many more critters lead busy lives in the underbrush, and on plants and trees.

While I often pontificate at length about Navilu Kaadu’s fauna, I am guilty of neglect when it concerns spotlighting the wild flora that sustains these beings. And as the festival spirit lingers and earthen oil lamps still illuminate our doorways, let me tell you about a pair of wild shrubs that are integral to Deepavali celebrations in Navilu Kaadu’s vicinity.

We routinely de-weed some parts of the land to clear out paths for mulching, and manuring and to inspect drip-irrigation lines. I chanced upon the first shrub while supervising one such clearing operation at the entrance to the farm.

Siddhamma, who was cutting grass nearby, pointed to a weed and asked for it to be spared till Deepavali habba. She called the shrub ‘Hangarike’. Native plants are sparse outside of Navilu Kaadu, what with the farming fraternity’s phobia of ‘weeds’.

A search on the iNaturalist site nailed the identity of the plant — ‘Switch Sorrel’ (Dodonaea viscosa), a large bush with bright green, oblong, waxy leaves from the soapberry family (Sapindaceae).

Detox routine

My querying revealed the backstory of Siddhamma’s request. The locals gather fresh Hangarike leaves or Hangarike soppu on the day of the Deepavali festival. They crush the leaves, extract the juice, and add a dash of castor oil and rock salt. The concoction is then fed to the bathed and festooned household cattle. Siddhamma wasn’t sure why the juice was fed to the cows.

Hangarike or Switch Sorrel is a hardy, drought-resistant shrub rich in antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. The ancestors of present-day farmers must have devised this detox routine for their livestock. The practice has taken a ritualistic turn in present times.

Another weed grows alongside the Switch Sorrel at Navilu Kaadu. Tanner’s cassia (Senna auriculata), locally called ‘Avarike’, is a wild evergreen shrub that grows in arid plains. It is leguminous, which means it belongs to the pea family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae).

The canary yellow flowers are used in the neighbouring village for a ritual called ‘Konthi Pooje’, celebrated a month after Deepavali. For a month from Deepavali till the auspicious day of Shashti, the village resonates with ballads about the life and virtues of ‘Konthi’ or Queen Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas. On Shashti day, unmarried girls pray to Konthi with offerings of Avarike flowers and a feast. Avarike too is prized in Ayurveda for a host of therapeutic uses. It is said that consuming tea made from the dried flowers and buds of Tanner’s cassia controls blood sugar and is beneficial for those with diabetes.

I am yet to make my acquaintance with all of Mother Earth’s favoured children that vigorously outgrow our carefully nurtured saplings at Navilu Kaadu. Attempting a balance between tackling invasive weeds and letting the wild vegetation flourish, is both humbling and edifying.

The upshot has been the realisation that there are no friends nor foes in nature. Everything, sentient or otherwise, has its rightful place and purpose and can seldom be upended without consequence.

Rooting For Nature is a monthly column on an off-kilter urban family’s trysts with nature on a natural farm.

The author chipped away at a software marketing career before shifting gears to independent consulting and natural farming. She posts as @ramyacoushik on Instagram. Reach her at bluejaydiaries@gmail.com

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Published 05 November 2022, 19:34 IST

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