1. Health & Lifestyle

Herbs that cure Diabetes


Use of medicinal plants in India is very old. Charaka and Sushrutahave mentions of the use of more than 1200 plant drugs with their action and application in CharakaSanhitaand Sushruta, respectively. Charaka classified these plants into 50 groups on the basis of their action and use, while Sushruta made 38 groups of drugs. It is obvious from these references that each plant has more than one therapeutic action depending on the part used, combination and method of use etc. For example, the bark of Indian pipal tree (Ficusreligiosa L.) has a cooling effect and is useful in gonorrhea and ulcer, various skin diseases and scabies. Its decoction is given in case of hiccup and to stop vomiting sensation. Latex boiled with milk is a good aphrodisiac. A medicated oil male from root bark is applied externally in skin diseases caused by vitiated blood such as eczema, leprosy and rheumatism. A component of bark is useful in diabetes. Fruit is laxative and digestive. In addition to single use of any plant part for a disease, there are several mixtures of more than out plants, which are used in treatment of various diseases.

Thus making a plant of multipurpose use. According to a report, more than 3000 plants have been found useful in one of the other kinds of cancer. Other examples of these therapeutic categories of plants are analgesic (101), anthelmintic (54), antidiabetic (39), antifilarial (3), antifungal (263), anti-inflammatory and astringent (142), antiprotozoal (55), antiscabies (18), Antiviral (96), anti-cancer (3000), useful for cardio vascular system (27), dental care (197), fertility influencing (37), gastrointestinal disorders (946), geriatric care (61), insecticidal (36), antibacterial (772), larvicidal (9), nematicidal (24), useful for nervous system (283), effective in snake bites (22) and traditional toxicology (158).

A group of antidiabetic plants is comprised of more than 30 species (Table). These plants posses’ antidiabetic properties as reported in various literature written on the basis of Indian traditional knowledge as well as pharmacological studies. Some of these plants like Gymnemasylvestre (Gudmar), Syzyiumcumini (Jamun), Momordicacharantia (Karela) etc. are very popular and known to one and all while the other are being used by the traditional healers and their knowledge is confined to them only. The present article is an attempt to bring this unpopular Indian traditional knowledge about the anti-diabetic Indian flora to the common men of rural India who are still primarily dependent on Indian system of medium to their health care.

Banyan tree/ Bargad (Ficusbenghalensis L.)

Banyan tree or Bargad is a large tree found all over India. The tree contains milky juice and a grayish smooth bark. The leaves and buds of banyan tree are astringent. Their infusion is given in diarrhea and dysentery. Milky juice and seeds or fruits are useful for external application to injury and bruises, soaves and ulcers, in rheumatism and in lumbago. An infusion of the bark has specific properties for reducing blood sugar in diabetes, dysentery, gonorrhea and in seminal weakness. It is used as powerful tonic. Leaves are heated and applied as a poultice to abscesses and wounds to promote suppression and discharge of pus. Infusion of the twigs is useful in hemoplysis.

The bark and young buds contain about 10 per cent tannin, wax and caoutchouc, fruit contains oil, albuminoids, carbohydrates, fiber and ash 5 to 6 per cent. The bark contains a hypoglycemic principle (glycoside). A triterpene, a and -sitosterol were isolated from the leaves of banyan tree. Tigilic acid ester of g-taraxosterol is found in the heartwood of the tree. Leaves also contain flavonols known as quercetin-3 g alactoside and rutin. Dried bark on extraction with 95 per cent alcohol yields an effective glycemic principle. Pharmacological actions of the tree include antiseptic, aphrodisiac, astringent, cooling and hemostatic actions. Research data indicate that the glycoside isolated from bark produced a hypoglycemic effect in normal rabbits but not in diabetic animals. The flavonoid compounds isolated from the bark were found effective as hypoglycemic agents on oral administration to normal fasting rabbits. The milking latex caused initial lowering of fastening blood sugar in rats.

Another plant of the Ficus species known as F. racemosa (Gular or Country fig tree) is also useful in diabetes. Research findings indicate that the aqueous extract of the bark reduces the blood sugar in normal as well as in alloxan diabetic rabbits. Fine powder of bark is also used in diabetes.

Black plum /Jamun (Syzygiumcuminii L.)

Black plum or jamun is a popular tree of rural India and an important avenue tree all over the country. The tree may grow over 1o metres high with many branches and regular glossy and leathery leaves. The small while flowers are produced in large numbers which after a period of time give rise to small green fruits measuring 1 to 3 cm long turning at maturity to bright purple or black, fleshy, sweet and astringent one seeded fruits. The consumption of its fruits or taking 1/2 to 1 gram of the seed powder twice or thrice a day is very useful in diabetes.  The water extract of the seeds can also be taken for the same effect. The bark of the tree (20 grams in 1 litre of water) is useful in dysentery, haemorrhages and leucorrhoea, . The leaf of jamun are antibacterial. Aerial parts are Central Vascular System (CVS) achieve and seed kernel is antiviral. The major constituents in stems, leaves and fruits are alpha and beta-pinene, limonene, borylacetate.  Flowers contain oleanolic acid and crategolic acid and seeds contain beta-sitosterol.

Fenugreek/Methi (Trigonellafoenum-graecum L.)

Commonly known methi is cultivated and marketed all over India. It is useful medicinal plant and is widely used for culinary purposes. The plant may grow to a height of 25 to 45 cm with or without any branches. The plant has various  uses. The plant is used to cure boils, tumours and skin abscess containing pus. It is used to cure gout, neuralgia or pain on a facial nerve. It is also used to cure sciatica or infection of the sciatic nerve resulting in pain at the back of the thigh and leg region. A poultice of the herb is applied to reduce swellings, a passerby made to the herb or of lint saturated with its decoction is used for the treatment of leucorrhoea. The leaves are aperients, they relieve indigestion and bilious disorders. Paste of the leaves is also applied over dwelling and burns; it is hair tonic and is applied to the head for premature loss of hair. Leaves are used both internally and externally for their cooling properties. Seeds are eaten boiled or roasted, as a vegetable in dyspepsia, diarrhea, dysentery, colic, flatulence, rheumatism, enlargement of the liver and spleen and chronic cough. As a lactogogue gruel of the seeds is given with milk and sugar. An infusion of seeds is given to smallpox patients as a cooling drink. Infusion of roasted seeds is administered for dysentery.

A paste of the seeds is used as a cosmetic to keep the skin smooth and clean. The mucilage produced when they are soaked in water is locally used over boils, carbuncles and abscesses. The seeds contain alkaloid trigonelline and choline saponin, essential oil, fixed oil, prolamin, mucilage, bitter extractive and a colouring substance. Air dried seeds contain 0.38 per cent trigonelline. Seeds also contain an oil (7%) used as a galactagogue. The defatted meal contains indigestible hydrophilic mucilage (50%). Seeds contain 0.8 to 2.2 per cent steroidal sapogenins, particularly diosgenin which is contained in the oily embryo of the seeds. Fenugreek seed is attracting great interest as a source material for extraction of diosgenin.

Malabarkino /Bijasal(Pterocarpus marsupium Roxb.)

Malabarkino or Bijasal is a moderate to large deciduous tree about 25 to 30 meters tall. The plant is commonly found in northern, central and peninsular India at 1000 meter above sea level in Gujarat, M.P. and sub-Himayalayan tracts. Tree bark yields a reddish gum known as kino gum, which becomes brittle on hardening and is very astringent. Kino contains kino tannic acid. It is used in diarrhea and toothache. Bark is used in the form of power or decoction in diarrhea. Bruised leaves are applied as paste to boils, sores and skin diseases. Decoction of the bark is very useful for diabetic patients. Research reports indicate that hypoglycemic action in rats rendered diabetic by alloxan when a decoction of Bijasal was administered orally. The aqueous extracts of the plant exhibited hypoglycaemic effect in both acute and chronic conditions when experiments were conducted on normal rabbits. The decoction of the bark also showed hypocholesterolemic effect in rabbits. It has been found that marsupinol-Ã-flavonoid isolated from the heartwood stimulated caroliac contraction without affecting the heart rate. In preliminary clinical trials on the extract of Bijasal, heartwood showed encouraging by poglycemic effects in 14 diabetic patients. Water stored overnight in a tumbler made of 'Bijasal' heartwood is believed to have an antidiabetic effect.

The roots of 'Bijasal' contain C-glycosyl-ß- hydroxydihydrochalkonepterosupin, pseudopaptigenin, liquiritigenin, isoliquiritigenin, garbanzol, 5-deoxykaempferol and p-hydroxybenzaldehyde. On extraction with petrol, the rootwood yielded a new sesquiterpene alcohol selin-4(15)en-1b, 11-diol, besides ß-eudesmol, erythrodiol-3-monoacetate and pterostilbene. Alkali soluble heartwood contains isoliquiritigenin, liquiritigeninin and pterostilbine but the sapwood contains pterostilbene. The bark contains Ã-epicatechin and pterostilbene. The heartwood also contains isoflavonoid glycol marsupol, carpusin, propterol and propterol B.

Gurmar (Gymnemasylvestre) (Retz.) R.Br

It is commonly known as Gurmar in Hindi. It is a large, stout woody climber with density appressed hairy branchlets.  The leaves are opposite, elliptic or obviate - acute, thinly coriaceous, usually 2 - 6 cm long and 1 - 3 cm wide.  It is commonly found in Central and Southern India, Western Ghats and in Goa region, especially dry forests in the hilly region of Jharkhand, Orissa and M.P.  The useful parts of plant are roots and leaves.  It is given the name of 'Gurmar' due to its property of destroying the taste of sugar.  Studies revealed that is has the property of reducing blood sugar in the diabetic patients.  The leaf powder 2-4 gms. or  leaf  decoction 14-28 ml is recommended to control diabetes. Its intake stimulates insulin secretion.  The plant  is considered anti periodic, diuretic and stomachic.  In Aayurvedic practice, the root and leaf are used to treat headache, hydrocele, polyuria, leprosy, pruritis, poisoning, wounds and bronchial asthma.  Among women in some regions of M.P., the leaves mixed with a small portion of the seed kernel of 'Jamun' (Syzygiumcumini), are taken with water on an empty stomach to regularize the  menstrual cycle.  The leaves when chewed, temporarily  paralyse one's ability to taste sweat and bitter substances.  The dried leaves of the plant contains a bitter neutral principle, albuminous, colouring matter, calcium oxalate, pararobin, glucose, carbohydrates, tartaric acid, glucoside, gymnemic  acid (an anti - saccharin principle), gymnamine, nonacosane, hentriacontane, tritriacontane 4 conduritol, alkali, phosphoric acid, ferric oxide, manganese  and hydrocarbons.  Saponins are present in the alcoholic extract of the plant.  The presence of alkaloids betaine, choline and trimethylamine is also reported in the leaves.  Bark contains large amount of calcium salts.  Gymnemic acid resembles crysophanic acid and forms insoluble salts with alkaloids.

Bitter gourd/Karela (Momordicacharantia L.)

Commonly known as 'Karela' or Bitter gourd is a monocious annual or perennial climber with a slender, 4-5 angled, multi - branched stems.  Leaves of the plant are alternate, sub orbicular, 3-10 cm long and 5 -1- cm wide, deeply palmate, 5 - 7 lobed, bare, deeply cordate, glabrous or slightly pubescent, lobes irregularly toothed.  It contains pale to orange - yellow coloured flowers.  Fruits are 5 - 25 cm long and 5 cm wide.  The plant is cultivated in almost all parts of India up to an altitude of 1500 m. msl.  It is widely used as vegetable.  The whole plant is used in traditional Indian medicine and is the source of 'Karavellam', a reputed drug used to treat diabetes mellitus.  In Ayurveda the fruit is considered laxative, antidiabetic, cardio-tonic, anthelmintic and a digestive stimulant; it is used to treat cough, respiratory disorders including asthma and bronchitis, fever, intestinal worms, ulcers, skin diseases, biliousness, anaemia, jaundice, rheumatism, gout, liver and spleen complaints, urinary discharge, flatulence and piles.  Both the fruits and leaves are used as a  vermifuge and for treating piles, leprosy and jaundice.  The plant contains alkaloid mormoridicine, saponin, carotene, glucosides and highly aromatic essential oil.  Fruit contains a hypoglycaemic substance charantin and ß-sitosterol - glucoside and stigmast-5,25 - diene - 3 B - O - glucoside. Fruit juice orally administered showed activity in normal administered showed activity in normal and diabetic rabbits and may have clinical usefulness in diabetes.

Article by:

C.S. Raghav - Senior Scientist-cum-Head, ICAR- Krishi Vigyan Kendra, West Siang, Basar, Arunachal Pradesh

RK Singh - Senior Scientist-cum-Head, Krishi Vigyan Kendra Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

MS Baruah - Asst. Chief Technical Officer, ICAR- Krishi Vigyan Kendra, West Siang, Basar, Arunachal Pradesh

Prashant Raghav - M. Tech Scholar (Industrial & Production Engineering), Amity University, Gurgaon, Delhi NCR

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