Swertia chirayita (Chiraita/Chiraito/Kiraatatikta): A critically endangered medicinal plant

INTRODUCTION:

Swertia chirayita is a medicinal plant from the family Gentianaceae. It is a biennial or perennial crop of high medicinal, health and economic importance. It is a high value crop of temperate Himalayas found at altitudes of 1200-3000 meters above sea level. It has higher demand in national as well as international markets by Ayurvedic and pharmaceutical industries.

Swertia chirayita flower
Source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Swertia_chirayita_-Chirayita.,കിരിയാത്ത്,നിലവേപ്പ്._(38946007972).jpg

MEDICINAL IMPORTANCE:

It is used against following diseases and disorders:

Malaria, Fever, Diabetes, Liver disorders, Gastrointestinal worms and infections, Bronchial asthma, Eye diseases, Jaundice, Anemia, Dyspepsia and Diarrhea, Piles, Insomnia, Constipation, Cancer, cardiovascular problem, skin diseases, blood pressure, headache, common cold, vomiting, ulcers, excessive vaginal discharge, loss of appetite

Similarly, it is used as: Anti-inflammatory, anti-fatigue, anti-aging, anti-fungal, anti-helminthic, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidants, blood purifier, secretion of bile, cardiac-stimulant, tonic, laxative etc.

Chiraito, remedy of fever;
Source: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/catch-a-cold-ill-fever-cold-flu-3893262/

MEDICINAL PROPERTIES OF PLANT:

Indigenous use of swertia chirayita for its medicinal properties:

I) for headache, blood pressure, blood purification and loss of appetite: leaves and chopped stems are soaked overnight in water and filtered water is consumed once a day for 2-3 days

II) For chronic fever: plants are cut into small pieces and boiled in half liter of water until volume is reduced to less than half a glass. The filtered water is stored in glass bottle and half spoon is given to child whereas one full spoon is given to adult once in a day for 2-3 days

III) To cure malaria: boiled in water and 1 cup of decoction (kadha) is taken orally to cure malaria

IV) Skin problems: paste of plant is applied to treat skin diseases such as eczema and pimples

Mosquito bite in human skin; Source: https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vchob
Swertia perennis – Sumpf-Enzian Source: Wikipedia Commons, 2019

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION

i. Biennial or perennial herb of 0.5- 1.5 meter height

ii. Stem:  Orange brown or purplish or greenish yellow in color, 2-3 feet long, stem is round in the lower half but quadrangular in the upper half is its characteristic feature

iii. Leaf: leaves are lanceolate in opposite pairs without stalks (sessile) and 4-5cm long

iv. Root: root is simple and short, yellowish in color somewhat oblique or geniculate in shape. Almost 7-8 cm. long and 0.5 inch thick

v. Flower: small tetramerous flower, green-yellow in color tinged with purple and green or white hairs. Multi-color Corollaand Characteristic feature is the presence of a pair of nectar glands on each lobe of corolla covered with long hairs. Unilocular ovary with ovules, parietal placentation and 2 stigmas

vi. Fruit: egg shaped capsule, 2 valved capsule with a transparent yellowish pericarp

vii. Seeds: numerous, very small and dark brown in colour

ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE:

Nepal contributes to 45% of dried chirayita in the world market. The main international markets for swertia chirayita are India, China and Bangladesh. Nepal earns about US dollar 61000 from chiraito royalties. 1 Kg. of chirayita fetch Rs.500-1500 price according to its quality. And collectors in community forests pay a tariff of Rs.15 per kg to District forest officers (DFOs).

IMPORTANT FACTS:

  1. Swertia chirayita is categorized as critically endangered species as per IUCN (international union for conservation of Nature and natural resources) criteria.
  1. Multi-color Corolla and presence of nectar glands support cross pollination in S. Chirayita due to which adulteration or substitution often occurs with other species of the same genus. Therefore, correct identification of this plant is most necessary with its characteristic features as described in its botany. Swertia chirayita is of superior quality herb among all its other species. Other similar species of it are S. angustifolia, S. cordata, S. alata and S. purpurascens.
  1. It is also used to cure animals and livestock diseases and disorders.
  1. The income generated from the collectors of forests by the collection of swertia chirayita is used in the poverty alleviation fund (PAF) by the Nepal government.

Smriti Jha, Intern Content Writer, Krishi Master Nepal, 2020

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