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>No money for medicinal plants


By Pet Melliza/ The Beekeeper

Agriculture, joked then agriculture secretary Salvador Escudero III before Iloilo agriculturists, covered vast areas: “everything on land except marijuana; everything in water except piranha”.

But bureaucracy in the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its counterparts in local government units (LGU’s) don’t see it that way. In most regions, agriculture is narrowed down to rice and corn, and fruits like mangoes, melons and coconuts.

A sector of crops has been skirted in the program to raise income of farmers: medicinal plants. The herbal medicine, “nutriceuticals”, is now a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Google for medicinal plants, say, balunggay (Moringa oleifera), and the net navigates you to sites advertising balunggay products in tablets, capsules, suspension and extracts bearing foreign brands.

Balunggay thrives anywhere in the neighbourhood but government is not keen teaching people to grow it commercially, not just for food but as medicines. Its leaves pack more energy than rice, more protein than beef, more Vitamin C than calamansi, and more iron than meat. It has high potassium content that reduces the risk of stroke and cardiac arrest.
It is not just the LGU but the whole country that has been left out in the race to invest in herbal medicines. Dr. Michael Tan, consultant to the World Health Organization  (WHO) and columnist in the PDI bewails that that while billions of pesos are lost in corruption, the Philippines does little in the field of research on herbal medicines.

In an opinion piece during the reign of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he lamented that all that government needed to do was appropriate P200 million for a start, a mere “tongpats  (grease money) offered to a single person who later became a whistle blower to the botched NBN-ZTE deal.

The Department of Health (DoH) endorses only 10 plants with healing properties though the number of medicinal plants in its glossary runs beyond 100. Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs that despite poor government performance, the herbal medicine industry growing. The lagundi tree has become popular for its effectiveness in healing persons stricken with flu and respiratory ailments. It has become so fast selling that a multinational drug company selling cough syrup resorted to negative advertising to discredit the “dahon” (leaf). Remember the clown ululating on “the one” versus “dahon”? His company must have been given a run for its money by the “dahon”.

Drugstores now carry lagundi products processed by different producers. Sometime in 1994, my one year old son had a respiratory ailment; severe coughing disrupted his sleep. The pediatrician prescribed anti-biotic but with no effect. His condition worsened because the anti-biotic triggered diarrhoea. We brought him back to the same physician who increased the anti-biotic dosage. His diarrhoea and cough aggravated.

A retired nurse prescribed  “sara-sara” tea,  done by roasting rice grains black and boiled it for tea.  The diarrhoea stopped but not his cough. We boiled lagundi leaves and served it to him as cold beverage. His respiratory problem disappeared.

Since then, anti-biotic as treatment for cough is off from the list of remedies in our little family. 

I took a cutting of that from my wife’s uncle in San Miguel, Iloilo for propagation in Igbaras town. Since then, I gave seedlings to a dozen friends. The one I planted in the farm of a brother is now a tree where chickens roost for the night.

I also gave lagundi seedlings to employees of the Iloilo Provincial Government. One of them, Cecille Bedona of the Community Affairs Office sent a pack of dried leaves by LBC to her son Alfonso Jr at La Salle Manila. He and four others sharing a condo unit were stricken by coughs. They took it as tea. In less than a week since they got the package, they were cured of flu and cough.

Lagundi is easy to grow. Its twigs the size of coconut midribs and five inches long can make good clones. All you need to do is plant them by cluster in a masetera. In one week, they flush new leaves indicating they are alive and 

growing.  Next, replant them separately in individual pots like used soft drink cups.


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