Navara, the rice that cures

Palakkad is popularly known as the Gateway to Kerala. Endless vistas of green paddy fields greet a visitor entering the district. Pallakad is dotted with valleys, hillocks, rivers, forests, mountains streams, dams and irrigation projects. It is also the rice-bowl of Kerala, the land of Navara rice. Navara is now in the same league as Champagne, Basmati and Darjeeling tea. The medicinal rice variety received the geographical indication intellectual property right in November 2007. Other than Palakkad, Navara also grows in neighbouring disticts which have the same soil type and climatic conditions.

Navara has an important place in the Ayurvedic system of treatment and is used, alone or in combination with other herbs to treat many diseases. The rice is of two kinds, the white glumed (husked) and black glumed. The 12th century Ayurvedic text, Ashtangahridayam, describes the white Navara as medicinally superior but the black glumed variety seems to be preferred by physicians today.

The rice has a wide range of benefits. Boiled Navara is a good weaning food for infants, particularly those with low weight. Broth made by adding Navara rice to meat is recommended to pregnant women as it increases the weight of the foetus. Cooked with milk and herbs, it can treat internal wounds. Navara rice bran oil is used for a wide range of aches and painful conditions like the cervical spondylosis, low back ache, paralysis, rheumatoid arthritis. Ayurvedic doctors effectively use Navara rice paste, lepanam, to treat psoriasis. The paste is also an excellent remedy for skin lesions. Rice gruel made of Navara is considered beneficial in preventing various diseases and is also considered a safe food for diabetics.

Navara is used in Navarakizhi, a specialty treatment from Kerala's traditional medicine used for curing neuromuscular disorders. The rice cooked in a decoction of the herb, Sida (Sida rectusa. Lin), to which milk has been added, makes the body supple, removes stiffness of joints, cleanses the body channels, and improves blood circulation. It is traditionally consumed as a replenishing drink, called karkidakakanji, and is effective in curing fatigue.

In today's health conscious world market, Navara rice can play a dominant role if marketing channels open up to farmers who have preserved Navara rice against all adversity. To ensure that farmers benefit, it is imperative that cultivation is promoted only after assessing market demands and prospects of sustainability.

P V Balachandran is Associate Director of Research, Regional Agricultural Research Station, Pattambi, Kerala