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Indigneous uses of herbs as cosmetics and skin care applications among tribal people of Petalkot and Dang, India

Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Anshu Shrivastava

Man's dependence on plants for the essentials of his existence has been of paramount importance since the human race began. Primitive man probably had few needs other than food and a little shelter. Civilization, however, has brought with it an ever-increasing complexity and has increased man's requirements to an amazing degree. The man of today is no longer content merely to exist with food and shelter as his only wants. He desires other commodities as well and raw materials that can be converted into many useful articles and products, which incidentally increase his debts to plants.

Since time immemorial, medicinal plants and their uses have been a part of our social life and prove to be powerful allies against various health problems. Though, synthetic drugs have swapped herbal healing at a certain level, renaissance and awareness on herbal medication is coming back. One of the reasons that the home remedies and traditional knowledge are more accepted in the society is their availability in most Indian kitchens and neighborhoods. These medicinal plants are affordable, eco-friendly, and having less or no side effects as compared to synthetic drugs and even can be grown in household kitchen gardens. Drugs in chemical doses or synthetic form have swapped herbal healing at a certain level. But, now people have started realizing various problems related with synthetic drugs i.e. side effects, chemical pollution, cost and availability of drugs. Renaissance and awareness on herbal medication is coming back now. Anyone can easily afford these herbal medicines. Treatment of various ailments via herbs is the oldest form of health care known to all the cultures throughout history. Various parts of herbs like the stem, leaves, roots, flowers, and fruit are used to cure health and skin disorders. In the age of speeding-up medical costs and their side effects, people are turning to herbs, the 'natural medicines'. Herbs are on menu cards of conscious folks in their regular diets. People prefer green herbs not only because of low fatty oil content for good health but also to maintain and restore their vibrant beauty (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008)

Authors Drs Acharya and Shrivastavas have been deeply engulfed in scouting for and documenting indigenous knowledge for more than 14 years. In an attempt to feature application of herbs in cosmetics and skin care, authors bring herewith a series of article focusing on the role of 20 different medicinal plants in various cosmetic applications by the indigenous tribesmen of Patalkot ( in Central India and the Dangs in Western India. There will be a total of 20 herbs discussed in a 4 part series. Each article will discuss the role of 5 herbs in indigenous formulations as applied by the tribesmen.

The current article focuses 5 plants i.e. Acacia sinuata, Aloe vera, Azadirachta indica, Carica papaya and Cicer arietinum and their cosmetic applications. We hope that the readers enjoy it.

Soapnut Acacia (Acacia sinuata (Lour.) Merr.)

Soapnut Acacia (Acacia sinuata (Lour.) Merr.)

Family: Mimosaceae

Vernacular Names in India: Banritha (Bengali); Shikakai (Gujarati); Kochi, Shikakai (Hindi); Sige (Kannada); Chikaka, Chinikka (Malayalam); Shikakai (Marathi); Shikai (Tamil); Shikaya (Telugu).

Plant Profile and Distribution: Prickly, scandent shrubs or small sized trees; bark flaking off in smooth, brown stripes; leaves bipinnate, with a prominent gland on petiole; flowers pink, in axillary, peduncled heads; pods thick, flattened, wrinkled, brown, containing 6-10 seeds. The plant is a common element of tropical forests, particularly in Central India and Deccan Plateau.

Medicinal Importance

Pods are used as an astringent, cleanser, in hair growth, dandruff, skin diseases, devitalized, as coolant, diuretic, emetic, depurative, anthelmintic, in burning sensation, constipation, renal calculi, vesicle calculi, hemorrhoids, leprosy, abscesses, eczema, biliousness and as a purgative (CSIR, 1948-1976; WOA, 1997). According to Ayurveda, pods are useful in diarrhea, burning sensation, blood disorders, leucoderma, cardio tonic, anthelmintic, and cathartic (Sheth et al., 2007). The pods along with Emblica officinalis, Callicarpa macrophylla, Curcuma amada, Curcuma longa and Rubia cordifolia are recommended for skin and hair care (Sharma et al., 2003).

Traditional Tribal Formulations

Shikakai/ Soapnut Acacia literally mean 'fruit for hair'. Fruits are used traditionally for washing hair and cleaning feet or treating cracked heals. Indigenous folks in India collect Soapnut Acacia pods and grind or boil them in water for some time and use the liquid to wash dirty/ dusty hair. In some parts, tribals soak the pods/ seeds in water overnight and boil them the next morning. The liquid is filtered with a cotton cloth and applied as shampoo. It lathers moderately and cleans hair beautifully. According to them, this removes dirt and oily substances from the head and also helps to restore hair growth. Many herbal healers suggest this formulation for curing dandruff, too.

If applied regularly in summer, it is said to cool the head and to help keep the scalp moist. Pods also act as a natural conditioner that helps to promote hair growth and produce a mild shine. Many healers in Dangs suggest that regular application of Soapnut Acacia prevents premature graying of hair. Overall, it is a hair tonic.

Leaves of this plant are used in the treatment of eczema. About 10g of fresh leaves should be crushed in 30ml water and the mixture should be applied externally to affected body parts. The patient should continue the treatment until he gets rid of the problem (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008, 2011).

Indian Aloe (Aloe barbadensis Mill.)

Indian Aloe (Aloe barbadensis Mill.)

Family: Liliaceae

Vernacular Names: Ghrita-kumari, Kanya (Bengali, Sanskrit); Barbados Aloe, Indian Aloe (English); Kumarpathu, Kunawar (Gujarati); Ghee-kanwar, Ghi-kuvar (Hindi); Kolasoare, Komarika, Maulisara (Kannada); Kattavazha (Malayalam); Korphad (Marathi); Kumari, Mushaboro (Oriya); Bhottu-katrazhae, Chirukattalai, Kottaalai (Tamil); Kalabanda (Telugu).

Plant Profile and Distribution: Perennial undershrubs, with short stem; leaves crowded in basal rosette, lanceolate, acuminate, spinous toothed margins, fleshy, with yellowish sap; scape much longer; flowers yellowish-red, in dense racemes. The plant is commonly cultivated for medicinal and cosmetic use almost throughout India, also planted on borders of cultivated fields in sandy soils of arid regions.

Medicinal Importance

Benefits of this plant can be attributed partly to its nutrients, since it contains proteins, carbohydrates (including monosaccharides), vitamins (including B1, B2, B3, B6, C, and folic acid) and minerals. These nutrients, although beneficial individually, may work synergistically to soothe, heal, moisturize and regenerate the skin (Zawahry et al., 1973; Davis et al., 1989). Aloe gel accelerates the healing of wounds and burns and moisturizes dry skin (West and Zhu, 2003). Aloe gel works as a cleanser, and is said to promote cell proliferation. It also helps to remove dead skin cells. It moisturizes the skin because it has a water holding capacity (Reynolds and Dweck, 1999).

Along with a vitamin compound rich in vitamin C and E, it refreshes, moisturizes and conditions (Shelton, 1991). It is recommended for young skin that is prone to acne, oily skin and mature skin for its stimulation of collagen production. Aloe gel promotes complete healing of burn wounds. It is effective on skin exposed to UV and Gamma Radiation. A protective effect has also been documented for skin exposure to soft x-irradiation (Sato et al., 1990). Its softening powers have recently been found to be helpful in breaking down calluses and blisters (Zawahry et al., 1973; Davis et al., 1989). It regenerates and prevents lips from drying out (Strickland et al., 1994). Leaves are applied in cases of skin disease, hair loss (Comerford, 1996) and rashes (Ilham et al., 1995).

Traditional Tribal Formulations

Aloe gel helps to remove dead skin cells from the body. Tribals apply Aloe gel topically to affected areas. According to them, the gel stimulates cell growth and as such enhances the restoration of damaged skin. They also apply the gel in cases of wounds, burns and to moisturize dry skin. Aloe gel is applied on cracked heals and lips in winter. Leaf juice applied on burning parts heals the skin sooner and faster.

Aloe gel is applied to the face to heal sunburn. Tribals in Dang prepare a mixture of Aloe gel (10g), milk cream (2g), Corn flour (4g) and about 3g of Oat (flour or flakes?). ingredients are thoroughly mixed and applied all over the body of newborns as a paste. Once the paste is dried out, they take the baby to shower. According to them, this helps to check excessive hair growth on the body.

According to the healers in Patalkot, the gel is very effective in cases of psoriasis. It should be applied directly to the affected area. Also, the gel is applied externally to lessen stretch marks and facial wrinkles.

It also promotes hair growth. The gel should be massaged into the scalp, and rinsed after 30 minutes. Healers prescribe inhibit graying of hair also. The same method of application should be used.

For suppressing male body hair growth, a combination of Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) oil, Aloe leaf, Gotu Kola leaf (Centella asiatica) and Lemon (Citrus limon) is prepared. Delicately massage the complete mixture of herbs/ parts onto the facial skin until it is completely absorbed. Apply this formulation four to five times a week to inhibit hair growth, to reduce skin irritation and on ingrown hairs. Use more often if hair is thick and dark. Always ensure that the lotion has been completely absorbed before applying any other skin care cream/ lotion to the same area. Eye contact should be avoided. If it enters the eyes, gently flush them with warm water (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008, 2011).

Neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss.)

Neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss.)

Family: Meliaceae

Vernacular Names: Nim (Bengali); Indian Lilac, Margosa Tree, Neem Tree (English); Limbado (Gujarati); Nim, Nimb (Hindi); Bevinamara (Kannada); Veppa (Malayalam); Limba (Marathi); Nimba (Oriya); Arishta, Nimba (Sanskrit); Vembu, Veppam (Tamil); Veepachettu, Yapachettu (Telugu); Nim (Urdu).

Plant Profile and Distribution: Large trees with peeling bark; leaves imparipinnate compound; leaflets sub-opposite or alternate, oblique at base, coarsely crenate-serrate; flowers white, fragrant, in panicles; drupes ovoid-oblong, yellow after ripen, 1-seeded. Very common tree species of social forestry, commonly planted along road-sides and gardens as shade tree; also grown near sacred places and habitations.

Medicinal Importance

Decoction of the bark is used as a tonic (Dragendorff, 1898). The same is given in filariasis (Comley, 1990), leprosy (Zafarullah et al., 1980), fever, diabetes (Shah, 1982; Rajurkar and Pardeshi, 1997), expelling intestinal worms (Deka et al., 1983), gingivitis (Udeinya, 1993) jaundice and syphilis (Van Der Nat et al., 1986).

Traditional Tribal Formulations

Neem leaves are boiled in water to bring and reduced to half the amount. It should be consumed twice a day to kill intestinal worms. According to the healers in Patalkot, the presence of intestinal worms inside the stomach is indicated by the white patches/ marks on the skin, especially all over the face.

Neem oil applied to the scalp helps to get rid of lice and dandruff. For lice and dandruff control, oils of Neem and Indian Beech Tree (Pongamia pinnata) are mixed and applied to the hair. Only Neem seed oil can also be applied on the scalp during the night and washed next morning for preventing hair loss, controlling dandruff and killing lice.

Simmer Coconut (Cocos nucifera) oil with 100g of Neem leaf powder. Apply to hair once in a week to get rid of dandruff.

According to Patalkot healers, Neem leaves boiled water is good for skin infections. The water should be consumed internally. Raw Neem leaves are eaten to purify the blood.

For curing pimples, mix Neem powder, Red Sandalwood powder (Santalum album??? Not Pterocarpus santalinus? Santalum album is white Sandalwood) and Curd in equal proportions. Apply the paste to the affected area.

Neem oil is excellent for curing itching and rashes of the skin. Crush Neem leaves with water, prepare a fine paste and apply to wounds. It heals the wound very soon. In Dangs, to treat a wound, a paste of crushed leaves is prepared and tied to wound with a cotton cloth. The wound will heal soon wizhout scarring (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008).

Papaya (Carica papaya L.)

Papaya (Carica papaya L.)

Family: Caricaceae

Vernacular Names: Papeya, Pappaiya (Bengali); Papaw Tree, Papaya (English); Papayi, Popaiyun (Gujarati); Papeeta (Hindi); Parangimara (Kannada); Kappalam Kappanga, Pappayam (Malayalam); Papaya (Marathi); Pappali Pappayi (Tamil); Boppayi (Telugu).

Plant Profile and Distribution: Small trees, with grayish bark; trunk single, straight, cylindrical, hollow, marked with leaf scars; leaves forming a crown at the apex of trunk, long-petioled, deeply palmatifid; flowers fragrant; berries orange after ripen, with large cavity and numerous black seeds. The plant was introduced in India in 16th century, cultivated commercially for edible fruits, also planted in home gardens and sacred places.

Medicinal Importance

Decoction of the bark is effective in cases of worms, intestinal parasites, hemorrhages, constipation, skin rashes, cuts (Coee and Anderson, 1996), malaria, liver and spleen disorders (Milliken, 1997). Decoction of the flowers is used as a heart tonic and as an emmenagogue (Tang, 1979). Fruit of the plant is given in helminthiasis, dyspepsia, abortion and gonorrhea, as galactogogue (Vasileva, 1969), and externally applied in eczema, psoriasis and ulcers (Bossard, 1993).

Traditional Tribal Formulations

In Dangs, women take flour of Rice, Maize and Pearl Millet in equal proportion (around half a cup), they add same amount of mashed ripe Papaya to it. A paste is prepared. Before applying this paste, moisten the face. Apply by gently massaging the face. It is said to be one very effective scrub.

In Patalkot, the seeds of a ripe Papaya are dried and powdered. It has value to heal blemished skin.

For pimples and black heads of face, ripe fruit pulp should be applied to the face as a facial. It can be used as a face mask.

Application of fresh Papaya fruit pulp reduces and attenuate brown marks that appears after sunburn or maximum exposure to sun.

Regular Papaya fruit pulp applications not only help to keep skin clean and clear, but also to get rid of acne naturally. According to the healers, in order to prevent acne forever, one should incorporate papaya in the daily diet.

Latex of the fruit should be applied externally to eczema. Slices of unripe fruit rubbed on ringworm once a day is believed to cure it.

To eradicate intestinal worms, latex of unripe fruit (10g) and honey (10g) should be added to hot water (50 ml), mixed well and taken internally.

Latex of unripe fruit and sugar is given in indigestion. According to Dangi healers, indigestion at times causes acne and blisters. Papaya is said to be a good blood purifier. Ripe Papaya (500g) should be taken every day in the evening (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2011).

Bengal Gram (Cicer arietinum L.)

Bengal Gram (Cicer arietinum L.)

Vernacular names in India: Butmah (Assamiya); But, Chola (Bengali); Bengal Gram, Caravance, Chickpea, Garabanzo, Gram (English); Chana, Chania (Gujarati); But, Chana, Chole (Hindi); Kadale (Kannada); Chana (Kashmiri); Kadala, Kadalakka (Malayalam); Harbara (Marathi); Booto (Oriya); ; Chana, Chole (Punjabi); Chanaka, Harimantha (Sanskrit); Kadalai (Tamil); Sanagalu (Telugu).

Family: Papilionaceae

Taxonomical Composition: An erect or spreading much-branched annual herb, 30-50 cm in height covered all over with glandular hair, which is rich in oxalic acid and malic acid that impart a sour taste to leaves and fruits. Leaves pinnately compound, leaflets 9-17, opposite or alternate, stipulate, strongly veined; flowers papilionaceous, white to various shades of pink or blue; pods one or two seeded; seeds attached to ventral suture, beaked, round or semi-round, wrinkled or semi-wrinkled, exalbuminous, seedcoat yellow, faun, green, orange-brown, pink or black, smooth, puckered, granular or tuberculate.

Medicinal Uses: The whole plant is refrigerant. The leaves are useful in bronchitis. Boiled leaves are applied to sprains and dislocated bones. The acid exudate from the plant is astringent and used in indigestion, diarrhea and dysentery. The seeds are stimulant, tonic, aphrodisiac, anthelmintic, antidiabetic (Dilawari et al., 1981), hypercholesterolemic (Ahmed et al., 1994) and useful in bronchitis and biliousness. They are also useful in leprosy and other skin diseases.

The seed oil exhibits estrogenic activity because of the presence of -sitosterol. The aqueous extract of the seed hull has diuretic activity. Seed hull extract also has anti-fungal properties. Powdered seed is used as face pack, and also for dandruff. It has been used in the treatment for dyspepsia, constipation and snakebite (Chopra et al., 1956)

Traditional Tribal Formulations

Take a teaspoon of Gram flour (known as Besan in India), prepare a paste with a few drops of water and gently rub the face and neck. This removes the dead cells and gives the face a glow. According to the healers, one should not use soap. It helps in closing the pores and a makes a perfect face scrubber.

For suppressing male body hair growth, a combination of Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) seed oil, Gram flour, Wheat (Triticum aestivum) flour, Lemon (Citrus limon) juice and honey is prepared. This combination can be used as a face mask twice a week. Formulation should be allowed to dry on the face, and, when dry, again slightly moistened, rubbed and washed off. Regular use of this application checks the hair growth on facial skin after some time.

For removing unwanted hair from the body, take Gram flour and Turmeric powder in a ratio of 2:1. Mix with a little water to make a smooth paste, apply to face and leave until dry. Then first moisten the face and gently wash it off with mild scrubbing. This is a good remedy and if used daily, the face will be clear of hair. There is no need to use soap during the course of the application of this formulation. Interestingly, in many other pockets, tribals use pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon of Turmeric and Gram flour each. To it, add little water and prepare a thick paste. Apply to hairy region of skin and slowly rub in circular motion for 2-3 minutes then wash face. Repeat daily. The results will be seen very soon (Acharya and Shrivastava, 2008).

Apply a paste of Bengal Gram flour (2 teaspoon flour in 5ml water) with yogurt/ curd (10ml) for the treatment of pimples and other skin rashes.

To cure itchy skin, American Aloe leaf juice (Agave americana) is applied to the body and Gram flour (known as Besan in India) is rubbed while taking shower.

(To be continued...)
Coming up next: Citrus limon (Lemon), Citrus reticulata (Orange), Cucumis sativus (Cucumber), Curcuma longa (Turmeric), Eclipta alba (Traling Eclipta)

Acknowledgement: We acknowledge tribesmen of Patalkot, Dangs and Aravallis for sharing their much valued information with us.


Author's Profile

Dr_Deepak_Acharya (21K)

Dr Deepak Acharya (MSc PhD) is Director, Abhumka Herbal Pvt Limited. He can be reached at deepak at or deepak at For more information about him, please visit and

Dr Anshu Shrivastava (MSc PhD) is Botanist at Abhumka Herbal Pvt Limited, contact him at anshu at or ansh24 at

Dr_Anshu_Shrivasta (14K)

book_cover (17K)Acharya, D. and Shrivastava, A. 2008. Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices. Aavishkar Publishers Distributors, Jaipur. ISBN 978-81-7910-252-7.

For questions or comments email:

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