“What’s in a name” is one of the quotes often remarked. But a name serves as a hallmark of an identity. Dr. Indira Balachandran is one such name that stands as a synonym in horticulture. For most, it’s just a figure of speech but for her it is now a reality because a recently discovered plant species of the Hedyotis genus will from now on be known as Hedyotis Indirae, an honour a horticulturist could dream of.
Her contribution in the research of medicinal plants is second to none. She started her career in 1982 as Research Officer and In-charge of the Herbal Garden, a valuable ex-situ conservation site of medicinal plants of Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal. Her research is on Medicinal Plant Taxonomy dealing with the scientific identification, standardisation and conservation of medicinal plants used in Ayurveda and other traditional systems of medicine.
The studies on the said subject fetched her the Doctorate from University of Calicut in 1990. Her thesis titled “Ayurvedic Drugs and their Plant Sources” published by Oxford and IBH,New Delhi, in 1994 serves as a reference to Ayurvedic students, doctors and medicinal plant researchers around the world. Between 1988 and 1997 she was associated with a women’s group named ‘Shodhini’ and worked on collecting information on simple herbal remedies for common ailments among women and disseminating the knowledge among rural women across 8 states of India. The findings of this research was later published as a book titled “Touch Me,Touch Me Not: Women Herbs and Healing” by Kali for Women, New Delhi in 1997.
She has presented papers in numerous national and international conferences. The faculty of Ayurveda, Hilversün, Netherlands invited her to give a series of lectures on “Ayurvedic Phytotherapy”. She has also served as a visiting professor in Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical Industry, Japan between April and October 1999. As project director of the Centre for Medicinal Plant Research, she heads many projects funded both by government and non-government agencies.
The scientists in the Plant Systematics Division of Centre for Medicinal Plant Research at Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal discovered the plant from the “Elivāl Hills” in Muthikkulam forest, Palakkad. A team led by Dr.K.M Prabhukumar, Senior Scientist of the division collected the plant in 2013 and later in 2016. The detailed literature of the taxonomic studies, types and expert comments confirm the novelty of the plant. The results of the research has been published in the International Scientific Journal,Webbia,Italy.
There are numerous well-known medicinal plants belonging to the same family, ‘Parppadakapullu’ (Diamond Flower) is also of the same genus. The components from Hedyotis species are used in various traditional Ayurvedic preparations. The Hedyotis Indirae grows at 6300 ft above sea level in the Western Ghats. Dr.C.N Sunil, Professor, SNM College, Maliankara, Dr.R.Jagaddesan, V.V.Naveen Kumar, Former Scientists of the Division and Research Students Aiswarya Pilathottathil and V.S.Harish were in the discovery team.