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Leh's medicinal herbs to the aid of troops

Luv Puri

The initiatives of a high-altitude research laboratory pay rich dividends



ROOF GARDEN: Ladakhi women at work in the herbal laboratory in Leh. --PHOTO: LUV PURI

LEH: In an initiative by a research laboratory based here in one of the world's highest locations, medicinal herbs grown in the Leh region have been included in the daily rations of soldiers posted on the Siachen glacier in order to help them cope with altitude-related ailments. The high altitude and the low oxygen levels cause psycho-physiological problems among the troops, including memory loss. Such problems can have a long-term impact on the general health of the soldier.

A three-month tenure on the Siachen and similar high-altitude stations can cause memory loss. Cases of depression are also common. To counter these ailments, the Field Research Laboratory (FRL) here has launched a war with nature. The idea is to make the hostile terrain of Ladakh reasonably green and productive by growing herbs specifically to help soldiers ward off the impact of the altitude on their health. The most popular drugs are Hypericum SP, made from a medicinal herb, for depression, and Ephedra SP, for asthma. These have shown positive results. The laboratory has developed the technology for the preparation of a herbal beverage from the fruits of seabuck thorn, a naturally growing wild plant, a weed in the region. This beverage, rich in Vitamins C, A, B, K and E, does not freeze even up to minus 22 degrees Celcius. Since it also has anti-ageing and anti-stress properties, it is included in the special rations of troops here.

Herbal tea is another product that is now being supplied to the troops in Siachen and has proved to have medicinal value. It has acted as an energiser, an anti-stress agent, a stimulant, useful in cold climates. Most important, it restores memory. Soldiers who have served on the glacier attest to the effectiveness of the herbs. Captain Anshul, who served in the northern part of the glacier recently says: "The first week at the glacier was tough with a lot of health problems. But after taking the herbs I was all right within few days."

The laboratory, which works under the Defence Research and Development Organisation, is located at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Despite operating amid adverse weather and low-oxygen conditions, the laboratory has succeeded over several decades in making green, bringing about positive changes in the cold desert. This process has helped the local people meet their food needs. Simultaneously it has taken care of the unique needs of the troops in the world's highest battlefield who otherwise depend on airlifting of food stocks from the plains during most part of the year. The produce from its fields meets 60 per cent of the demand for the troops in the region.

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