MAH Fellowship 2023-24

March 2, 2024

Rajshri Shyamlal Bais, 27yrs, is a talented young woman from the Mahara community from Andhra Pradesh and is based in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. She did her Masters in Anthropology from the Women’s College, Jagdalpur, Bastar University. She aspires to do a PhD on tribal life and food in the Bastar region and has been living in a village in Bastar district for several years. During this fellowship she is going to do a detailed study of forest herbs and medicinal plants in Bastar.

Sachin Ganesh Rathod, 26yrs, is a young Mahua enthusiast from the Banjara tribe of Kinwat Taluka, Nanded District, Maharashtra. He is doing a Masters in Political Science from Baliram Patil Arts Commerce and Science College in Nanded. He finished his Bachelor of Arts from the same institute. During the MAH fellowship, he is going to conduct research on the economic potential of the Mahua tree and aspires to take this as his PhD research topic after his masters.

May 2023

Rajshri presents a herb from Manjipal in Bastar, that is found as commonly in India’s cities as its deep jungles, underlying continuities of all kinds. From treating stomach ailments to eye diseases and respiratory issues, this herb is widely used by forest based communities as everyday medicine. Scientific name: Argemon mexicana / Common Name: Satyanashi, Mexican prickly poppy

Sachin starts his journey discovering the world of mahua by focussing on this tree located in Rajgad Village, Kinwat taluka, Nanded District, Maharashtra. He will provide more information of the different aspects of the tree and help us understand how it is connected with the socio-economic lives of the people who live in its vicinity.

June 2023

Rajshri presents another medicinal herb from Manjipal in Bastar, that too is common across urban sites in India. As a perennial the milky sap from the leaves, roots as well as the flower are taken into use by the locals. Their leaves are considered beneficial for swelling and pain. The latex from crushed leaves is used in the treatment for skin ulcers, itching, rashes and more.

Scientific name: Calotropis gigantea / Common Name: Madar, Aak

Rajshri’s second finding is also a medicinal herb. An annual plant, Bhui Neem is widely used as a blood purifier, to help maintain a healthy body weight and against stomach worms. Like most medicines, this too is bitter to taste.

Scientific name: Swertia chirayita / Common Name: Bhui Neem, Chirayata

Sachin Rathod followed the story of this particular tree, located in Vadoli village, five kilometers from his home in Maharashtra. This year it shed around 90 kilograms of Mahua flowers over the months of March and April. The yield produced around 90 litres of Mahua spirit providing a supplementary income to the Shedmakke (see photo below) family who were its prime collectors and spirit makers. They collected Mahua flowers between 5:00 am and 9:00 am everyday, sun dried the flowers, fermented, distilled and sold the spirit by the glass in local weekly markets. Sachin’s research will continue to follow the trail of similar mahua makers and examine the steps required to increase the income of such families through mahua and other forest produce.

July 2023

Sachin retuned to the village 'Vadoli', to meet and interview Bhimrao Jaita Shedmakke. He makes mahua liquor every month of the year.

Bhimrao lives with his family, which includes his wife, two sons, and a daughter. His daughter is disabled, one of the sons is a mechanic, and the other helps out in the mahua distillation. Bhimrao does not own any farmland, nor does he work in others' fields. He supports his family solely by brewing, distilling, and selling the mahua liquor.

They collect and store the mahua flowers during the summer months. Each batch of flowers is then fermented for about 3-4 days. It takes them 3-4 hours daily to turn 15kg of flowers into 12.5 liters of liquor.

Bhimrao sometimes buys mahua flowers from other Adivasi people and also sells them further if there is demand. He uses 5-liter oil cans for the distillation process and adds 100 grams of alum and jaggery to every 3kg of flowers. His mahua liquor sells for Rs. 50-60 per glass.

August 2023

Rajshri interviewed a local Vaidya (plant medicine practitioner exploring three new plants that he regularly prescribes to his patients in the village. The plants featured in this video are Crinum asiaticum, Euphorbia grantii and Hemidesmus indicus, in this order.


Rajshri discovers another medicinal herb from Ghasiram Maurya, a 45 year old Vaidya from Rampal village. Ghasiram has prescribed this plant as a remedy for many of the residents from his village. He remembers observing this plant growing as a wild perennial along the roads since his childhood.

Scientific name: Solanum viarumCommon Name(s): Kant-kari, safed kateri, kanta bejari

Later that month, Rajshri interviewed a 66 year old vaidya, Gadru Kashyap and explored a new medicinal plant. Gadru was handed down the knowledge about this plant from his father. He had prescribed the plant as a remedy for both people and animals. A perennial crop, Elephantopus scaber is seen commonly growing in the shade of trees or along the periphery of fields. It is used to alleviate pain arising from cavities in teeth and also used to treat infections in maggot infested wounds.

Scientific name: Elephantopus scaberCommon Name(s): Adhomukh Ghobhi, Elephant Foot

October 2023

This herbaceous vine can be seen growing in the forests near Rajshri's home all year. It gets distinguished with its red flowers and black grapes. While it is the root that is foraged by the villagers for use as medicine. Rajshri's mother Gourmani (55) introduced her to this species. She has used it as a remedy for herself and Rajshri's father.

Scientific name: Ampelocissus latifoliaCommon Name(s): Dal dal angoor, debri mal

Soon after, Rajshri found another plant that heals but also kills! Widespread throughout the tropics, you might have already seen 𝙍𝙞𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙪𝙨 around you.

This perennial plant is not easily seen in the village but commonly known for its medicinal uses. When spotted the seeds (beans) are collected to be planted outside homes. The plant can be itentified from its red flowers in bloom. Rajshri documented it in Rampal village from an interview with Balmati (55) who remembers using this plant since her childhood. She has used its oil and leaves for their remedial properties.

Scientific name: Ricinus communisCommon Name(s): rani jada, arandi, castor oil

November 2023

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Sachin had to withdraw from the Fellowship and MAH elected a new Fellow - Pappu Dulasing Jadhav, to take up the place. Born in the Nanded district, Kinwat Taluka (collective of villages), Singoda village from the Indian state of Maharashtra, Pappu hails from the Banjara tribal community of the region. He graduated with a degree in Bacherlors of Arts and has work experience in marketing. Pappu's father was a former chief of village.

Mentoring Pappu in this fellowship will be Dudhram Bhoju Rathod who has a Masters of Arts degree. Dudhram has worked several managerial roles and was a trainer in marketing. He has been exploring livelihood opportunities for tribals from forest produce and also has experience in working with government administrative services.

Pappu and Budhram interviewed farmers and community members to collect data and stories about the benefits and products made from the Mahua tree. They want to quantify income sources and the economics of different products. The first round of interviews were conducted with the following community members:

Kishan Nago Atram (Dongargaon C), Nagorao Bhimrao Atram (Kanki), Dadarao Tekam (Kollam, Nagpur), Rambhau Gedam (Singoda Village), Jaywant Gedam (Singod Village)

Meanwhile, Rajshri found medicinal uses from a common houseplant! This perennial plant is succulent with milky sap. It is commonly seen planted as a hedge in the school grounds and the courtyards of homes. It grows easily and becomes bushy over time. Rajshri documented this species in Rampal village from an interview with Ghasiram (45) who has advised this plant for its benefits to many. He remembers seeing it growing around the village all his life.

Scientific name: Euphorbia tithymaloidesCommon Name(s): adasgaad, pedilanthus

December 2023

Pappu and Dudhram returned with new learnings about the Mahua tree and the community.

Kinwat taluka (a collective of villages) is 180 km from Nanded district and adjoins the Indian state of Telangana. Mohada village in Kinwat taluka is situated on a high hill, surrounded by forests. An elderly tribal named 'Pendor' kaka (uncle) who had lived here for over 65 years, recalls that this village got its name 'Mohada' from the Mahua (aka Moha) trees that grew in its periphery.

The tribals depended on Mahua's abundance for food, and sold it in the open market. Soon new government laws came into action which banned the sale of Mahua flowers, making it illegal for the Banjara tribe to engage in commerce from the tree. However, recent years have seen some relaxation in regulations. Villages around Mohada are primarily engaged in agriculture and began making an additional income from the sale of collected Mahua flowers.

Pendor shared that the summer months of March and April were the only periods for collection of fallen Mahua flowers, which are then dried and stored in bags.

"We wake up at 4 am and sit under the tree at dawn to get the flowers before any wild animals and birds get to them. We collect in big baskets, take them home, and shower and have breakfast. In the picking season, we get to enjoy nature, worship and work hard."

Here are the tribals who were interview by the MAH fellows:

Raju Ulhas Pendor, Devrao Yashwant Kumre, Gunaji Raghav Kumbhekar, Madhav Tulsiram Pawar, Prakash Ramchandra Rathod, Bharat Deva Pendor, Gulab Prasaram Rathod, Shamrao Rajaram Pawar.

Rajshri interviewed Sojmati Baghel (40) from Mendbhata Chindwara village of Bastar to study this new species. Sojmati has benefitted from the plant herself and suggested it to others in sickness.

Scientific name: Mirabilis jalapaCommon Name(s): gulbaas, mol malti

Gulbas is a perennial plant that is seen growing more commonly in the monsoons. It can be spotted by the side of the village roads and water drains in the city. Two varieties are commonly seen in this region - one with pink flowers and another with yellow.

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