Revival of Traditional Healing Practices, Sustaining Livelihoods and Conservation of Forest Resources, by Parvathi Nagaraj, Tamil Nadu


Parvathi Nagaraj is a conservationist, associated with the Pitchandikulam Forest, an environmental organisation, based in the green belt of Auroville in the coastal and Deccan peninsular biogeographic region of Tamil Nadu in Southern India[1]. She has been working towards conservation and protection of the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) resources in the region, reviving traditional knowledge and skills in herbal medicine, herbal food and herbal wellness, and creating livelihood opportunities for rural and tribal women, for the past 20 years. Born in the Nallure Village, she acquired her skills and knowledge in herbal medicine from her ancestors, who were the first traditional healers in the village and had applied their knowledge to cure her skin condition as a child. She was also inspired by Mr.Joss Brooks, Founder and Director of Pitchandikulam forest, who dedicated his life to conservation of natural resources. Over the years she completed higher studies and returned to practice herbal medicine with the Pitchandikulam Forest in Auroville.

Need for the Initiative

Auroville Plateau used to be covered with dense TDEF until the 1820s, after which much of it was cut down in an attempt to decrease the tiger population. Up to the 1950s, the areas that remained were mostly destroyed for timber to make boats. When Auroville was founded, the original Forest survived in isolated patches of sacred groves. Due to scarcity of the biological resources, the associated traditional knowledge amongst the communities was fading away.[2]

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

The Pitchandikulam Forest, instituted in 1973, is a part of the universal township of Auroville and is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of its forests, spread across 740 sq. km in the Kazhuveli Bio-Region[3]. Parvathy Nagaraj, has assisted in implementation of several conservation initiatives over the past two decades. She has facilitated reforestation of approximately 23 Acres of forest area under the aegis of Pechandiculum forest, in the Nadukuppam Panchayat in Kazhuveli Bio region. She facilitated collection and documentation of traditional knowledge on herbal healing from across the region and carried out awareness programmes, highlighting the value of medicinal plants and their healing properties, through door-to-door and exposure visits. She provided training to 300 women through the ‘Herbs for Health’ sessions in the premises of Pitchandikulam Forest, where they acquired technical skills for setting up of herbal gardens, along with testing and preparation of herbal remedies, cosmetics and organic food products. Since its conception, approximately 6,000 people have attended these training sessions and nearly 72 women’s group enterprises have been set up, under the ‘Sustainable Enterprise Development in the Auroville Bioregion (SEDAB-TNSRLM) project’, which produce and sell a wide range of herbal products. The initiative further included 60 women from Nadukuppam, K.N Palayam and Vandipalayam villages in the Villupuram district, which comprises the largest population belonging to Below Poverty Line in the state and is the lowest in Gender Development Index (GDI). These women were organized into Self Help Groups and then trained in sustainable collection of herbs. She has conducted several community programmes to promote kitchen herbal gardens. Furthermore, approximately 20,000 people across 400 villages have benefitted from capacity building programmes in extraction and production of herbal products and the frequently held health camps for communities and their livestock. Presently, Parvathi Nagaraj is managing two herbal enterprises, under Pitchandikulam Forest, and has established her own herbal market outlet called, ‘Sri Siddha Ayurvedic & Forest Herbs’ in the area. A nursery has been established across 1 Acre under the ‘Kaluveli Sustainable Women Livelihood Federation’, which comprises indigenous medicinal plantations including rare, endangered and threatened species, in order to reduce pressure on natural forests. This facility also includes a medicinal plant processing unit. The women in the nearby villages have been engaged to maintain the nursery and prepare medicinal plant products. An eco-club has been set up in a local High School to involve young children in the knowledge base. The conservation initiatives have been supported by the State Government of Tamil Nadu, the Sustainable Livelihood Institute (SLI), FRLHT, European Commission, Tamil Nadu State Livelihood Rural Mission, Keystone Foundation and the Quaker Society of Australia, mainly through capacity building, infrastructure development, forest conservation and exposure visits. She strongly believes that Nature has all the solutions to leading a healthy life. It is important to spread awareness regarding conservation and sustainable utilization of forest resources, since forests provide ecological services such as carbon storage, nutrient cycling, water and air purification, and maintenance of wildlife habitat. Her belief is that with little effort, nature can give back much more to our ecosystem.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

Parvathi Nagaraj won the India Biodiversity Award under the category ‘Sustainable Use of Biological Resources’ in 2018.

Contact - N. Parvathi Tel. 0413 2622431, 9443797573, 887093307 Email: