The paddy field is a wetland ecosystem, which is not only an agricultural land but also a biodiversity rich area. Different species of medicinal plants, snails, birds, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies, frogs, and fishes present in the paddy fields are interdependent and also depend on the wetland. This mutual interaction and interdependence is beneficial to human beings as ell. Each species has its own role to maintain a sustainable ecosystem. In the paddy field each species has a specific role for example, snails release calcium in the soil; dragonflies are great predators, etc. Similarly there are also many plants that flourish along with paddy, which we ignore. We normally calculate the benefit of paddy cultivation by calculating only the yield of paddy and straw and ignore the value of other products and processes in paddy field. However, the rampant use of herbicides and pesticides is destroying this abundance from the paddy fields.
In a study conducted by me in Wayanad, I recorded the presence of 20 species of non cultivated leafy vegetables from paddy fields. Most of them are considered as weeds. Muthil (Centella asiatica L.), Karuka (Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.), Vayal choori (Ludwigia octovalvis (Jacq.) Raven), Chakkarathumba (Scoparia dulcis L.) are the major edible leaves present in paddy ridges. Unuval (Marselia quadrifolia L.) and Karinkoovalam (Monochoria vaginalis Presl.) are the major edible leaves in paddy fields. These plants are the major weeds present in the fields along with rice.
All the 20 species have their own medicinal properties along with their edible value. For example, Muthil (Centella asiatica L.) is an excellent medicine for brain development and memory power, Chakkarathumba (Scoparia dulcis L.) is used for urinary bladder stone, Kandonekuthi or Kaattappa (Bidens biternata (Lour.) Merr.) is used to cure abdominal pain, Muyalcheviyan (Emilia sonchifolia Fosberg, Ceylon J.) is a good medicine for tonsillitis, Thottarvadi (Mimosa pudica L.) is used to cure asthma. Among these plants, Unuval (Marselia quadrifolia L.) present in the wetland ecosystem is the tastiest non cultivated edible plant.
Till a few years back, tribals in Wayanad considered these plants as an integral part of their life. Nowadays they are unable to use these plants from paddy fields because of the intensified application of herbicides and pesticides. After a few years these tasty, medicinal plants will disappear from this earth and we will not even be able to quantify the loss!