Kitchen Gardening: A Family Enterprise for Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Indigenous Herbs and Medicinal Plants

OUR HOUSEHOLD kitchen garden concept is profoundly based on British era gardening. It is the basic of rural community food security and asset creation.

  • Home garden in Ukhrul is a family enterprise. It is a natural based solution that can help in preserving the environmental stability and maintaining biodiversity and creating rural prosperity.
  • Home gardens provide ecosystem services like, food, holding rich biodiversity, fixing soil nitrogen, acting as carbon sinks and windbreaks, and help in hydrological cycles.

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Small scale family farming

The world human population, which is currently growing at a rate of 80 million per year, is predicted to increase to 9.3 billion in 2050 before peaking at 10.1 billion in 2100 according to the United Nations report “The world population prospects: The 2017 Revision’. .Based on this eventual prediction, it is required to produce food at a much higher rate to sustain the ever-increasing population. This population growth will cause unprecedented challenges in the supply and distribution of food around the world. But to meet the new challenges, every individual and family should be able to give an effort in line with Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), and other institutional Programs. Gardening is a multidisciplinary activity and encompasses integrated domestic farming, roadside plantations, social forestry, water supply, living fences, lawns, fishery ponds, bee rearing, orchid collection, and other traditional skill like bamboo works, artistry, ironsmith, handicrafts, weaving, and other amenities. It is estimated that 80% of the world’s food is produced by rural family farmers, yet 75% of the world’s extremely poor community lives in rural areas. FAO has pointed out that small scale farming is a key to boost local economies through increased production and basic asset creation while adopting sustainable agricultural practices resilient to climate change. Family farming is a key for providing healthier diets, preserving the environmental stability, maintaining biodiversity, and creating rural prosperity (Figure 1). A serious commitment is required to improve and tap the multi-dimensional characters of rural small-scale family farming including kitchen gardening into the mainstream policy making. This requires increase in technologies and innovations, production capacity, market facility, transportation, mechanisation, and resilience strategies to specific terrain and community.

Family kitchen gardening

The indigenous Tangkhul tribe in Ukhrul District of Manipur practices jhum cultivation, rain-fed terracing, dryland farming, wet paddy field farming, and kitchen gardening for their subsistence. This agro-system features mountainous terrain and relies mainly on monsoon rainfall and limited crop plants like rice, potato, squash, taro, pulses, leafy vegetables, beans, etc. The community depends on bush meat and wild collection as supplement for their livelihood. A family kitchen gardening has profound socio-cultural and livelihood significance. There have been tremendous changes in practice, utility, and commitment. The Missionaries in Ukhrul in the 1890s have played a key role in our kitchen gardening, based on British-era gardening. They introduced various crops and fruit plants in Ukhrul, including squash, pear, potato, maize, plum, peach, etc. In different historical contexts, kitchen gardening has occupied and is given varied priorities and significance. For many people, some aspects of kitchen gardening that provide recreation include establishment, maintenance and growth of plant nursery and ornamental flowers and medicinal plants, while for some, it is meant for producing food and woods that supplement the livelihood of the community. This strong background became a backbone of our Rainforest Biodiversity of Phalee project. This is learnt from our documentation and cataloguing of traditionally used medicinal plants for our UNDP-NEICI (North East India Bio-Cultural Conservation Initiatives) project titled “Conservation and Sustainable Utilisation of Indigenous Herbs and Medicinal Plants” (Table 1). A renewed interest in this traditional practice is relevant to fulfilling the global 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Table 1. Some of the commonly grown, vegetables, fruit plants, herbs, shrubs, creepers, vines, and plants cultivated in kitchen gardens including medicinal plants.

Local nameCommon nameScientific nameAssociated TKOther additional Uses
NgumJob’s tearCoix lacryma-jobiPorridge, Wine, Carbohydrate, Mineral, Vitamin.Kidney Problem, Anti-BP, Diabetes
SariTulsiOcimum basilicumCommon cold, Food, Herbal tea,Cold, Stomach ailment
SivatheiKing chilliCapsicum chinenseChutney, AntimicrobialJar, Pickle
SarupokthiGolden gooseberryPhysalis peruvianaStomach ailment, DiarrheaStomach problem, Spices
NingrothiWild BananaMusa balbisianaVit., Minerals, Wine, Juice, FibreAnimal feeds, fertilizer, Water source, Packaging leaf, Food
Kachai ChamproCitrusCitrus jambheriVit-C, Digestive, Biles, Juice, Salad, JarFood aroma, Fruit salad
Local ginseng Paris polyphyllaTonic, AstringentMedicinal
AvothapePapayaCarica papayaSalad, Vegetable, Urinary problem, Bowel problemMedicinal plant, Juice, Veg., Jam, Shake
SarangrongWalnutsJuglans regiaProtein, MineralsTimber, Protein
ChoniTeaCamellia sinensisDrink, Stomach problemStimulant drink
CoffeeCoffeeCoffea arabicaDrink, StimulantStimulant drink  
MukrohanGlory bowerClerodendrumAnti-BP, Indigestion, Anti-diabetesStomach ailment, BP
PuyanghanNongmangkhaPhlogacanthus thyrsiformisLeaf, FlowerMedicinal shrub
YongchakTree beansParkia spp.Minerals, Rich fiberFood, Aromatic, Spices
ArunghanDandelionDandelionVit. A & K, Antioxidant, VegetableFood, Pig feed, Sources of minerals
SeichikomMexican corianderEryngium foetidumMedicine, SpicesSpices
PeriwinklePeriwinkleCatharanthus roseusAnticancer Antitumor
KongrihanCantellaCantella asiaticaVeg., Digestive, Anti-BPMinerals
AneeyungHeart leaveHouttuynia cordataVeg., AntimicrobialMinerals
HianpathanBroad leafPlantago majorVeg., MineralFiber
HianshiWild sesameSesamum indicumOil, MineralsOil
SeichikhomMexican corianderEryngium foetidumSpicesAroma
HianchamhanWater celeryOenanthe javanicaVeg., DigestiveLeafy Vegetable
Hiantemhan  Perennial buckwheatFagopyrum esculentumVeg, Herbal teaConcoction
WotriwonPigweedAmaranthus spp.Protein source, MineralsVit.
YongpoVietnamese BalmElsholtiza blandaDigestive, Common coldSpices
KhamurlahanMintMentha piperitaInsect repellent, AntimicrobialSpices
StaborthiPassion fruitPassiflora edulisAnti- BP, Diabetes, Stomach problemDecoction, Astringent
SaruhanWild leafy climberDandelion spp.Anti- BP, Diabetes, Stomach problemDecoction, Astringent
RaoshonthiKnotweedKoenigia polystachyaAnti- BP, Diabetes, Stomach problemDecoction, Astringent
PaishimpaiSweet potatoesIpomoea batatasCarbohydrate, MineralsBaking
KarhumpaiDioscoreaDioscorea pentaphyllaCarbohydrate, MineralFodder
KhamkhothiWild brinjalSolanum torvumDigestive, MineralSpices
NyairatParley/milletPanicum sumatrenseVit. MineralsCarbohydrate
Mayang prathiWinter maizeZea sub spp.Vit., Mineral, CarbohydrateFodder, Carbohydrate
HangkorpaiYamDioscorea spp.Vit. MineralLeafy veg. Digestive
NganaomiSquashSechium edule  SwartzeVit. MineralLeafy veg. Digestive
NamreLeakAllium ampeloprasumSpicesSpices
NamreyungAlliumAllium spp.SpicesSpices
NamroAlliumAllium spp.SpicesSpices
RamsathiWild ChilliCapsicum spp.SpicesSpices
KahiBitter GingerZingiber zerumbet  Stomach problem, FeverSpices
YaingangTurmericCurcuma caesiaFever, Common cold, IndigestionSpices
HangkorpaiTaroColocasia esculentaCarbohydrateFodder

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Land covers for kitchen gardening

The cultivable area for kitchen gardening in Phalee village homestead is approximately 30 hectare (0.3 sq. km) based on Restor general environment information (Figure 2). It is a sizable land to create a scenic environment, household food production unit, and other employment services. The kitchen garden is integrated with beekeeping and rearing hornets for food and generation of income. It is generally a family enterprise, and its method is indigenous bio-cultural practises. This garden-based livelihood has predominated and served as a family source of food, hands-on learning, and training fields for the children since time immemorial. Somewhere along our way of modernisation, the fascination of kitchen gardening has faded considerably. With the input of technology and innovation, our food system has changed dramatically over the last century. And while not all the changes have been bad, the kitchen garden is a livelihood family enterprise that should have been carried on.


Figure 2. The land cover profile of Phalee village. (Image courtesy: Restor & Rainforest Biodiversity of Phalee).

Indigenous knowledge of kitchen gardening

So, what are the innovations that can make kitchen garden a vibrant food production unit from home with low cost technology? Few techniques can and should be incorporated to make kitchen gardening dynamic and sustainable. Such techniques include green house, shade house, compost pits, indigenous seed bank, and selection of indigenous high yielding crops, crops diversification, and dynamic marketing system. Main challenges of practicing kitchen gardening are listed as follows- Soil erosion and soil degradation are phenomena that degrade the garden soil and decay gardening. Climate change in the form of untimely rainfall is another factor that derails the success of kitchen gardening. A free-ranging system of poultry rearing and domestic animals husbandry are major hurdles of kitchen gardening. However, the droppings of chickens and animals serve as a good source of farm manure.

The techniques include recycling of home waste, double cropping, multi-cropping, revival of seed cultivars, crop diversification, and optimal uses of small land, water, waste management, cleanliness, and generous neighbour livelihood. The potential of the household kitchen includes integrated domestic animals farming, mixed-cropping, double-cropping, round-the-year crop production, crop diversification, training field and pilot plant for sustainable development etc. The conditional stresses like drought and soil infertility can be practically and effectively solved by integrating the use of compost pits with innovative watering system.. This solution would provide the communities with a diverse and rich diet and build their health immunity and climate resilience. One of the major aims of the project is to come up with a rural community oriented sustainable solution to generate income, create jobs and combat hunger by ensuring food security and nutritional security apart from enriching flora and fauna of the region. Real-time kitchen gardening observation has provided numerous information which enables experiment to bridge the apparent gap of resources and labour and thus link them to our community income and food security.

Values of kitchen gardening

Kitchen gardening offers opportunity to develop a community model from one’s own back yard with own labour and minimum investment. An individual’s participation and family’s efforts in the process is a must to improve the system. Moreover, it requires framing and implementation of specific community policies and programs. It is well known that family kitchen gardening and small-scale farming are family bonding activities and fundamental instruments to transform society. This highly impacting activity can be used as a tool to fight against global warming, climate change, and food security. This experiential learning incorporates social interaction and life skills and makes learning into real-life practice. It also motivates change in lifestyles and relay the message of healthy living. It can improve the village’s sanitation, biodiversity, crop land, vegetation, and waste management, as it involves a sizable surface area of the village settlement (Figure 3). It also enhances the know-how and techniques for cultivation in terms of weed management, production maximization, and other cultivation knowledge. It also maintains the importance of cooperation and community oneness. It can serve as a nursery production for more intensive farming. It will promote or re-establish horticultural skills in agriculture-dependent economies where more than 90% of our population are involved in agriculture and its allied activities, and even foster entrepreneurial skills in village livelihood.

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Figure 3. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. (Image courtesy: Rainforest Biodiversity of Phalee).

Impacts of small scale family kitchen gardening

The institutions of our society can postulate the gardening methods with appropriate resources, inputs, training, educational materials, advice, reward and encouragement. This can help establish a vibrant rural livelihood profile based on the food cycle. For instance, livelihood skills in our agricultural societies can be renewed and extended practically in horticulture and small animal husbandry. Food processing and marketing can be practiced by women whereas entrepreneurial skills can be developed among the youths. Household skills, such as food preservation, meal planning, nutrient-saving food preparation, food hygiene, and energy-saving cooking can be re-examined and re-valued, and thus, build a base for food-related jobs. The practical responses to environmental issues on road maintenance, recreational park, social forestry, playground, community hall, and other infrastructures have gained a realization. It can inspire imitative home food gardens and good eating habits in the family and extend our skills. Some of the secrets of success will highly depend on integrating local expertise, traditional knowledge, awareness of the environmental issue, and food security.

By Ngalengshim, Rainforest Biodiversity of Phalee, Phalee Village, LM Block, Ukhrul District- 795144, Manipur, India. He may be emailed at

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