Tibetan Traditional Medicine in Sikkim

News from Sikkim medicinal plant project ~ Sowa Rigpa

Traditional Tibetan medicine (‘Sowa Rigpa’) and Himalayan medicinal plants ecology programme – Rigul Trust is supporting a pilot project for growing medicinal plants in Sikkim meditation centre garden. We have sent some funds to pay for tilling the land and planting 3 medicinal plants Ruta, Titta and Manu as an experiment to grow Tibetan medicinal plants. Rahima, from Ireland is working hard in Sikkim with this project.This is a report that Rahima sent us –  The progress of the development of growing and conserving medicinal plants at Ringu Tulku’s meditation centre in Sikkim.


by Rahima Sayer


Greetings from the Eastern Himalayas.
Eight months have now passed in our new garden of Sowa Rigpa medicinal plants. It has been a time of research and trials of different plants and experiments with  the soil, and we now have some experience of the Himalayan climate zones.
Autumn has arrived in these parts and some days are like mild Irish summer days with a tinge of the unexpected. They can dramatically change into blazing hot temperatures or cool chilly clouds descending and enveloping the whole mountain and valley.
It seems it has just snowed in the high mountains so we are affected with a dramatic drop in temperature and chilly rain a wet damp atmospheres. Although we have not experienced the deep cold, the nights are already very cool. The days are varied and unpredictable. Such is the outdoor life of the plant world here.
Looking at the soil, which is now baked hard in the beds which have not been turned this month, it is hard to believe that only weeks ago this hillside was drenched in monsoon rains. These are the conditions that we have to learn to adapt our plants to.
The seed collection was generously donated this year from our friends Rager Ossel in Holland- wonderful bio dynamic seeds; and Anne Marie Ellison in Ireland- organic centre seeds; these have shown many different results.

Some germinated very quickly and then did not grow into maturation but remained miniature varieties. Somewhat akin to Bonsai species, which was rather a strange feature!
Others grew well such as the green manures planted to improve soil fertility. The red clover, summer vetch and blue lupins flourished for several months but again only half their usual size. It is hard to determine whether or not they made an impact on soil fertility or not.
So now as we roll into winter we are planting local varieties of beans, peas radish spinach and cabbages. Another approach to improving the soil, all the rime using well rotted local cow manure. Which is such expensive stuff to procure that we are now looking to having our own cow, with the added benefit of fresh milk for the retreatants and company.

Of the medicinal plant species we have tried this year we have no survivors but certainly a wealth of experience now for the next plantings. It may be that the conditions here are somewhat harsh in extremes of wet and then heat all in one day so to minimise this impact we are putting up several areas of shaded growing shelters. This will protect from the fierce sun and also keep off excess wet. We may also invest in a greenhouse for starting seeds off.
Most of the projects I visited or been in contact with who have had success with these medicinal plants grow under plastic or in greenhouse conditions at least for the first year, and then plant out into the open. We are fortunate also now that Kate Armstrong in Edinburgh Botanic Gardens is advising with the project.
We have a permanent full time gardener, Nyima now working with us and he is making great progress with all the vegetables. The kitchen has already received peas, beans and radishes from the garden this last few weeks.
Several new compost heaps have been started with the help of our friend and volunteer from Ireland. Pat Little has generously been giving her time and energy in the garden while on retreat here and has been invaluable for her practical advice and enthuisiasm for the medicine garden vision. She is going to help design the fruit orchard and medicine trees part of the garden.
This year has certainly given a lot of valuable experience and we are now preparing the ground for next years seeds and plants.
We will also be trying other varieties of medicinal plants, particularly ones that are found in the medicinal formula of Tikta Gyepa or Tikta Eight. This is one of Ringu Tulku Rinpoche’s favourite medicines that he has enormous confidence in its benefits. In fact he is renowned as the Doctor Tikta Gyepa within his family as he gives it so often to people in need. So maybe we will be able to produce these medicines here in the garden. The main eight herbs are herpetospermum, hypecoum pedunculum, campanula, piccroroza kurroa, aconitum heterophyllum, saussaurea costus, berberis species, and swertia chirata…tikta !
So now I am tracing plants or seeds of these varieties for some winter planting and also spring next year.

Amchi La was very happy when the machine finally arrived in Gangtok. It was installed carefully in the building he has for medicine making which is situated in a quiet suburb area of Gangtok. A new electricity connection was put in with secure earthing and safety systems. The first medicinal compound that was made was curiously Tikta Gyepa, a very important medicine also in the clinic in Gangtok. However there have been a few teething problems and now the motor has to be replaced with a larger, stronger one. It seems they supplied one that is not powerful enough so it was overheating. A new motor is now on its way.
In the meantime Amchi La is on his annual vacation and is due back at the beginning of December.
We are still waiting to order the second machine for pill making.
We have started to look for a fully qualified Doctor to come and train with Amchi La and in particular to learn how to make his medicines. For every disease that appears at his clinic he has three different medicines he can use. His worry is that when he dies this knowledge will die with him.

Rahima Sayer


If you would like to support Ringu Tulku’s Sowa Rigpa (Tibetan medicine) medicinal plant project at his Meditation Centre in Sikkim, you are welcome to use Rigul Trust as a payment facility. For this, please contact our Treasurer, David, at [email protected] for further information. We need to keep our funding for humanitarian projects separate from funding the medicinal plant project.

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