Did You Know #3: The Plant that is a Natural Stethoscope + How to make a Steth at Home

Stethoscopes are COOL! Doctors love their stethoscopes as an elephant loves its trunk (Okay, I am bad at comparisons). In fact, everybody loves Steths and has played doctor with a toy steth at least once in their childhood. Officially, the first Stethoscope was invented in year 1816 by a French physician named René Laennec. But archaeological manuscripts show that physicians in India were using a similar instrument to hear sounds coming from within the body, since as long as atleast 3000 years ago.

Stethoscope - a doctor's third eye.

So what were they using? The answer is so short that I feel like a donkey making a whole article on it. It is India’s national flower today – the Indian Lotus, or Nelumbo nucifera.
Indian Lotus - Nelumbo nucifera.

How? Those who have seen a Lotus flower carefully earlier can tell that its stalk has a peculiarly porous internal structure. Known scientifically as Aerenchyma (air-containing tissue), this is actually an evolutionary adaptation that allows aquatic plants to get oxygen from the air, as their roots can’t get enough oxygen from the flooded soil they grow in. Yet, this very peculiar structure, along with the material density and elasticity properties , imparts it with real good sound conduction and amplification characteristics, which make it the ultimate natural stethoscope.
Cross-section of an Aerenchymatous stalk of a typical aqueous plant (not Lotus).

Sushrut Samhita, the prime Ayurvedic treatise on surgery (estimated period 1500 to 1000 years before Christ) describes using a ‘Kamalnaal‘ (lotus stalk/rhizome) to hear internal sounds like peristalsis (gut movement), heartbeats and abnormal breath sounds. Although this ancient ‘Stethoscope’ didn’t have a diaphragm like the modern one, and had only one earpiece, it can be used fairly well if placed properly by a skilled doctor (tested and found true by myself). No wonder Acharya Sushrut was able to diagnose even an intestinal obstruction using it, about which doctors around the world were not even aware of in those days! (By the way, Acharya Sushrut was an exceptional surgeon of his time, who is aptly called the ‘Father of Surgery’. More about him some later day.)

Lotus stalks showing Aerenchyma.

So go on, get yourself a lotus (with a long stem, of course), cut off the stalk with the ends neatly levelled (keep the flower for other good uses) and give it a try. Have fun hearing your own heart, guts and lungs; and get in touch with your bubbly/rumbly/quiet Inner Voice, depending upon your Prakriti (no pun intended 🙂 ).

For those who have no lotuses available in their locality, no need to lose heart at all! This WikiHow page describes a cool and cheap homemade DIY stethoscope, that you can have fun making and experimenting with.

Now when you have listened to all of your heart’s fill (no pun intended!), done all the experimenting, don’t throw away the dried stalk if you indeed used an Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera, to be botanically precise). Lotus roots and stem have been found to be rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese, while very low in saturated fat. This herbal wonder, tells Ayurveda, is an excellent pacifier of Pitta Dosha (Fire element); and a medicine for all sorts of bleeding disorders, right from esophageal varices to menstrual disturbances. People from India, Korea and Vietnam actually make several delicious recipes from it. Even if you don’t know any, you can just make some Kamalnaal butter the way you make apple butter, or even make a jam or jelly out of it (The flower too, can be used in it). This jam can be had as an excellent home remedy on several Pitta disorders such as acid reflux, peptic ulcers, menstrual disturbances, various allergic rashes, bleeding piles and even as a supportive in various Pitta caused fevers. So keep this all-purpose medication always ready in your arsenal, it remains good for 2 years if stored well.

A beautiful Lotus bud.

That’s all for today folks!
Stay Healthy, stay Happy!

About the Author – Dr. Harshad Rajandekar is an Integrative Medicine Practitioner who believes in combining the better qualities of Modern and Ayurvedic systems of medicine in a holistic approach to achieve best health for all.

DisclaimerThe instrument and technique described in this article has a primarily academic and historic significance; and should not be interpreted as a fully capable replacement to modern instruments wherever they are available. Also, this article is in no way meant to be considered as an alternative to medical consultation or therapy, or as medical education.


2 thoughts on “Did You Know #3: The Plant that is a Natural Stethoscope + How to make a Steth at Home

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    1. Glad to know you like it! Do keep checking out in the future for more informative posts. You can also give suggestions about what you would like to read more about, on my newly updated About/Ask page. Do check it out as well, if you like.

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