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Indian Medicinal Plants

(Please note that use of any medicinal plant or plant product should be undertaken

only under medical advice and supervision)

By Sudhir Ahluwalia

Susruta, the ancient medicine scholar of India wrote his magnum opus Susruta samhita in CE 4th century. Herein are listed some 770 medicinal plants used for treating various ailments. The Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Tradition (FRLHT Bangalore,India) which is the Government of India designated Center of Excellence for medicinal plants and traditional knowledge, has re-created from ancient records the full list. The plants discussed in this series have been picked up from this list that has been provided to me, courtesy FRLHT India.

Medicinal plants are just one component in Ayurveda — the ancient medicine science of India. Animal parts, chants, hymns, diet management etc., were other components of the ancient Indian medicine.

Ayurveda’s origins are not very clear but evidences of its existence go back to 2nd millennium BCE. The political, economic and cultural interaction with the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese and then Arabs, impacted herbal ancient medicine practices across the region from Southern Europe to Asia.

Many of the medicinal plants listed in Susruta samhita are found over a fairly well-dispersed geographic area that extends from the Mediterranean region into Persia and Asia. Many of the modern medicine molecules owe their origin to medicinal plants. 

As is true for all ancient sciences, folklore has enriched and sometimes distorted the scientific core of these practices. An effort is made here to stay focused on the medicinal qualities of each of the medicinal plants in use at that time. Many of these plants and formulations are still used by traditional healers in India and other parts of the world.

The indigenous medicine industry has come a long way but standardization of its practices and formal approval from agencies like USFDA may not have been received. Readers should therefore exercise caution before using the information contained herein.

Sudhir Ahluwalia moved out to the Corporate world after spending over two decades in the Indian Forest Service. He is a business consultant and freelance writer. His writings focus on business technology, South Asian affairs and nature. You can read more about him by going to: www.sudhirahluwalia.com

 

 

CONVOLVULUS MICRO-PHYLLUS syn C pluricalis

Sanskrit Name: SHANKHAPUSHPI

Shankhapushpi is an herb known to Indians since ancient times. It was well regarded as a tonic for the brain and was traditionally extensively used by students, teachers and sages. In parts of India not adequately covered by modern medicine, tribal and local medicine men grind parts of the plant into a paste for application to the scalp to relieve mental fatigue. It is also used as a cold compress to cure a variety of hair and other skin-related ailments. The medicines are often administered orally after mixing with cumin seeds and milk.

This medicinal plant, with the botanical name Convolvulus microphyllus syn C.pluricalis, is found extensively in northern India’s sandy and rocky arid and semi-arid regions of India. It is an herbaceous plant that produces white to pink conch- shaped flowers. The flower has three stamens; leaves are flat, scabrous with prominent veins. Fruits are oblong-shaped nuts. A blue flower variant is, from the medicinal plant standpoint, considered to the most efficacious variety of this plant. 

In English this plant is better known as common aloe weed. All parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes. The plant is non-toxic. Propagation of the medicinal plant can be done by seed. Dried parts of the plant are sourced in the wild and sold for medicinal use.

Companies manufacturing Ayurvedic medicines use the plant extracts in combination with other plant extracts to produce drugs. The formulations in India are sold as over the counter (OTC) drugs and advertised widely as alternative-medicine remedies for memory enhancement, nerve relaxant, reducing blood pressure and general nerve tonic. The plant properties are claimed to also help reduce cholesterol. It is also presented as a drug that helps ameliorate the impact of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The plant contains a combination of alkaloids. Formulations are available in powder and tablet format.

 

CITRULLUS COLOCYNTHIS

Sanskrit Name:

Indravaruni

English Common Name: colocynth

The plant resembles a watermelon vine with relatively smaller fruits that are pulpy and bitter. A variety of citroides is also found in the wild in California. The fruit of the plants were a favorite purgative of herbal healers. The purgative effect is so powerful it leads to scouring of the intestine causing bleeding. It was also used for bringing about abortion. The pulp of the fruit was often mixed with honey and water to diminish the bitter taste of the fruit.

In Iran the clinical trials have proved the efficacy of the plant in reducing the negative impact of Type II diabetes. The root of the plant is used to treat jaundice, urinary disorders and the plant is believed to effectively treat abdominal infections including worm infestations, bacterial infections etc.

There is a U.S.-approved patent invention US 7083779 B2 in which fractions of C Colocynthis and two other plants have been found to be effective against dental plague and gingivitis. The invention is in the name of one Hari Mohan Behl and four others.

The vine has yellow flowers and dissected leaves that look very similar to that of the watermelon plant. The species is found to grow in desert conditions and the root system is designed to conserve moisture and survive a sustained drought period.

Formulations created in combination with other herbal products, and also stand alone, are sold as an over-the-counter drug to individuals in India. Coocynth is an officially-recognized drug in the Indian Ayur-vedic and Homeopathic Pharmacoepia.

The seed of the plant is rich in oil and trials for producing biodiesel are ongoing. Biodiesel literature in India has extensive references to Citrullus colocynthis in addition to the main plant Jatropha.

 

CRESSA CRETICA

Sanskrit Name: RUDRAVANTI

English Common Name: littoral bind weed

Cressa cretica has been used by Ayurveda (ancient Hindu medicine) healers for its antitussive properties. Herbal medicine practitioners use the plant extracts on patients suffering from tuberculosis, asthma and cough. Its actions are similar to codeine phosphate, a common molecule, used extensively in Allopathic anti-cough formulations. The plant is believed to have anti-nausea, anti-diabetic and anti-bacterial properties. Literal translation of Rudravanti from Sanskrit into English is ‘sugar destroyer.’

In some parts of the world, the plant parts are traditionally boiled in water until the water evaporates; the contents are tied in a cotton cloth and applied externally to affected parts for anti-bacterial effect.

The active components of C.cretica include flavonoids and terpenic compounds. The plant is distributed widely across many parts of the world ranging from India, Timor, Australia, Middle East and Africa where it is extensively used by herbal healers. It is traditionally used by Bedouins and its use goes back to time before the birth of Jesus. The use then appears to be as fodder for cattle.

The plant extracts are sold by herbal drug manufacturers in syrup and tablet form. Many of the manufacturers use the Sanskrit name Rudravanti in their commercial formulations. All parts of the plant are used to manufacturer these drugs but roots of older plants are believed to have higher levels of efficacy.

Cressa cretica is a shrubby, diffuse herb, a few cm to 30 cm high, arising from a woody perennial root-stock. The leaves are numerous, stalkless, very small, ovate, acute tipped, hairy or ashy-velvety. Flowers are small, white or pink; nearly stalk less in upper leaf axils, forming a many-flowered head. Flower is five-headed, funnel-shaped with stamens protruding out of the flower. This is a feature common to plants of the Convolvulaceae family to which C. cretica belongs.

This listing of Indian medicinal plants will continue in upcoming issues of Awareness Magazine.