(Please note that use of any medicinal plant or plant
product should be undertaken
only under medical advice and
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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.