About The Book
is an enumeration of commonly used medicinal plants of uncertain botanical
identity. In ancient Sanskrit literature, drug plants are not described with
scientific precision. So, the correct identification of these plants is
difficult. With the increased public interest in the use of herbs to treat
ailments, many spurious plants are being used in the manufacture of Ayurvedic medicines. Very often, this is due to ignorance.
This book clearly identifies the plants, and differentiates between
adulterants, substitutes and genuine plants. This compilation will be useful to
manufacturers who wish to use the genuine drugs, to doctors and pharmacists,
and to lay persons using Ayurvedic remedies. The book
is enhanced by exquisitely detailed illustrations, which further facilitate
About the Author
R Vasudevan Nair is a Professor of Botany, retired from Government
Victoria College, Palakkad as Head of Department. He
is now associated with Arya Vaidya
Pharmacy, Coimbatore, as Taxonomist. He has identified several new species from
local flora. He has a number of published research papers and four books to his
credit and is a member of the Indian Association of Taxonomy. He has provided
hundreds of illustrations of medicinal plants for books and other publications.
Though a self-taught artist, he has won recognition for his nature paintings.
His next book titled Herbal Home Remedies is also published by Universities
Ayurveda, the ancient
Indian system of health care and healing is gaining popularity, not only in
India but even in countries where allopathy is the
accepted and established system of medicine. Encouraged by the interest shown
by people in rediscovered Ayurveda, its protagonists
are promoting its globalization by all possible means. Several western
countries are now for popularizing herbal medicine, if not Ayurveda
itself. Herbal preparations of any kind now find a ready market all over the
growing awareness that herbal medicines are generally harmless and safe is the
driving force behind this sudden spurt of interest in Ayurveda.
More and more people are becoming concious of the
undesirable side-effects of synthetic medicines largely used in allopathy. Herbal medicines are comparatively mild and with
few side-effects. They are prepared from plants and plant or animal produces.
So they are akin to food from which the body is built up and hence their
interaction with body systems is almost a natural process. That makes Ayurveda also a natural system of medicine.
Modern Ayurveda, however, is far from being a perfect system of
medicine as claimed by some of its over-enthusiastic supporters. There are some
serious defects and drawbacks, which unfortunately are ignored or played down
by the champions of Ayurveda.
therapeutic efficacy of medicines depends on the quality and purity of the
ingredients used. Ayurvedic medicines will be
effective only if they are prepared using genuine medicinal herbs. It is in
this respect that modern Ayurveda shows its
inadequacy and unscientific nature. There are a large number of commonlyused raw drugs, whose botanical identities are
still controversial. Several taxonomically unrelated plants are often used as
one and the same raw drug. Among the practitioners of Ayurveda,
there is no consensus about the botanical identity of many raw drugs in common
the botanical identity of the raw drugs mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts is
not at all easy. Unlike modern botany, there are no definite rules of
nomenclature in Ayurveda. Plants are named according
to the whim and fancy of different authors. As a result, each drug plant is
known by several names. Moreover, the same synonyms may be given to more than
one plant, causing confusion in identifying the genuine plant. This confusion
is compounded by the lack of a technically precise description of the complete
plant. So, equating them with modern taxonomic species is a difficult and tricky
process, often prone to errors.
olden days, when Ayurveda was taught under the Gurukula system, the identification of medicinal plants
might not have been a problem. Students lived with their Gurus, and actually
saw the plants that were used. Perhaps for the same reason, the Guru might not
have felt the necessity to record the distinguishing characters of each of the
medicinal plants. Today, Ayurveda is taught in
classrooms where students gain theoretical knowledge but get little visual
experience and familiarity with drug plants. They learn the Sanskrit names of
the plants, their properties and uses, but fail to recognize most of them by
sight, except the very familiar ones.
the founding fathers of Ayurveda named plants only on
the basis of their medicinal property or some prominent characteristic. So,
they might have given the same name to several plants with the same medicinal
effect. We may assume that they were naming the drugs rather than the botanical
species. For example, the name sahachara literally
means a plant of luxuriant growth; it does not refer to anyone particular
species. Daruharidra only means a weedy plant with a
characteristic of turmeric, namely its colour. It could be Berberis,
Mahonia, Cosoinium or Morinda umbellata. Such an
assumption may be one solution for the nomenclatural confusion.
of precision in identifying the plant source of raw drugs makes Ayurveda appear unscientific and unacceptable to many.
Those who are trying to win global recognition for Ayurveda
do not address this problem with the seriousness it demands. Any attempts for
the standardization and quality controls of medicines will be an exercise in
futility until the genuine drug plants are botanically identified beyond all
doubt, and such plants alone are used to prepare the medicines.
is only an initial attempt to present the problem to those who want to see Ayurveda gaining its rightful place among the various
systems of medicine now in vogue. The book does not cover all the drug plants
of doubtful identity. A deeper search will reveal many more drug plants now in
use whose identity is not scientifically determined.
the existing uncertainty and confusion in nomenclature today, manufacturers are
using different plants as one and the same raw drug in many cases. This causes
qualitative differences in medicines produced by different pharmaceutical
factories. This book is an attempt to draw the attention of those who are
dealing with Ayurveda, be they practitioners. manufacturers or users, to the deplorable situation existing
in the field of nomenclature of medicinal plants.
ancient indigenous system of medicine - Ayurveda - is
being rediscovered in our own country, as a result of which its popularity is
growing day by day. It is also increasingly gaining recognition in the West,
the birthplace of Allopathy, as an alternative and
safe system of medicine. This new awareness about the merits of Ayurveda has created a general interest in herbal products
all over the world. Ayurvedic medicines are now
manufactured in large factories on a commercial scale. In addition, various
consumer items like cosmetics are also being produced on an industrial scale.
As a result, the demand for herbal raw materials is increasing at such a rapid
rate that the dwindling natural sources are not able to meet it. This situation
is, thus, providing an opportunity for the use of unauthorized raw materials,
deliberately or otherwise. At present, a large number of such spurious raw
drugs are found in the market. Many manufacturers also use many of these
spurious drugs, intentionally or otherwise.
with all its acclaimed merits, Ayurveda has its
shortcomings too. In the present context, they are becoming more and more
significant and assuming greater importance, as this is likely to lead to the
further deterioration of manufactured medicines.
serious drawback of the Ayurvedic System at present
is the difficulty in identifying the genuine medicinal herbs prescribed by the
founders of the system. Their description of medicinal plants is more poetic
than scientific and lacks precision, because the language they have used is not
technical. Moreover, they did not follow a systematic and technical format for
the description of plants. So, the interpretation of the description in
Sanskrit is largely influenced by the views of the interpreter. This often
leads to the erroneous identification of more than one plant as one and the same
raw drug by different authors of modern times. There are a good number of such
'controversial drugs' is use today. To cite an example, ten taxonomically
unrelated plant species are claimed to be the drug rasna,
throwing any practitioner into utter confusion.
nomenclature is another serious defect of Ayurveda.
In modern botany, one species of plant will have only one valid name, which
will be a binomial. This system of one binomial indicating only one particular
species is a very precise method, precluding any possibility of confusion. In Ayurveda, there is no such technically precise and uniform
system of nomenclature. Dozens of names may be found given to one and the same
plant, each name indicative of one minor quality or property of the plant. The
common mango tree is a good example; it is known by 56 names in Sanskrit. The
loose, unscientific way in which ancient authors have named plants is the
source of much confusion today, because the qualitative names are applicable to
more than one plant. For example, a name like bahukantaka
can indicate any spiny plant, just as swarnakshiri
can be any plant with yellow latex or sap. A plant can be wrongly called peetapushpi just because it has yellow flowers. In
addition, the same name is often found given as synonym of several plants.
Names like vidari, nakuli, surasa, etc., are examples.
also cases of different species of plants having common medicinal properties,
owing to the presence of same organic compounds. Then, all of them can be treated
as one and the same drug. Darubaridra is a good
example. Berberis, Mahonia
and Coscinium all contain the substance berberis, which is the active principle in these plants.
So, according to geographical availability, anyone of them may be used as darubaridra. But the situation is not so simple in all
very divergent plants are not likely to be similar in their chemical
composition. Naturally, there may be considerable difference in their medicinal
properties. The use of such plants as a common drug can be accredited only
after critical analytical and clinical studies. It is doubtful whether such
research and verification are always carried out. At present, most
manufacturers depend only on the name and not on the real botanical identity of
above all this, is the confusion caused by the indiscriminate use of local
names, at least in Keralam. It is not rare to find
the same plant known by several local names in different regions and there are
also several different plants known by the same name. Well-known medicinal
plants like plaksha, sabachara,
etc., are still not indisputably identified, because of the confusion created
by local names. In short, the clear-cut identification of medicinal plants is a
very difficult process even today, in spite of the claims of progress and
development in Ayurveda.
plants in use today are substitutes for the genuine ones. Such substitution is
necessitated by the unavailability or dire shortage of the genuine medicinal
herbs. Finding acceptable substitutes is, in fact, a practical solution for the
dearth of medicinal plants faced by manufacturers. The use of such plants is
increasing day by day. Such substitutes are to be selected only after
analytical and clinical studies, but today many plants are used without such
studies. In this context, the enumeration of unauthorized drug plants in use is
essential. This compilation is mostly concerned with medicinal plants used in Keralam, which is the main center
where Ayurveda has survived and flourished through
centuries, and from where it has been disseminated the world over.
Meshasringi and Meshasringa
Ubdinarikayium (Sea Coconut)
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