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Importance of Medicinal Plants

Importance of Medicinal Plants

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Published by Vinod Devarkar
Use of plants one or other way is since vedic period. History of use of plants for various purposes are reviewed here.
Use of plants one or other way is since vedic period. History of use of plants for various purposes are reviewed here.

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Published by: Vinod Devarkar on Feb 28, 2011
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03/04/2013

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Importance of Medicinal Plants
Dr. Devarkar Vinod Devidas
Head, Department of BotanyShri Chhatrapati Shivaji College, OmergaDist. Osmanabad Pin-413606 (MS) INDIA
History
Man in his struggle for life (fulfillment of basic necessities and to havegood health) has always turned to nature i.e. to the plants. There is noculture on this planet that has not made
use of plants for physical,emotional and spiritual needs
of human life. Plants form an integral partof any society, any time. Various pathies like
Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani,Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Allopathy
, etc. using innumerable plantspecies for curing human ailments and diseases. The WHO took note of therole that “Traditional Medicine” can play in the extension of health servicesparticularly in the remote areas. In 1997, it passed a resolution (WHO 30.49)urging interested governments to give adequate importance to theutilization  of  their  traditional  systems  of  medicine  with  appropriateregulations.  The  herbal  medicines  of  ancient  times  practiced  by  the
Assyrians
(4000 BC),
Sumerians
(3500 BC),
Indians
(3500 BC),
Chinese
(3000 BC) and
Egyptians
(2500 BC), etc.
Ayurveda
is the ancient (6000-3500 BC) Indian system of healthcareand longevity. Though we don’t have in-depth knowledge about the period of 
Ayurveda
and itdoes authors, we Indians, strongly believe in the informationavailable about
Ayurveda.
Around 1050 plants are currently used in thevarious
ayurvedic
preparations.
Ayurveda
has a vast literature in
Sanskrit 
and  various  Indian  languages  covering  various  aspects  of  diseases,therapeutics and pharmacy. The earliest references to medicinal plants arefound  in
Rig-Veda
and
Atharva-Veda
,  dating  back  to  the
fourthmillennium
BC.
Charak Samhita
(3500 BC) is the first recorded treatise,fully devoted to concepts and practice of 
Ayurveda
. It listed 526 plants andplant products for use in the medicine.
Sushrut Samhita
(2500 BC) hasspecial emphasis on the surgery. It describes 395 medicinal plants; 57 drugsof animal origin; 64 mineral and metals as therapeutic agents. Anotherimportant authority of Ayurveda is
Vagbhatta
 
of Sindh
(presently inPakistan),  who  practiced  around  7
th
century  AD.  His  work
AshtangHridayam
is considered   unrivalled for the principles and practice of the
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medicine. The last celebrated writer on
Hindu
medicine was
Bhav Mishra of Magadha,
whose treatise
Bhav-Prakash
is written around 1550, is held inhigh esteem by modern
Ayurvedic
practitioners for its descriptions of about470 medicinal plants. Apart from these many
Nighantu Granths
werewritten between 7
th
and 16
th
centuries.
Ayurvedic
texts were much respectedin the neighbouring countries. They were translated in various languages eg.Greek (300 BC), Tibetan & Chinese (300 AD), Persian & Arabic (700 AD).
Kautilya’s Arthshastra
(400 BC) makes mention of some food plants, cansustain hunger for long time i.e. up to a month.
Charak 
has mentioned about the International Conference held at thattime entitled
“ Adya Aantarrashtriya Vaidya Parishad” 
in his Book
Charak Samhita
, in first chapter. He also mentioned about the active participantslike
Rishi Angira, Rishi Jamadgni, Rishi Vashishtha, Rishi Kashyapa, RishiBhrigu, Rishi Agneya, Rishi Gautam, Rishi Sankhya, Rishi Pulastya, RishiNarada, Rishi Asita, Rishi Agastya, Rishi Wandev, Rishi Markandeya,
etc.
Rishi Bharadwaj
was on the Presidential Chair. Later on
Rishi Bharadwaj
hadgiven
Diksha
to
Punarvasu
and
Agneya. Agneya
had given
Diksha
to
Agnivesha, Bhade, Jatukarma, Parashara, Harit & Ksharpani.
But history saysthat popularity & publicity to
Ayurveda
is given by mainly
Agnivesha
&
Parashara
.
 
Plant science was also studied from the viewpoint of betterment andbehavior of plants themselves in ancient India. In
Vrikshayurveda by Surpala
, a scholar of 7
th
century, we can see how thoroughly the science of plant life has been studied. He advices about trees should be grown around ahouse and which should not be; he also describes the types of soils preferredby different trees, their propagation practices and method of planting. Likehuman beings, internal diseases of 
plants are also thought to be causedby
tridosha
i.e.
cough, vata & pitta
and describes the way to treat them.He has identified some indicator plants for the presence of ground water.Various
granthas
and the number of plants included in them are as follows -
Vedas
150 species
Charak Samhita
526 species
Sushrut Samhita
573 species
Ashtanga Hridayam
902 speciesChopra et. al. 3500 speciesJain S. K. 5000 speciesEthnobiological Report 7500 species
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Ethnic Use of Plants
It was in later period of nineteenth century that studies regarding thebotany of aborigines gradually gained some attention.
Edward L. Palmer(1871-78
) was one of the founder botanists to investigate the culturalsignificance of the plants to indigenous people.
Steven Powers (1873-75)
coined the term ‘
Aboriginal Botany
’ to include all forms of the vegetableworld,  which  the  aborigines  used  for  medicine,  food,  textile,  fabrics,ornaments,  etc.
John  Harshberger  (1895)
first  proposed  the  term
Ethnobotany
to apply to the study of plants used by the primitive andaboriginal people.Over
53 million tribals
belonging to over
550 tribal communities
that come under
227 linguistic groups
inhabit the Indian subcontinent.They inhabit varied geographic and climatic zones of the country.Being with nature for centuries or better to say – thousands of theyears, the tribals have acquired unique knowledge about the use of wild floraand fauna. Since they lived mostly as isolated societies, their knowledge isnot known to the outside world. Today utilization of forest resources hasassumed the form of exploitation and over-exploitation, resulting in thedepletion of resources and degradation of the forests.Need to document the oral knowledge of the tribals was recognized bymany working in different fields like botany, forestry, health, environment,tribal upliftment programmes, etc. Ministry of Environment and Forests
(MoEF)
also realized the need for such documentation and launched an
AllIndia  Coordinated  Research  Project
on
Ethnobiology  in  1982,involving 24 research centers in the country.
First two phases of theproject has been completed and the project is still ongoing. The out come of the project work is fantastic.
Over 9500 wild plant species, used by thetribals
for meeting their varied requirements, have been recorded. Stillthere remains to be much more done about the botany of aborigines. It willnot be surprising if all the 16000 plant species of Indian angiospermic floraturn out to be useful for one or the other purpose. This reminds the saying of Rhishis
“Naasti Moolam Anaushadhim
” (No plant is non-medicinal).
 
Recent Works
Rich heritage of Indian system of herbal medicine had caught theattention of West since the beginning of the colonial days.
Garcia da Orta,
the personal physician of the Portuguese governor in India, published hiscolloquies on the simple and common drugs of India in 1963.
HenrichAdrian van Rheede & Tot Drakestaein,
the Dutch Governor of Cochin,
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