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Medicinal plants in India

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A memory of the British writer born in India, Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936), author of The Jungle Book:

“If you can keep your head when everyone around you loses it and covers you with reproaches. If you can have faith in yourself when other men doubt you and be forgiving of their doubts. If you can wait, and not feel you weary with waiting. If you can, as the measure of lies, fall not into the lie. And if you are hated, do not return hate; without believing yourself, therefore either too well or too sensibly.”

“If you can dream without dreams, powerfully, dominate you. If you can think without thoughts being your only object. If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat the two deceivers alike. If you can endure, you must see truth you have revealed twisted by scoundrels to turn it into snares of fools, or think that the things you gave your life to have been undone, and stoop down and build them again, even if with worn out tools!”.

“If you are able to collect all your triumphs in a single bundle, and risk them, head or tail, in a single turn, and if you lose, start again as when you started, and never breathe a word about the loss ! you can compel your heart, your fibers, and your nerves to obey you, even after you have fainted, and to remain so until there is nothing in you but the will that cries, “Stay, it is the Order! ”

“If you can talk with multitudes and keep your virtue, or interact with kings and not lose your common features, if no one, neither enemies, nor lovers, nor friends can harm you. If all people can count on you, but no one too much .If you are able to complete the relentless minute, with the value of sixty seconds of the final distance, yours will be the earth and what it contains and what is worth more: you will be a man, my son! “

India is the infancy of the world, the cradle of knowledge, which later emigrated to Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, where knowledge was consolidated and achieved great development.

The Buddha asked himself: “Why am I not completely happy?”… The answer was a doctrine of concentration and contempt for personality, which destroyed in the individual all desire for bodily appetites, lust for greatness, human vanities and personal glory.

In terms of medicine, a gentle and spiritual therapy was created. Yoga is a good example that still exists. The priests of the Brahmin caste, called megosthenes, use more rational means and may be regarded as the initiators of Hindu medicine, in contrast to the Vaidians, whose basically priestly character led them to use incantations and sacrifices to nullify the power of the evil gods and at the same time encourage the good gods to show favor to the sick.

Yoga at sunrise in Fuengirola.

Yoga at sunrise in Fuengirola.

Juan José Alarcón Adalid

Soma was a kind of miracle drug used to make a drink of great intoxicating power, which was used during sacrifices and consumed for many days. This plant was to be collected by moonlight and not sold, as any person who was able to trade with it would be cursed and banished from the sacred rites, and the friend or relative who fed him would suffer in his first metempsychosis the incarnation of one of animals that eat excrement.

Soma was a kind of miracle drug used to make a drink of great intoxicating power.

They also knew another herb, called kusa (Poa Cynosuroides). Whose virtues consisted in fixing the memory and increasing the intelligence. If a student in contact with this plant utters the mythical word STILL finds satisfaction in studying and will be able to derive much benefit from what he has learned, which will never be erased from his memory.

In the manufacture of medicines a moral rule was practised, forbidding, under penalty of death, any poison to be made known without first having found an antidote capable of nullifying its effects.

Birth of Atharvaveda

Fifty eminent sages of India met a few decades ago on the highest peaks of the Himalayas to discuss this subject. How to free oneself from diseases that cause so much harm to living beings and prevent them from fulfilling their duties. They came to the conclusion that it was necessary to question Indra, the Lord of the Immortals, as he knew Ayurveda, the science of longevity, which he had learned from the Aswis twins, the physicians of the gods who had learned from Daksa Prajapati. , who in turn had learned directly from the Creator Brama.

One of the wise men spoke to Indra and explained his concern about the diseases. Indra replied that plants could be the remedy for all diseases and also taught him the secrets of Ayurveda.

The sage brought Indra’s teachings to his companions, and they all decided to write them together: thus the treatise Atharvaveda was composed.

Two medical systems are revealed in this book:

  • the first, inspired by magic and religion,
  • the other, based on the drugs used empirically.

After the Atharvaveda, a whole series of medical books like Caraka, Susruta and Vaghata were published in India over the centuries. Traditional Indian medicine today is still steeped in ancient Ayurvedic medicine.

A page from the ancient Atharva Veda Samhita.

A page from the ancient Atharva Veda Samhita.

Public domain

Medicinal plants

Vegetables in Book VII of the Atharvaveda are classified as vanapasti, plants that produce fruits but not flowers; vanaspatya, plants that produce fruits and flowers; virudh, climbing plants; and in oshadi, plants that die after the ripening of their fruits.

The part of the medicinal plants used in therapy included: roots, stem, branches, twigs, stems, buds, bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, thorns, resin, latex, juice, oil, ash.

Medicinal plants were commonly collected in the forest or meadows; They were also grown around the doctors’ house. Herbal medicines were administered in the form of powder, juice, paste, decoction, infusion or maceration; The vehicles used were water, milk, liquids, alcohols, oils.

According to the indica systems of medicine, drugs act on the body according to their rasa (taste), their bipaka (mouth taste after digestion), their virya (their potency), their bhava (their specific action).

Drugs were classified as parthiva (terrestrial), apya (aquatic), ibauya (air), akásatmaka (ethereal).

The physician who administered these remedies to his patient began with an invocation: “Brown and white, crimson and black, all the plants we invoke! May they save this man from the evil sent by the gods. These are they who will extirpate all members the evil of sin” (Atharvaveda VII, 7).

The physician administered the remedies to his patient, beginning with an invocation

Among the medicinal plants mentioned in the Atharvaveda, the so-called soma was considered the most active. The 120 hymns that make up Book IX of the Rigveda are dedicated to her. Soma juice gave immortality to those who consumed it. Possibly it was a hallucinogenic plant.

The plants used in the early days of Ayurvedic medicine, besides some therapeutic power, always had a magical power of a religious nature, and each one was associated with a deity and was therefore considered a sacred plant.


Yoga exercises at Lodhi Gardens in New Delhi.


Among the sacred plants we will mention the aswatta, Ficus religiousl, which was the tree of the three gods -Brahma, Vishnu and Siva-; Ficus racemosa L., under whose shade Prince Sidharta erected his throne; the matric, Cocos nucifera L., which was the tree of Saraswati, the goddess of culture; the asoka, Saraka indicates L., the tree of Kamadeva, the god of love; the snuhien, Euphorbia neriifolia L., the plant of Manara Davi, the snake goddess; the amra, Mangifera indica L., the tree of Surya Deva, the sun god.

This rapprochement between medicinal plants and divinities has inspired Indian artists for many centuries, who often sculpted medicinal plants in stone.


Classical indica therapy is generally based on five types or remedies: emetics, purgatives, douches, oil-based enemas, and sneeze powders. Subsequently, abortifacients, aphrodisiacs, narcotics, diuretics, cholagogues and vermifuges were used. In Susruta’s book, in the 4th century BC, 798 remedies were listed, of which 700 were based on medicinal plants.

When choosing a therapy, the principle of signature or similarity was often followed: plants with yellow flowers were indicated for jaundice, and others were based on acquired experience; eg. castor bean (Ricinus communis L.) as a purgative; indica cannabis as a narcotic; snuhi, latex of Euphorbia neriifolia L. as an expectorant; Emblica officialis as a diuretic; Acacia catechu as a digestive; aegle marmelos against skin diseases: vidanga (Embelia ribes Burm f.) and pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) as vermifuges; milk thistle (Cocos crucifera L.) as a refreshing drink; the bark of mathura (Michelia champaca L.) as fever.

They also used the petals of the lotus flower as an elixir of longevity. Sneezing powder made from marigold (Piper nigrum L.) was administered with the belief that demons would be expelled from the body by sneezing. This Indian custom passed to the West, where it prevailed throughout the Middle Ages, and has continued to be among our customs; In fact, when someone sneezes, we congratulate them and say “cheers!”; the French, “A vos souhaits!” and the Italians, “Salute!”.

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