Global Presence of Indian Herbs
History of Herbal Traditions
ToThe Rigveda, the oldest document of human knowledge, written between 4500 and 1600 BC mentions the use of medicinal plants in the treatment of man and animals. Ayurveda is an ancient holistic Indian traditional system of medicine originated around 5000 years ago. Ayurveda, means "the Science of life", which offers rich and comprehensive outlook to a healthy life. The basic concept of Ayurveda is maintaining the balance of life (mind and body) with the environment. Ayurved gives the account of actual beginning of the ancient medical science of India, which - according to Western scholars - was written between 2500 to 600 BC. It has eight divisions dealing with different aspects of science of life and the art of healing. Susruta and Charaka were written around 1000 BC. Susruta deals with surgery in details along with therapeutics, while Charaka concentrates more on medicine.
The countries of the civilised world of that period, including Egypt, Greece, Rome and Arabia used to seek information about the science of medicine from India. There is definite evidence of the influence of Indian medicine on the Roman and Grecian medicine. There is reason to believe that many Greek philosophers like Paracelsus, Hippo crates and Pythagoras actually visited the east and helped in the transmission of Hindu culture to their own countries.
Captain Johnston Saint has mentioned about the extraordinary advance made in surgery and medicine in India when Europe was groping for light in her cradle in Greece. He says: "If then this is what we found in surgery, what may we not find in medicine from India, that vast and fertile country which is a veritable encyclopedia of the vegetable world. The material medical of the ancient Hindus is a marvel from which both the Greeks and Romans freely borrowed. After the invasion of India by the Greeks, Scything and Mohammedans successively, the Indian system of medicine came to decline and no original works were then undertaken. During and after the British rule, there were two opinions, one supporting the rich treasure of knowledge of Indian system of medicine and the other discarding it, calling it an old system based mainly on empiricism.
Considering that this system has survived to such an extent the ravages of time, it cannot be brushed aside as "unscientific". Dr Hugh S. Cumming, a former Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Services, has rightly expressed, "Any ancient usage or custom that has held its own for generations usually has something at the back of it, no matter how little it appears to be supported by modern science ".
It might be interesting to note that a large percentage of the population of the world still relies on the old systems in some form or the other, and on the indigenous material medical for human and animal treatment, due to cultural traditions and low buying capacity. When we combine this economy factor with centuries proven efficacy our herbal drugs stand out as the better choice for millions. History shows that many of our important pharmacopoeial drugs were known and were also used in some form or the other possibly long before they were introduced into the Western medicine and before their actions were investigated on scientific lines.
Now it has become necessary to conduct research on herbs to find out the effective and useful drugs for the benefit of man and animals and discard the ineffective and worthless. It becomes imperative because many people cannot afford the use of expensive modern medicine. It is worthwhile and necessary to study the effect and mechanism of the drugs on different organs of the body through animal experiments along with clinical and experimental evidence. It will be worthwhile to formulate suitable preparations and the methods of their preservation to keep them potent even when subjected to climatic and seasonal variations.
The standardization of these drugs by chemical and biological assay is very necessary to ensure their therapeutic value. It is interesting to note that synthetic processes for which a chemist requires enormously high degrees of heat and pressure are being quietly carried out by nature in plants at original conditions of temperature and pressure. Chemists synthesized such alkaloids as quinine after intensive work extending over half a century, whereas Cinchona does this without difficulty every day. Many active antibiotics occur in plants and this is yet an unexploited field. Even in UK, Switzerland and USA, an intensive study of Indian, Chinese and other herbal drugs has been taken up in various research centers.
Professor Greenish of the London School of Pharmacy rightly stated: "India owing to the remarkable variation, she possesses of climate, altitude and soil, is in a position to produce successfully every variety of medicinal herb needed by Europe." While advocating the use of herbal drugs, we have to be careful to severely deal with adulteration in the trade of herbs. The fact, though well-known, should be emphasized that economy cannot succeed at the cost of efficiency.
It was a handicap that there were no chemical or biological standards laid down anywhere to evaluate the quality of the crude herbs or the finished herbal product as is done in the pharmacopoeias of modern medicine. The only tests applied were color, smell, hardness etc. of the crude herb. We are now working to evolve our own pharmacopoeia and lay down proper standards for their analysis and manufacture. The pharmacopoeia would include the drugs of well-established therapeutic use, of definite pharmacological actions and fully investigated for its toxicity and necessary standards for determining a safe maximum dose. The herbal drug industry should be nursed carefully by bringing in standardisation and quality control to ensure production and sale of herbal drugs of proven efficacy only.

Pioneering Spirit
Shri Ram Lal Agrawal a renowned expert on identification and collection of herbs, was fascinated by the virtues of the 5000 year old Indian System of Medicine called "Ayurveda", which deals with the use of herbs for the treatment of human beings. His inborn love for herbs initiated a new thought in his inquisitive mind - if this natural form of treatment is good for humans, why not to conduct studies on modern scientific lines in men and animals for greater satisfaction and confidence of physicians and patients. Thus began his dedication to research on herbal medicines for men and animals. Shri Ram Lal's research through the ancient literature, led to the discovery that herbal medicines were used with predictable results during the famous war of Mahabharata fought some time in 5000 BC when thousands of soldiers and animals afflicted with wounds and diseases were successfully treated under the able guidance of the Pandava princes.
He found mention of those useful herbal medications in "Nakul Samhita" the first treatise on treatment of animals with herbs, which was written during 5000 BC. He decided to validate the claims of these herbal medications on modern scientific lines to clearly assess their value. This became the cornerstone for laying the foundation of Indian Herbs. Shri Ram Lal found that classic references of Ayurvedic System of Medicine appear copiously in Atharvaveda. The monumental works of Charak, Shushrut, Vagbhatt, Sarangdhar, Dhanwantri, and a few others form the basic pillars of Ayurveda, which has evidently been taken advantage of by the industrious western world in developing the Allopathic System of Medicine.
Western scholars like Wilson, Weber, Max Muellar, Hunter, Johnson and Smithcors have acknowledged the antiquities of Ayurvedic System of Medicine. Hunter has even gone to the length of establishing conclusively that the Arabic System of Medicine was founded on the basis of translations from Sanskrit in the 8th Century A.D. and that the European physicians followed the Arabic System till the 17th Century. There is evidence to show that from 8th to 15th Century, medical publications in Europe cited quotations from Charak. It is claimed that the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C,) was also much indebted to Ayurveda.
Ashtangik (eight-winged) Ayurved is exhaustive and encompasses almost all the branches, viz. Medicine (Kaya-chikitsa), Surgery (Shalya-chikitsa), Hygiene (Sutrasthan), Gynaecology and Obstetrics (Prasooti-tantra), Toxicology (Agad-tantra), Paediatrics (Kaumar bhritya), Diseases of Head and Neck (Shalakya tantra) and Diagnosis (Nidan shastra). Classical treatises (Samhitas) on Medicine by Charak, Dhanwantri, Sarangdhar and Bhavaprakash contain unique and effective combinations of several drugs of vegetable (herbal) origin (Kashth aushadhi) as well as of inorganic origin (Ras-aushadhi). Shaligram Nighantu (Materia Medica) codifies valuable information on Indian herbs, along with their indications. Shushrut's treatise on surgery dwells upon the principles and practice of surgery that existed in the ancient past giving adequate illustrations of instruments used in surgical operations. Some of the techniques used then are still known as Indian Surgery in Allopathy.
Rudolph Virchow said that "between animal and human medicine there is no dividing line, nor should there be". Ample evidence exists to show that the Indian system of veterinary medicine(Veterinary Ayurveda) is older than that of other ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece and that the Vedic and ancient people of India, worshipping cow as mother and treating horses and elephants sacredly, did not lag behind in taking care of them and developing a system of medicine for their ailments. In the Rigveda, there is mention of prayers having been offered to Ashwini Kumar to remove sterility and to increase milk production of cows. During Mahabharat period, Nakul and Sahadeo were respectively known for their specialised ability to treat horses and cattle. Chapters dealing with animal husbandry like Management & Feeding appear in ancient books like Skandh puran, Devi puran, Harit and others. Palkapya (1000 B.C.) and Shalihotra (2350 B.C.) were famous veterinarians specialising in the treatment of elephants and horses, both in peace and war since time immemorial.
From Vedic period to the advent of Mughals ample classic literature exists dealing with veterinary medicine during the Puranic period, notably Matsya-puran, Brahmanand-puran, Linga-puran, Agni-puran, and Garuda-puran furnishing several prescriptions for treatment of animal diseases with easily available medicinal herbs numbering about 2000, which were usually administered in powder form (Churna) or as a decoction (Kwathawasti). Some of these were used for promoting health and increasing milk production. Arsenic and Mercury are still being used for toning up hairs and skin and have been taken in Allopathic Pharmacopoeia.
As late as Ashoka period (250 B.C.) and Harshavardhan's time (750 A.D.) there existed a chain of human and veterinary hospitals in India. In the famous universities of Takshashila and Nalanda, foreign students used to come to study both Medical and Veterinary Ayurveda. Undisputed evidence is available pertaining to firing, blistering, cautery, blood-letting, castration, fractures, dislocation etc., in support of the practice of surgery in ancient India.

Indian Journal of Indigenous Medicine (1978) 1(1).
Chopra, R N et al. (1958). Indigenous Drugs of India (2nd Edition), Drug Research Laboratory, J&K.


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