” I have travailed every part of the world, done deep studies and collected important information about the medicinal plants of more than 100 countries but the most diversity I have seen in medicinal plants in the flora of India. You cannot even compare the medicinal flora of India with the flora of whole world. ” wrote Dr.J.S Maiden in one of his famous books on medicinal plants.
From ancient times the Indian medicinal flora and traditional knowledge about these plants have attracted researchers, herbalists, scientists from around the world. In ancient Indian history it is mentioned that many such researchers have visited India in search of this valuable knowledge.
When did ancient man use medicinal plants for the first time and what was their name? This question is still unanswered. Also there is no scientific document available. In India, Rigveda is most authentic document in this regard. In Rigveda, the description of Soma is given as first medicinal plant used by ancient man. There is still confusion about the scientific name of Soma. Indian systems of medicine, genrally medicines of plant origins are preferred to medicine of animal origins. One possible reason for this was the presence of natural flora in abundance in the surroundings of ancient man.
In Ayurveda, it is clearly mentioned that any patient can be cured with the help of herbs present in his surroundings. There is no need to go far in search of medicines. It is also mentioned that’ Herb talks or express’. According to ancient literature, by observing particular herb minutely, you can understand its utility for different human ailments. By their deep studies, ancient Indian herbalists have found that the shape and size of different parts of herbs resembling different human organs, are useful in treatment of the diseases related to that particular organ. For example the Karela (Momordica charantia) fruits look like the pancreas of the human body. In Ayurveda, it is mentioned that karela is the best remedy for diabetes meliatus. As is well known, diabetes is a result of disturbed activities of the pancreas. Today the whole world is recognising the medicinal properties of Karela fruits.
Similarly, the seed of Akhrot(walnut) resembles the structure of the human brain. Ancient Indian herbalists have mentioned the use of walnut to increase the activities of the human brain. There are thousands of such examples mentioned in ancient literature.
Here is one more example. It is the flower of Aak( Calotropis gigantea). Aak is a valuable medicinal plant and has a reputed position in almost every system of medicine. Like all herbs, the plant of Aak also express its utility for humans. It is said that if you see the structure of Aak flower carefully, you will see the figure of a patient, bowed down,and whose spinal cord is stiffened. Apparently, this figure resembles the patient suffering from rheumatism sitting in front of the herbalist and complaining about his/her problems. Aak is one of the best remedies a patient suffering from sex-related diseases and due to guilt, sitting with his/her head down in front of the herbalist. Not surprisingly, Aak is also a valuable remedy for sex relate disease. Ancient Indian herbalists have collected, researched and documented these types of uses and Indian literature is replete with this knowledge.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 1 billion people rely on herbal medicines to some extent. The WHO has listed 21,000 plants that have reported medicinal uses round the world. India has rich medicinal flora of some 2500 species. Of these 2000 to 3000. at least 150 species are used commercially on a fairly large scale.