Plant as a Medicine: Need of Scientific Exploration of Traditional Knowledge

Shankar Mondal, VD Bamola and SC Mahapatra

The evolution of nomadic man from prehistoric time to a modern society has always been full of struggle to overcome the diseases that they face. In prehistoric time, people use to explore the surrounding materials like, mud, plant or animal products for the cure of diseases. Initially it would have been a hit and trial method. When any method was successful it become folklore and passed to the next generation in particular community. This community knowledge became traditional knowledge as it was practiced for many generations. Plants are commonly available source to the societies so the exploration of plants was much more to seek a relief from any kind of disease. Fossil records indicate that human started to use plant as medicine is about 60,000 years ago (Fabricant & Farnsworth, 2001).
In the ancient time great civilizations like, Indus valley, Mesopotamia, Greece and Roman were well aware about the medicinal plants and their uses. In India, medicinal knowledge was compiled in the form of Ayurveda which means the Science of life. It is believed that Ayurveda was preached and practiced by various Rishi (Sages) over a period of thousand years 2000-500 BC (Dwivedi & Dwivedi, 2007). Ayurveda is itself a complete book of medical knowledge and having description of almost all major branches of modern medical sciences like, Medicine, Paediatrics, Gynecology, Surgery, and Psychiatry etc. Plants are the major source of Ayurvedic medicines and it is used either alone or in combination with various plants and sometimes also with animal products.
In India, traditional knowledge passed from one generation to the next generation orally in Gurukul (Residential schools run by the Rishis), thus there is a great accumulation of traditional knowledge in society. In the Gurukul, students were taught in Sanskrit medium about different branches of sciences. Thus, Indians were not much concerned about the copyright or intellectual property rights because of high moral practices. However, there were many Rishis who have explored various branches of Ayurveda for example Sushruta has written about detailed procedure of surgery and Charaka wrote about the medicines.
India has always been under constant invasion by the outsider viz Arabs or the western powers. Many of the indigenous traditional knowledge have been translated and used by the outsiders back in their own countries. There are instances when invaders have destroyed ancient literatures however, Ayurvedic treatments are still practiced by many trained practitioners and some knowledge is still kept alive as family secretes and practiced by many as a tradition.


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