Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants

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Item Code: NAM457
Author: R. N. Chopra, S. L. Nayar and I. C. Chopra
Publisher: National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, CSIR
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 8172361262
Pages: 350
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 530 gm
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Book Description

The important part played by the Council of Scientific &Industrial Research in promoting studies on Indian medicinal plants is well known. This is, in a great measure, due to the foresight of its late Director, Dr. Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, F.R.S. whose deep concern and interest in all matters of scientific and economic importance to the country was unique. This book is respectfully dedicated by the authors to the memory of that great man who was largely instrumental in the establishment of the Council and, through it, organizing scientific research in our country on a sound basis.

The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research has been financing several schemes of research on indigenous drugs. It has established the Central Drga Research Institute in Lucknow, which is turning our work of high quality and great utility to the country. We are greatly indebted to the Council for publishing this volume which, it is hoped, will facilitate research on indigenous drugs generally and on Indian medicinal plants particularly. The authors are very grateful to Father H. Santapau of St. Xavier's College, Bombay, who very kindly west through the manuscript originally and checked up synonymy. They are also grateful to Messrs K. L. Handa, Research Chemist, and L. D. Kapoor, Botanist, for their help advice in the preparation of this book.


The history of medicine in India can be traced to the remote past. The earliest mention of the medicinal use of plants is found in the Rig Veda, perhaps the oldest repository of human knowledge, having been written between 4500 and 1600 B.C. In the works which followed, particularly Ayuruveda, the properties of various drugs have been given in detail. Susruta Samhita which was written not later than 1000 B.C. contains a comprehensive chapter on therapeutics and Charaka Samhita, written about the same period, given a remarkable description of the material medica as it was known to ancient Hindus. Later during the Buddhist period, considerable progress was made and medicinal plants were cultivated under the direction of highly qualified specialist. Contacts with Greece and Rome, and later with Arabia and Persia, contributed to the enrichment of the Indian material medica and a large number of vegetable and other products came into for the treatment of diseases.

During the centuries that gone by, the material medica of the indigenous systems of medicine has become extensive and heterogeneous. Out of about 2,000 items recorded in Indian medical literature, less than 200 are of mineral and animal origin; the rest are derived from vegetable sources. The vegetable material medica has been built up in the course of centuries and every region of India has contributed to its development. The practitioners of various Indian systems in different parts of India tried to utilize the locally growing plants as far as possible and accepted those which were found useful after trial for treatment of diseases.

Information on the use of medicinal plants is scattered and most of it is found in books and periodicals, many of which are out of print and are not available even in large libraries. Very little work of scientific value was done till the early part of this century and earlier publications on the subject not infrequently contain contused data derived from old literature copied without critical appraisal.

One of the greatest difficulties confronting the research worker is the paucity of authentic information on the identity, habitat, conditions of collection and use of medicinal plants. Medicinal properties, some genuine, some otherwise, have been attributed to a large variety of plants, more than 1,500 in number, in different parts of this vast country. Many vegetable drugs are used in preparations prescribed by practitioners of indigenous medicine in different regions; other are used as household remedies by the common people.

The present authors often receive communications from workers in India and abroad for the supply of information on the medicinal properties and uses of flowers, roots, barks, leaves, etc., of plants used indigenous medicine. In spite of the facilities at their disposal, the difficulty in obtaining authentic information from the scattered literature has been very real. The necessity for a work n which available information and correct data are concisely recorded so that it may serve as a guide to those interested in indigenous drugs has been keenly felt. With this object in view, a list of medicinal plants has been compiled and information based on a critical study of the literature has been collected.

Survey of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants
With the financial assistance generously provided by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, an all-India survey of medicinal and poisonous plants was started more than thirty years ago. The information relating to vernacular nomenclature, distribution of plants and local uses was verified by personal visits to centres of learning of indigenous medicine all over India. State forest offices and other were contacted to check information on the medicinal properties of pants and their uses as household remedies. All available literature was consulted and local herbaria and libraries were scrutinized Along with this, references to recent wok on plants were collected. The result of the survey have been briefly presented in the present volume. The survey is being continued.

Along with the survey authentic specimens of plants were collected for preservation. The specimens are important both for study and reference.

Identification of Indigenous Herbs – The drugs in use are many in number and varied in character. Many of them mentioned in old books baffle recognition and identification, as it is not possible to state with certainty from the description given in the literature whether the drug in actual use is the one described. Verbal descriptions given in old books are inadequate to the botanist for identifying plants of plants. There has been a good deal of confusion in vernacular names. The same drug is sold under the same name in regions of India. In many cases, even learned practitioners of indigenous medicine are unable to say with certainty whether a particular drug is the same as the one prescribed in old texts.

Herbarium – The identification of drugs will remain the prime difficulty until the prominent characteristics of each drug are well established. The only way in which this can be done is to have authentic specimens preserved in herbaria for purposes of comparison. This work was started along with the survey, but the progress was slow in the beginning as the botanical staff was too small to deal with such an extensive all-India problem expeditiously. The deficiency was made good to a certain extent in 1935 by a generous grant from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and since then the work has progressed steadily. A substantial grant was provided later by the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research. The more common drug plants have been collected and preserved in the herbarium at Jammu Several hundred more species have yet to be obtained to complete the collection of all plants with alleged medicinal or poisonous properties occurring in this subcontinents, but this will involve extensive tours and will take time. The herbarium now contains about 1,600 species (c. 16,000 mounted sheets). It is the first of its kind in India and is a valuable asset from the scientific and economic points of view.

The original collection has been divided into three sets. One is housed in the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun; the second in the Central Drga Research Institute, Lucknow; and the most complete of all, is housed in the Drug Research Laboratory, Jammu-Kashmir State. In addition, the parts of plants actually used in the treatment of diseases by indigenous practitioners are being collected and preserved. All the plants described in this Glossary will eventually have representative specimens in the herbarium. A catalogue of the herbarium is now in the course of preparation and will from a companion volume to the Glossary.

The Glossary
Much thought and attention has given to the preparation of the Glossary. On the botanical side; an effort has been made to present, as far as possible, the nomenclature accepted as valid in current literature. It is hardly necessary to stress here the importance of quoting the authority when citing a plant name. Botanical synonymy is in a state of confusion and no plant name has full scientific value unless the name of the author is mentioned. It is unfortunate that a part of the chemical work on Indian medicinal plants is vitiated by lack of attention to the identification of the material investigated. Often results have been published as pertaining to a plant, while the plant actually investigated was entirely different from the one for which the results are reported.

Particular mention may be made of the inclusion in the present volume of a large number of plants which grow in India and which, though not used in indigenous medicine, are known to be used medicinally in other countries. Such plants are undoubtedly Indian and medicinal. On the other hand, there are some imported drugs commonly sold in Indian bazaars and widely used medicinally. Such plants are no doubt medicinal but are not Indian by origin. These plants have been generally omitted and where included, a reference to their distribution will reveal that they are not Indian.

For the sake of brevity, the botanical description of plants has been omitted. There is no difficulty in obtaining the description from published literature. Kirtikar and Basu's book Indian Medicinal Plants, of which a revised edition has been published lately, is excellent for this purpose.

The plants have been arranged in alphabetical order according to their scientific names so that there will be no difficulty for readers to find any particular drug on which information is required. Many of the commonly used synonyms have been inserted and cross references to their modern scientific names have been given. Abbreviations have been used to save space and to compress data into a small handy volume; a list of abbreviations used has been included for ready reference. When a number of plants belonging to the same genus is discussed, the name of the family to which the plants belong is supplied with the scientific name of the genus. Important vernacular names commonly used in different regions of India have been given and an index of these names has been provided at the end. For want space it has not been possible to include all vernacular names, but the more common and well-known ones are given. The conditions of disease for which the particular plant is used are also briefly given.

A special feature, which will not fail to attract attention, is the inclusion of brief descriptions of the active principles of plants so far as they have been worked out. References to the more important published papers on medicinal have plants up to 195 have been included; more recent references have been added in some cases during the course of printing of the book. For a complete bibliography on Indian medicinal plants the reader is referred to the Review of Work on Indian Medicinal Plants published by the Indian Council of Medical Research (1955).

Another feature of the Glossary is the inclusion of information on the distribution of plants in different regions of India. The description given in the literature has been revised as a result of our survey.

Research on Indigenous Drugs
The question may be asked: "What is the value of research on Indian indigenous drugs?" During recent years, chemists have synthesized potent remedies, such as arsenicals and antimalarial compounds, which have proved effective in the treatment of protozoal diseases, and sulphonamides useful in the treatment of bacterial and rickettsial diseases and even some virus diseases are controlled by antibiotics. Diseases which were considered incurable a few years back are now cured by their use. In view of this, is there any necessity to continue research on indigenous drugs? Will it lead to useful result commensurate with the expense and time involved?

These questions have been answered in the editorial comments in the well-known British Journal, The Practitioner (Dec. 1950). It is stated: "The wise and experienced clinician never spurns an old wife's tale' until he has good evidence for doing so. The lore of the countryman is built upon the experience of generations, often of centuries, and the data upon which it is based have been obtained at a price in human lives which no modern research worker would ever dream of considering. It is particularly appropriate at the present moment, when the pharmaceutical companies of the world are emitting an unceasing flow of new synthetic drugs, that attention should be turned to the possible remedies that may be found among indigenous herbs of this and other countries. Four examples of such research proving fruitful may be recalled. In eastern Mediterranean countries and in Arabia, the local physicians often prescribe a decoction of the dried seeds of a local plant. Ammi visnaga, as a diuretic and as antispasmodic in renal colic. Investigation by G.V. Andrep and his colleagues in Cariro (brit. Heart J., 1946, 171) showed the active constituent to be khellin, which they found to be an effective vasodilator with a selective action on the coronary arteries. Subsequent clinical trials demonstrated the value of khellin in the treatment of angina pectoris. From ancient times the root of an indigenous plant, Rauwolfia serpentine, has been widely used in India and Malaya as an antidote to insect and snake bites, as a febrifuge, as a stimulant to uterine contractions, and as a sedative. R. J. Vakil (Brit. Heart J., 1949, 350) investigated its uses in hypertension and found it to have a marked hypotensive action.

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