Reloading Herbs

This post is dedicated to one of the exemplary works of Dr. T.V. Sairam. His book ‘Home Remedies’ combines the discovery of ethnic herbs with their scientific rediscovery. Dr. T.V. Sairam, a serving bureaucrat and a writer, holds a Master’s degree in botany and a doctorate in alternative medicine. He has published over 300 articles and several books on music and herbs. For the past three decades he has been gathering and documenting data relating to the household use of medicinal plants.

Reloading the significance of herbs is hugely important today. I would recommend, whosoever interested in herbs, to get a copy of ‘Home Remedies’. There is no better way to understand this than an excerpt, here, from this book –

“There is a serious void between the ethnic discovery of herbs and their scientific rediscovery. Collecting and categorizing available data from folklore as well as the Western literature on medicinal herbs facilitates an informed understanding that could better evaluate the methodology of the complicated medicine. Herbs are often seen as the last resort once all other avenues of treatment have been exhausted. Being approached as last-minute miracle serves to reinforce the mystic aura associated with them, thus discounting the sophisticated and ancient scientology.

I have often noted on my travels that even the far-flung villages have lost familiarity with their native medicines. It has become a fashion to go for tablet of aspirin rather than a piece of ginger. They like to be totally dependent on the nearby hospitals for treating even the simplest of ailments. In a village near Hyderabad, almost the entire village was suffering from malnutrition due to vitamin deficiency. The villagers squarely blamed the government for their plight and pointed out that the local dispensaries never maintained adequate stocks of vitamins. All this was in spite of the surprisingly large number of drumstick trees which were growing almost everywhere in the village. All the vitamin-loaded leaves of the trees were ironically ending up as manure or cattle feed.

India has always been a treasure trove of herbs. Historically in traditional Indian cuisine, there was hardly any distinction between food and medicine. Herbs were seen as agents of wellbeing. Centuries before the birth of Greek and Roman empires, Indian ships carried herbs and their derivatives like perfumes and textiles to far off destinations like Arabia, Mesopotamia and Egypt. The wisdom and experience of generations was consolidated in Indian herbalism.

Plants are the chemical factories of nature. It is estimated that 90% of recorded flora remains unstudied. Today it is easy to forget the original sources of modern medicine – morphine from poppy, quinine from cinchona, ephedrine from ma-huang, digitalin from foxglove. In the late 18th and the 19th century, organic chemists occupied the centre-stage. Phytochemists, working with randomly chosen plants, isolated active ingredients of many plants – nimbidin from Azadirachta indica (Neem), Hyosine from Datura metel (Green Thorn Apple), and reserpine from Rauwolfia serpentina (Sarpagandha).

The time has come for the scientific community not to content with the isolation of ‘active principles’ alone from these plants. The ‘classical’ approach by scientists seeking to pinpoint single active substance and either extract them as they are or synthesize them in the laboratories serves only a limited purpose. There is a need for a scientific understanding of systems of alternative medicine that have proved useful for suffering humanity, and for which no scientific explanation has yet emerged.”

Source: ‘Home Remedies’ by Dr. T.V.Sairam

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