Indian Medicinal Plants

by Kanhoba Ranchoddas Kirtikar | 1918

A comprehensive work on Indian Botany including plant synonyms in various languages, habitat description and uses in traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda....

Notes on the knowledge of medicinal plants

That much of the knowledge of medicinal plants by the primitive man was obtained from hunters and shepherds is evident from what Dr. Raymond Crawford, M.A., M D., (Oxon), Physician to King’s College Hospital, London said in his presidential address delivered before the section of the History of Medicine, reported in the Lancet from which it has been reproduced in in the Scientific American Supplement of April 14 and 21, 1917.

“Man, doubtless, will have acquired much of his knowledge of the nutritive and medicinal value of plants by the same methed as the lower animals, by experience. Like them, too, he will have profited by imitation, and imitation embracing his observation of the habits of the lower animals. It must have been of immense importance to man, when he depended largely for food on wild animals captured in the chase, to watch them closely so as to know their habits. * *

“That a good deal of man’s medicinal knowledge arose accidentally in his efforts to extend the range of his food supply is suggested by the prominent place occupied by food—stuffs in primitive pharmacy06.

The ancient Hindus should be given the credit for cultivating what is now called “Ethno-botany”. In Bulletin 55 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, it is said:—

“Ethnobotany is virtually a new field of research, a field which, if investigated thoroughly and systematically will yield results of great value to the ethnologist and incidentally also to the botanist. * * *

Ethnobotanical research is concerned with several important questions

(a) What are primitive ideas and conceptions of plant life?

(b) What are the effects of a given plant environment on the lives, customs, religion, thoughts and everyday practical affairs of the people studied?

(c) What use do they make of the plants about them for food, for medicine, for material culture, for ceremonial purposes?

(d) What is the extent of their knowledge of the parts, functions, and activities of plants?

(e) Into what categories are plant names and words that deal with plants grouped in the language of the people studied, and what can be learned concerning the working of the folkmind by the study of these names?

Ethnobotany will become a more important subject when its study has progressed to a point where results can be studied comparatively.

A prime necessity is a good native informant; indeed it is better to have several informants, preferably older men or women.”

What a pity that hardly any attention is paid to this subject in modern India.

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