(Last Updated on : 13/10/2010)
The ancient history of Indian herbs depict that the Rig Veda, the oldest document of human knowledge, carries the evidence of the use of medicinal plants in the treatment of various diseases. The tradition of Ayurveda originated around 5000 years ago. Ayurveda, "the Science of life", offers rich and comprehensive outlook to a healthy life. The basic concept of Ayurveda is to maintain the balance of life with the environment along with the usage of some herbs that are widely cultivated in India for its medicinal usage. The ancient book of Charaka, which was written around 1000 BC, concentrates on medicine and depicts that in ancient times the practitioners used to treat diseases with the help of the decoctions from different herbs.
In the present scenario, the Indian herbs are considered helpful in building good health with the help of natural sources. The age old traditions regarding herbs are still continued by the people of medicinal milieu considering its effect in many diseases and the belief the herbal therapy has created in the mind of a million people since the ancient age. There are some agricultural institutes who take initiative to cultivate Indian herbs that can be the source of the life giving medicines. Apart from this, there are Yoga centres where medicines are prepared as well, like, the Patanjali Yogpith of Haridwar.
The Indian herbs are used as culinary herbs, Aromatic herbs, ornamental herbs and medicinal herbs or in some cases even spiritual usage. In medicinal or spiritual use any of the parts of the plant might be considered herb including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, resin, root bark, inner bark (cambium), berries and sometimes the pericarp or other portions of the plant. Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables even spices; they are used in small amounts and provide flavor rather than substance to food. Some culinary herbs are rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis or trees such as bay laurel, Laurus nobilis. This contrasts with botanical herbs, which by definition cannot be woody plants. Some plants are used as both a spice and as a herb, such as, dill seed and dill weed or cilantro (leaves) and coriander (seeds).
The other usage of Indian herbs is as the Aromatic herbs which are pleasant smelling flowers or foliage. Oils from these aromatic herbs can be used to produce perfumes, toilet cologne, oils and are sometimes used as essential oils. The dried aromatic herbs also have some purposeful usages. Some common aromatic herbs include mint, marjoram, rosemary, and basil. Ornamental herbs consist of brightly colored flowers and foliage. Many of them have whitish or light-colored flowers. Valerian has crimson blossoms while borage and chicory have blue-flowered. Such herbs as variegated thyme mint, lavender, and chives produce variegated foliage.
In addition to these Indian herbs are used in many religions such as in Christianity (Commiphora myrrha), ague root (Aletris farinosa) and frankincense (Boswellia spp) and in the partially Christianized Anglo-Saxon pagan Nine Herbs Charm are used. In Hinduism a form of Basil called Tulsi is worshipped as a goddess for its medicinal value since the Vedic times. Many Hindus have a Tulsi plant in front of their houses. Most of the Indian herbs are used widely for having numerous medicinal usages. Plants contain phytochemicals that affect the body. Some types of herbal extract, such as the extract of St. John`s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) or of kava (Piper methysticum), can be used for medical purposes to relieve depression and stress. However, large amounts of these herbs may lead to poisoning, and should be used with caution. One herb-like substance, called `Shilajit` is used to lower blood glucose levels which are especially important for those suffering from diabetes. The medicinal herbs have curative effects and are used to prepare some herbal medicines which are considered as having powerful effects in curing certain diseases. Even some herbs are used not only for culinary and medicinal purposes, but also for recreational purposes; one such herb is cannabis. Including these, the infusions, decoctions and extracts of some herbs can also be used as herbal bath for relaxation and healing.
Some Indian herbs that are famous for their curative effects include the names of Abrus Precatorius , Adhatoda Vasica , Aloe Vera , Ashwagandha , Asparagus Racemosus , Basil, Bhringaraj , Cardamom , Castor , Ginger, Guggul , Lemongrass , Podina , Pomegranate Seed , Rose Petals, Safed Musli, Sandalwood , Sarsaparilla, Senega Roots, Shankapushpi, Solanum Nigrum , Tinospora Cordifolia, Vinca Rosea etc.
Though the Indian herbs are used extensively in Herbal therapy and other alternative treatments they should be used maintaining a proper amount of consumption because over consumption of some herbs may lead a bad health or have some kind of side effects.