2,600 Year Old Medical Book Still Utilized in India

by Preston Brady III, Herbscapes.com

The Sushruta Samhita is a book of 186 chapters that was originally written in Sanskrit and later Romanized so people like you and I could read it. I would love to say I will read all 675 pages, but I did begin reading chapters dealing with herbal plants and medicines, and as a friend said, I went down a rabbit hole for hours, mesmerized by, in translation, many passages of poetic and lyrical quality. It is believed the book was written by several authors under the name Sushruta, and the book covers an entire body of medicine including surgery. This book is considered to be the foundation of the primary medicine practiced in India to this day, Ayurveda. Despite the reticence of western countries to embrace a medical field that utilizes over a thousand medicinal herbs for treatments, India has for at least 2,600 years studied and utilized herbs in direct medical procedures including surgery. Most western governments post disclaimers on official government web sites and elsewhere that herbal medicine still has too many unknowns to be officially recognized or recommended. They do recognize that herbs are used in a variety of prescribed medications, and they do recognize the use of culinary herbs, with caution. Both China and India have compiled enough research over thousands of years, to be at a point where they can recognize and utilize herbs in mainstream medicine. In case you want to delve into an English translation of the book, you can find Vol. 1 of 3 here on Amazon:

I want to remind readers disclaimers abound regarding herbal remedies and there are a number of reasons. If you are making a tea of rosemary or chamomile chances are you won’t need your doctor’s approval. But if you are concocting a tea from the root of an ancient tree found in the Himalayan mountains, I would say you really need to do your research and perhaps call your doctor for advice. As I have stated in previous articles about herbs, anything you ingest should be in careful moderation. If you have an upset stomach don’t drink 8 cups of ginger tea in one day. Ginger is a wonder spice but too much of almost anything can produce unwanted or even dangerous results. Here is an example of a Romanized translation of a paragraph from the book:

Metrical Texts :— The group is antidotal to the deranged Kapham and fat, is astringent in its properties, removes vaginal and uterine disorders, neutralises the effects of poison (anti toxic) and acts as a stj’ptic and purifying agent in a case of ulcer and arrests all secretions and excretions of the body.

Here is another paragraph: The Sa^Iasara’di Group :— The group of medicinal drugs, known as the Salasaradi, consists of Salasara, Ajakarna, Khadira, Kadara, Kalaskandha, Kramuka, Bhurjja, Meshashringi, Tinisha, Chandana, Kuchandana, Shinshapa, Shirisha, Asana, Dhava, Arjuna, Tala, Shaka, Xaktamala, Putika Ashvakarna, Aguru and Kaliyaka.

The authors created categories of herbs and then individual names. The category Kramuka refers to the base name for the herb with the botanical name Areca catechu, of the family Arecacae, with a number of regional names to India and the English name betel nut palm. It is used as an anti-diarrheal medication and is said to also stimulate appetite. The name Putika refers to a tree named Chirabilva with the botanical name Holoptelea integrifolia Planch (but you probably already knew that…) The English name of the tree is Indian Elm. Putika means unpleasant odor of leaves. It is an herb used commonly for inflammation and worm infestation.

An herb similar to sandal wood is from the Kuchandana group and refers mainly to one of the most widely used herbs in the Ayurvedic medicine system. The herb comes from a tree named Sappan Wood – also called Brazil wood and Indian redwood. The interior wood is used as a red coloring agent. Just to give you a basic overview of the tree’s medicinal properties, it is used to treat fever, as an anti-cancer agent, antibacterial, as an antioxidant, as a purgative, to increase menstrual flow, to prevent liver damage and a stimulate for female reproduction.

Regarding the Indian Ayurvedic medicine system: they aren’t just saying a certain herb may or may not work and that they are still studying it’s properties. The system utilizes thousands of herbs many of us have never heard of, in professional, doctor treatment of illness, prevention of illnesses and other medicinal prescriptions. If you are a connoisseur of herbs looking to expand your knowledge of medical herbalism, look no further than Ayurvedic medicine. There is enough data to keep you busy for at least three or four lifetimes. I am sure I will revisit the herbal branch of this medical system again, especially when discussing medicinal herbs.

As always, be sure to research any herbs you may consider eating, drinking or using on yourself, anyone or anything else including animals. Remember, there can be multiple varieties of one herb, some of which are useful and some which may be counter-productive or even poisonous. Think of wild mushrooms: some are edible and some occasionally kill people mainly as a result of misidentification errors.

Photo: Herbscapes.com, from Archive.org publication of the book Sushruta Samhita 2023

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