Botany in Vrikshayurveda - 2

Ecology - Study of Plants in Their Natural Environment

The literature on Vrikshayurveda exhibits the knowledge of influence of environmental conditions on peculiarities of plants structural and functional. Atharva Veda mentions five seasons along with Rig Veda’s three (vasanta (spring), grishma (summer) and sharada (autumn)) varsha (rainy) and hemantashishira (winter) and by separating hemanta shishira Taittiriya Samhita mentions six seasons. Charaka and Sushruta divided the land into different regions according to soil, climate and vegetation namely, 1) Jangala region (dry wilderness - deserts), 2) Anupa region (rich in water, marshy or swampy), 3) Sadharana (ordinary). The references of plants associated with these regions clearly indicate interest in plant ecology and resultant functional quality for variety of reasons like medicine, economic, agricultural etc.

6) Taxonomy

I) Nomenclature

  Topic Subtopic Information such as
A Associations Special association Expressing ties with great personalities or rituals Ashoka with Sita. Yaganadruma associated with sacrifice in Homa.
    Special property i) Medicinal – neem ii) Domestic function – cane, bamboo
    Local association Magadhi indigenous of Magadha, North Bihar
    Environmental association Nadisarjja (arjuna) grows on the banks of rivers
    Other characteristics Maghya (kunda) flowers in Magha (February),
B Morphological character Morphological features

i) As per the number of leaflets in the compound leaf divipatra – bauhinia, tripatra -wood apple
ii) Nature or shape of leaf dirghapatraka- cane
iii)Shape and colour of flowers- hemapuspa  golden colour flowers

iv) Miscellaneous- shatamula with hundred roots
    Medicinal use Dhatura is known Mahamohi (great intoxicator), babhool is known as Kaphantaka (ender of cough)

6) Taxonomy

II) Classification (Grouping of Plants)


1) Classification based on morphological characteristics

In this system, plants are classified by Parashara into gana,vibhaga which are similar to modern families of plants such as i) Samiganiya (Leguminosea), ii) Puplikagalniya (Rutaceae), iii) Svastikaganiya (Cruciferae), iv)Tripuspaganiya (Cucurbitaceae), v) Mallikaganiya (Apocynaceae), vi) Kurcapuspagan-iya (Compositeae).

2) Classification based on botanical principles:

Ample evidences are available in Vedic literature pertaining to plants classification based on stature and vital feature. For example, Prasastapada’s Vaisesika classifies as i) Truna (grasses), ii) Oshadhi (herbs), iii) Vriksha (trees), iv) Latas (creepers), v) Avatanas (arboraceous shrubs), vi) Vanaspatis (trees without flowers). While Udayanacharya’s Kiranvalli i) Vanaspatis, ii) Oshadhis, iii) Latas, (meanings same as earlier) iv) Virudha (bushy shrubs), v) Twaksaras (with hard bark), vi) Drumas (bears both flowers and fruits)

3) Classification based on medicinal properties

i) Charaka’s classification:

Charaka divides plants into two primarily divisions, Purgatives (virechana) and the astringents (kashaya). The purgatives are six hundred and the astringents are five hundred in number. These are again sub- grouped under ten heads or Vargas.

ii) Sushruta’s classification:

Sushruta deals with the classification of drugs according to their therapeutic properties (Dravya-Sangrahaniya- madhyaryam) by forming 37 groups.

Dietic value: a) Charaka’s classification

Charaka divides plants into seven groups (varga). 1) Suka-dhanya varga (monocotyledons - corn) 11 subdivisions according to taste, potency and assimilation, 2) Shami -dhanya varga (dicotyledons - pluses) 12 subdivisions, 3) Shaka varga (vegetables) 18 sub divisions, 4) Phala varga (fruits), 5) Harita varga (greens like ginger, garlic, etc.), 6) Aharayogi varga (oil), 7) Ikshu varga (sugarcane). The groups Mansa varga (flesh), Madya varga (wines or fermented products), Jal varga (water), Goras varga (milk and its products) and Krutanna varga (cooked food) are also considered by Charaka.

b) Sushruta’s classification:

Sushrut Samhita, Sutrasthna discusses more elaborately and systematically Annapana-Vidhi-madhyayam (food and drink). This classification is based on six rasas (tastes) namely, madhura rasa (sweet) amla rasa (sour taste), katu rasa (pungent taste) tikta rasa (bitter taste), kashaya rasa (astringent taste) and lavana rasa (saline taste). Four types of diets namely, a) solid food, b) drink, c) food taken by licking, and d) food that is chewed and assimilated only for the pleasure of a specific taste. He postulated following ganas (groups) 1) Shali Dhanya, 2) Shashtika group, 3) Vrihi Dhanya, 4) Kudhanya varga, 5) Vaidala , 6) Tila, 7) Yava, 8) Simha, 9) Phala varga, 10) Shaka varga, 11) Pushpa varga, 12) Ubhida varga (sprouting from ground), 13) Kanda varga, 14) Taila varga, 15) Ikshu varga.

c) Bhavaprakasha classification:

Bhavaprakasha combines both Charaka’s and Sushruta’s methods of classification that is, medicinal properties and dietic value in groups like 1) Haritakyadi varga (Myrobalan Group) of 75 plants, 2) Karpuradi varga (Camphor Group) of 49 plants, 3) Guduchyadi varga Tinospora Group) of 125 plants, 4) Pushpa varga (Flower Group) of 33 plants, 5) Yatadi varga (Banyan Group ) of 42 plants, 6) Amradi Phala varga (Mango Group) of 75 plants, 7) Dhanya varga (Paddy Group) of 33 species, 8) Shaka varga (Pot-herb Group) of 70 species, 9) Taila varga (Oil Group) of 14 plants, 10) Ikshu varga (Sugarcane Group) of 13 plants.

7) Plants and Evolution

The ancients in India believed that on the Earth plants came prior to animals, particularly, man in the scale of evolution. This notion is well exhibited in literature such as Birhadaranyaka Upnishasd (6.4.1), Taittiriya Upanishad, Section two Brahmnanda Valli (2.1), Chhandogya Upanishad (1.1.2). Even Aitareya Aranyaka includes herbs and trees along with animals in organic world and states that they propagated from germs. The gist of all these verses is that life evolved on the Earth in a systematic way, switching from an inorganic state to an organic form leading to life. And then from one form of life to another in a sequence beginning from unicellular organism called germ in Aitareya Aranyaka,

This was the first attempt of study plant science -Vrikshayurveda from a botanical angle. That is why it may be possible that in the beginning plant information was lacking the medicinal and agricultural view point. But this preliminary botanical information about plant science – Vrikshayurveda formed base for both, medicinal and agricultural science.

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