Doctor in your garden!

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The history of traditional medicine in almost all cultures is replete with the use of plant based cures. Indian sub-continent is perhaps one of the richest and oldest in the practice of traditional medicine using plant products. Atharvaveda, the oldest written record of the world, describes 127 plants being used in the system of Herbal medicines. Traditional medicine apart, modern allopathic medicine also depends to a large extent on plants for their pharmaceuticals. A famous legend says that in the 5th century B.C., Jivaka, a student of medicine at the famous university of Taxila was asked by his teacher (as part of a practical examination) to take a spade and go around Taxila for approximately 8 miles (one Yojana) on every side and uproot any plant which did not possess medicinal properties. After a good deal of investigation, Jivaka to his dismay found none, and reported it to his teacher who promptly conferred on him the license to practice medicine. Jivaka later went on to become the famed physician of Lord Buddha. Just as it was hard for Jivaka to find plants that did not possess any medicinal property, it is hard to find ailments for which plants do not yield a cure. From constipation to diarrhoea, from mental depression to hypertension, man has resorted to the use of plants and their products to cure his ailments. How do plants possess curatives for any human ailment? One school of thought suggests that the curative products are secondary plant metabolites with no functional significance to the plants themselves. Thus, quinine in the bark of Cinchona, might be simply a byproduct of a necessary chemical reaction in the plant. Another school suggests that these chemicals might indeed have evolved with certain analogous functions for plants e.g., chemical defense against predation and pathogenic infection. For instance, the antibiotic effects of turmeric, a widely used antiseptic, could have originally evolved in the plant to fight fungal and bacterial infections. Whatever the reasons, we are fortunate that practically every plant contains magical healing properties for some human ailment or other. Phenomena like this remind us once again that no matter how far we may appear to move away from Nature, we are all part of the giant web of Life!