Indian medicinal plants are the essence of Ayurvedic treatments producing miraculous effects when used judicially. Their role cannot be confined to curative purposes merely. They also concentrate on the health and wellbeing of the individual as a whole. Hence we call Ayurvedic herbs the elixirs of life even today when so many different kinds of medicinal remedies are available. Apart from their use in medicine, most plants in India have a mythological connection too.
So, let’s have a brief look at the religious importance and medicinal values of some remarkable herbs and trees.
Tulsi or the Holy basil is the queen of medicinal plants and holds immense significance in Hinduism. This holy plant is revered as a manifestation of the goddess Lakshmi. Tulsi is considered sacred, and its presence is believed to increase purity and meditative powers in temples. People commonly worship the holy basil in the morning with offerings of flowers, incense, and water from the Ganges. The ritual of watering and caring for the plant is considered worshipful and a way of attaining salvation (moksha). Since Tulsi is believed to be the abode of various deities and a manifestation of Goddess Lakshmi, disrespecting the plant in any way invites the wrath of Vishnu. That is why you will rarely find any waste lying around the plant. It is generally planted in a protected place in altars or courtyards.
Additionally, Tulsi has healing powers, and its medicinal properties help in boosting the immune system. It is being harvested for use in Ayurvedic treatments for centuries and has a strong aroma and a flavor that can range from peppery to astringent. Tulsi combats respiratory ailments and helps in lowering blood pressure and stress. It is also known for its antibacterial, antifungal, antipyretic, antioxidant, antiseptic, and anticancer properties.
Sandalwood, commonly known as "Chandana," is amalgamated in the Indian heritage, culture and tradition. Sandalwood has high spiritual significance in ritualistic practices and is used in the sacred fires with a belief that it soothes the troubles of all humanity. From the times of Harappan civilization, sandalwood was worshipped in India as it is regarded as a protector whose scent drives out evil spirits. The wood is mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva and used in making idols and figurines.
In Ayurveda, powdered sandalwood is mixed with rosewater to cure inflammation and skin diseases. The leaves and bark of the tree are used to treat dandruff, lice, skin inflammation, and sexually transmitted diseases. Sandalwood oil has a woody odor and its refreshing fragrance is used in incense, cosmetics, perfumes, and soaps.
In India, sandalwood is used in every aspect of human life from cradle to cremation. According to the Hindu faith, sandalwood aids higher reincarnation and that is why it is added to the funeral pyres as well. In Jainism, during the festival of Mahamastakabhisheka, the colossal statue of Gomateshwar is bathed in sandalwood along with milk, turmeric, etc. It is also extensively used in Zoroastrian and Sufi traditions. Thus, sandalwood has been an inseparable part of Indian culture and tradition from the Indus valley civilization to the present modern era.
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Peepal or Ficus Tree, also known as "Ashvattha," has a lot of reverence in both Hinduism and Buddhism. The origin of the Peepal tree can be traced back to the Indus valley civilisation, where the excavations depict the Peepal being worshiped. Ancient Puranas describe an incident where the demons captured the abode of gods, which made Lord Vishnu hide inside the Peepal tree. Thereupon people began to worship the Peepal tree considering it to be a means of offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. Some legends suggest that Lord Vishnu was born under the peepal tree and that the tree is home to the trinity of Gods, the root being Brahma, the trunk Vishnu and the leaves represent Lord Shiva. In Buddhism, Gautama Buddha had attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree (another name for Peepal). Hence, Peepal marks a significant event in the history and formation of Buddhist culture.
Peepal is also extensively used in Ayurveda for treating various infections, healing wounds, improving fertility, and curing poisoning. The leaves are purgative and are used in the treatment of constipation and jaundice. Their oral intake gives strength to the heart and helps to control palpitation. They are also taken to treat feverish conditions and arrest bleeding or secretion. Peepal fruits or figs are highly beneficial for the digestive system. The dried fig powder is used for curing asthma. The nutrient-rich Peepal leaf and bark are also used for numerous Ayurvedic health remedies.
The Bilva or the Bel tree is a sacred tree to Hindus since ancient times. No matter where you go, you’ll find a Bilva tree in or around every Shiv temple in India, where it is treated with great veneration and respect. It is believed that one who performs Bilva pooja with flowers and incense achieves the abode of pure consciousness and is showered with happiness, peace, and prosperity. The Bilva tree is said to possess the essence of celestial light. Bel Patra is a leaf of the bilva tree. and it is widely used in the worship of Hindu deities, especially Shiva. The bel leaf has more capacity to absorb and emit divine energy.
According to Ayurveda, bel leaf has many medicinal and curative properties as well. The leaves are antibacterial, antifungal in nature. Each and every part of the tree has a therapeutic benefit, especially the roots that are highly beneficial in pain relief.
The Ashoka tree is given prime importance in ancient Hindu mythology, art, and sculpture. In the ancient epic Ramayana, it is mentioned that Sita sat under the Ashoka tree during her captivity in Lanka. The Ashoka tree is also strongly associated with the life of Buddha since his birth took place under this tree. The yakshi mythological beings that are commonly depicted in Buddhist and Hindu temple ornamentation are generally shown with an Ashoka tree.
In Ayurveda, the Ashoka tree is known for its spiritual qualities as well as in managing gynecological complications. The herbs of the tree are widely used to treat gynecological and menstrual problems in women. The consumption of barks and leaves of the Ashoka tree provides relief from pain and swelling. It also helps in purifying blood.
Pratha Content Writing Intern