SCIENTIFIC CONTRIBUTION TO EXPLORE THE ASTAVARGA PLANTS IN THE HIMALAYAS
The miraculous healer of the frail and emaciated body of Rishi Chayavan was invented by the Ashawani Kumar brothers during Vedic era. This was known since then as "Chayavanprash". It had the constituents such as Rdhi, Vrdhi, Jeevak, Rsbhak, Kakoli, Ksirkakoli, Meda and Mahameda - a group of 8 plants popularly known as Astavarga of "Chayavanprash". These Astavarga plant species had been in oblivion because of any proper written details in old records and vague or wrong descriptions given in various "Nighantu" books.
Keeping in this, about 15 exploration tours were undertaken in several places in states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and J & K. As a consequence of this and literature review revealed the correct identity of Astavarga plant species as Rdhi (Habenaria intermedia), Vrdhi (Habenaria acuminata), Jeevak (Malaxis acuminata), Rsbhak (Malaxis muscifera), Kakoli (Roscoea alpina), Ksirkakoli (Lilium olyphyllum), Meda (Polygonatum verticillatum), and Mahameda (Polygonatum cirrifolium). Various causes of their scarce populations have been presented and easy way out to use substitutes was chosen by Ayurvedic physicians during the 800 years of slavery has been highlighted. The research needs have been presented to carry forward the scientific work on these plants and revive the Astavarga therapy for the benefit of human kind.
Taxonomic Identity of Astavarga Plant Species:
The scientific work was an urgency to remove all types of confusion that persisted for centuries about the correct identity of Astavarga plants. The major bottleneck was wrong and vague description of these plants in various Nighantu books. Hence the taxonomic identity was established of these plants is as mentioned below:
|S.No.||Scientific Name||Sanskrit Name||Family||Prominent taxonomic Character(s)|
|1.||Habenaria intermedia, D.Don||Rdhi||Orchidaceae||Large white flowers (2-6)in are ceme.L.|
|2.||Habenaria acuminata Lindl. |
(=H.edgeworthii Hook.f.ex collett)
|Vrdhi||Orchidaceae||Spur upturned, petals |
and lip yellow-greenish
|3.||Malaxis acuminata D.Don |
(=Microstylis wallichii Lindl.)
|Jeevak||Orchidaceae||Sides of the apical part of lip with straight edges.|
|4.||Malaxis muscifera (Lindl.)O.Ktze |
(=Microstylis muscifera Lindl.)
|Rsbhaka||Orchidaceae||Leaves two, lip-3, lobed by a notch near the centre.|
|5.||Polygonatum verticillatum All.||Meda||Liliaceae||Leaves in whorls of 4 to 8 tips usually acute.|
|6.||Polygonatum cirrifolium Royle||Mahameda||Lilaceae||Leaves in whorls of 3 to 6, tips of leaves tendril like.|
|7.||Roscoea alpina Royle Roscoea procera Wall.||Kakoli||Zingiberaceae||Anthers notched at the top|
|8.||Lilium polyphyllum Don||Kshirkakoli||Liliaceae||Flowers scented, greenish white the inside purple doted.|
Causes of Decline In Astavarga Plant Populations
Several causes operate to affect their natural habitats in the Himalayas. The major is the shift in the climate in these areas. Some of the important causes are discussed below:
It grows in open places on slopy lands not below 2200 m and where temperature remains around 20°C. The temperature rise and scanty rainfall are the major causes for its decline in the natural habitats.
Vridhi (Habenaria acuminata):
Vridhi is generally found growing mixed in tall grasses. Its decline occurs due to cutting of grass at early time before it forms the mature seeds. Another important cause could be burning the areas during summer to remove thorny bushes, which pose hindrance during rainy season, for grass cutting, to feed the stall animals.
Malaxis spp. (Jeevak and Rsbhak):
These species grow as undergrowths in forests over the altitudes varying from 600 m to 4000 m. They prefer shrubberies and grassy slopes, moist and humus rich soil and rocky shades. Late rains in summer cause them to grow poorly and consequently the decline in populations.
Polygonatum Spp.(Meda and Mahameda):
Four species are commonly found. Out of these P.verticillatum and P.cirrifolium are used in the Astavarga. These grow in shrubbaries and open places and as undergrowths in forests on altitudes varying between 1550 m to 3700 m in temperate Himalayas. They grow mixed, with tall grasses or as undergrowths in shady, moist places in forests, where they are either cut at immature seed stage to feed the domestic animals or grazed by pasture fed animals. Bush burning or forest fires roasting or heating the shallow buried fingerlings is another cause of loss in population in natural habitats.
Roscoea Spp. (Kakoli):
These occur mostly in hill slopes on forest edges, shrubberies, rocks on altitudes ranging from 1600 m to 3000 m. These species are not endangered but the climate change may be harmful for their growth and spread.
Lilium polyphyllum (Kshirkakoli):
This species is sensitive to climatic factors and has disappeared from Shimla woods where it was common at the time of writing of 'Flora Simlensis' by Col. Collett in 1904. During this year it was scarcely seen in Gangotri, because of low rainfall and temperature rise.
Medicinal Properties Of Astavarga Plants
Various Nighantu books have described the medicinal properties of all the Astavarga plants either as a group or alone. Till date none has tried their chemical or clinical evaluation because of the fact that their identity had much confusion and availability is in scanty amounts.
Astavarga plants are pittashamak, tasty, nutritious tonic, aphrodisiac, increasing flesh formation and increase Kapha. It is beneficial in seminal weakness; heal bone fractures; cure vata, pitta and rakta dhatu doshas, abnormal thirst and burning sensation in the body, consumption, fever and diabetic condition. This group of plants make an excellent drug to restore health immediately, strengthen the immunity system of body, rectify defects in anabolism or catabolism and work as an antioxidant in the body. That is why Aswani Kumars gained wonderful success to cure the frail, emaciated sick body of Rishi Chayavan and others as mentioned earlier. It is said that they regained youthful condition.
Astavarga plants have been placed under three Ayurvedic terms in various Nighantus. These are (i) Jeevaniya, (ii) Brhneeya and (iii) Vaya sthapana.
It is therefore essential to explain them in the light of present knowledge of medical science.
Jeevaniya - are those plant drugs which strengthen the body vitality (Praana Shakti) through their action on three humours by bringing them in equilibrium state. That means they enhance anabolic activities over the catabolic activities.
Brheenaya - The drugs which promote the formation of mansa dhatu that is flesh formation. For example Kakoli, Ksirkakoli.
Vayasthaapana - These plants remove any imbalance in three doshas especially vata dosha and thus arrests progressive growth changes to occur or slow down their rate. This also hints at the occurrence of oxidative processes which are stopped due to their anti oxidative properties. For example Meda, Mahameda, Rdhi, Vrdhi.
Promoting Use Of Substitute Drugs:
As it was pointed out earlier that these drug plants became difficult to procure from the Himalaya due to ignorance about their identity and scarce populations. It was written in the "Nighantus" that these plants were even rare to kings and hence substitute drugs should be used as shown below:
|S.No.||Name of drug plant||Substitute drug plant (s)|
|1.||Vrdhi (H.acuminate)||Varahikand (Dioscorea bulbifera), salam panja (Dactylorhiza hatagirea), Mahabala(Sida acuta), Beejband (Seeds of Sida cordifolia).|
|2.||Rdhi (H.intermedia)||Varahikand (Dioscorea bulbifera), Utangan Beej (Blepharis persica (Burm.f.) Kuntze), Bala (Sida Cordifolia), Chiriya musali (Asparagus filicinus Buch.)|
|3.||Jeevak (Malaxis acuminata)||Vidari kanda (Pueraria tuberosa DC),Bahaman Safed (Centaurea behen Linn.), Guruchi (Tinosporea cordifolia (Willd.)Miers. ex HK.f.T.|
|4.||Rsbhaka (Malaxis muscifera)||Vidarikand (Pueraria tuberosa) Bahaman Lal (Centaurea calcitrapa Linn.), Vanslochan.|
|5.||Kakoli (Roscoea alpina)||Aswagandha (Withania somnifera) Kali musali (Curculigo orchoides)|
|6.||Kshir Kakoli (Lilium polyphyllum)||Aswagandha (Withania somnifera) Safed musali(Chlorophytum arundinaceum Baker), Fritilleria roylei Hook.f.|
|7.||Meda (Polygonatum verticillatum All.)||Shatavar (Asparogus racemosus), Salam misri (Eulophia campestris Wall.)|
|8.||Mahameda (Polygonatum cirrifolium)||Shatavar (Asparagus racemosus), Prasarani (Sida veronicaefolia), Shakakul misri (Polygonatum multiflorum (L.) All.)|
Future Research Thrusts
1. Standardisation of Agro-techniques.
2. Survey to establish hotspots in the Himalaya.
3. Developing tissue culture protocols for regeneration.
4. Chemical evaluation of drug materials.
5. Clinical evaluation of drug parts.