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Chemistry of Tulasi
|by Dr. V. Sankaran Nair|
In the Indian villages, shops dealing with leaves, roots, fruits and stems of plants either dried or green are common sights. Mixing the parts of these plants together in a grinding stone, kept for this purpose, they prepared medicines for common ailments. This was the practice in India and elsewhere till a hundred years ago. In the capital cities, we can find one or two such shops even these days.
With the development of science, there are several methods to extract active chemicals from indigenous plants. These neo-medicines are concealed in the chemicals in each pills, capsules and tonics stored in the medical shops.
Scientists today are paying attention to these old remedies for modern maladies. These chemist's shops have been given way to the medical shops to meet the requirements of ever increasing number of diseases in modern times. Ever since chemists began to isolate the active chemicals contained in various plants and put them into pills or liquid medicines they began to throw new light on them.
For many centuries several plants remained the bases for the sole chemicals to meet the medical requirements of the time. Plants being virtually chemical factories, they manufacture carbohydrates, fats, proteins and the chemicals from the carbon dioxide using water and minerals available in the soil as well as air in the atmosphere and by harvesting the sun. The chemicals that they collect are stored in the leaves, stems, roots and seeds.
Knowledge of these chemicals as remedy for the ailments during the past was a chance finding. Early man used this knowledge in a primitive way, combining superstition and magic. These practices have come down to us by word of mouth and survived over the centuries. The use of charm in addition to prayers was practiced as a means to cure diseases through out the world.
There are several plants to cite as examples in this regard. But here an attempt is made to study the case of Tualsi that in the Indian context has attained the stature of a deity for worship. The Padma Purana glorifies Tulasi as an eternal associate of Lord Krishna and considers Tulasi as the essence of all devotional activities. Its leaves, flowers, roots, bark, branches, stem and its very shade are all spiritual.
Padma Purana gives us a hint of the value of worshiping Tulasi Devi. One who with devotion applies the paste of Tulasi stem to the deity of Krishna that will ensure his close association with Krishna. The house where Tulasi Devi is present becomes purer than all holy places. Its fragrance purifies all who smell it. Lord Krishna accepts flowers, sandalwood paste or food only with the leaves of Tulasi. One who worships Lord Krishna daily with Tulasi leaves attains all kinds of austerity, charity, and sacrifice. For attaining Lord Krishna abode one should worship, remember, plant, keep, or perform kirtana before Tulasi and burn up all sinful reactions. One who worships Lord Krishna with Tulasi leaves releases all his ancestors from the realm of birth and death.
Did this way of worship served as the premise to overshadow the Indian intellectuals from the map of the scientific world for some time? Or was it the only intelligent way to explain scientific knowledge at a time when educational facilities were limited?
Atharvaveda has acknowledged the curative effect of the juice of the Tulasi leaves. On the basis of drug value Charaka classified plants into purgatives and astringents. The preeminently astringent groups are fifty in number. They have been further grouped under the heads or Vargas and included surasa (Tulasi) in the eighth varga in swasahara. Susruta on the same basis classified plants under thirty-seven sections or ganas. Susruta has included Surasa in the saka varga, the group of potherbs that comes under the spices of herbs.
After making analysis, many years later, our scientists on the other extreme have categorized around 200 medical formulations from this plant. Objective, hard data obtained by designing experiments around a hypothesis has started yielding results in interpreting the phenomena of Tulasi, in contemporary scientific language.
The advent of scientific methods to examine the chemical composition of plants in the beginning of the 20th century enabled the study of the essential oils extracted from the Tulasi plant. The essential oils extracted from the five important Tulasi plants available in India were subjected to chromatography studies. This confirmed the chemical properties of these plants, which established with no doubts the medicinal properties of the plant. A list of 100 such chemicals found in these plants is appended herewith.
The pharmacologists have confirmed that the Tulasi have significant anti-stress properties. Ocimum lowered stress induced cholesterol and enzyme activities as well as it reduced blood glucose and urea levels in rats pretreated with ocimum leaf extracts. The researchers have speculated that eugenol that produced similar effects moreover lowered stress induced blood glucose levels may be responsible for the anti-stress effect of Tulasi. Stress is known to cause immunosuppression and modify host resistance to a variety of illnesses, including allergic and infectious disorders. Similar immunomodulatory activity has also been observed in Tinospora malabarica used extensively to treat constant rheumatism, inflammation and allergic disorders.
In Sree Lanka Tulasi is known for its mosquito repellent substances. They burn it throughout the night in a terra-cotta ware. In fact malaria may have been one of the single most important diseases of ancient times all over the world and the practice to keep mosquitoes and other insects away by burning sulfur, pyrethrum and its derivatives were common all over the ancient world.
The scientists of the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack (Orissa), have pointed out that the leaf extract acts as a fungicide against three fungi that cause disease in rice crops. Oil extracted from the leaves is used as a pest repellent, anti-bacterial and insecticide. In some form or the other Tulasi can be used to cure many illnesses. Its oily substances are effective against tuberculosis bacteria.
The therapeutic and remedial value of the Tulasi plant has long been known and is accepted worldwide. During the change of season, human beings are most inclined to diseases. Its leaf infusion improves appetite. Tulasi is carminative, antipyretic, diaphoretic, expectorant and vermifugal. All types of fever, cough, cold, bronchitis, catarrh, dysentery, diarrhea, and gastric diseases can be cured with the help of Tulasi. It is also known for application on ear and skin. 'Even that is not the end of the story, for often, subsequently, an even better drug for the purpose is found.' Today science has added a new hybrid variety named Clossimum.
Tulasi is a 'herb, goddess, medicine, antiseptic, health food, tonic, insect repellant, and air purifier, even your passport to heaven all rolled into one. It has been a part of our homes, our temples, our rituals, our everyday lives for centuries; a revered, beloved member of our family whom we name our daughters after.' For several ailments, if a potted plant can bring a solution why not we revive the old practice of a tulasi-ttara at our home. The Tulasi is, but one of the cultural and ecological practices that we inherited from our ancestors.
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