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Vrikshayurveda is the ancient science of plant life, where field and storage pests are controlled without using any chemicals. Vrikshayurveda deals with various species of trees and their healthy growth and productivity.
The ancient sages had a deep understanding of the relationship of plants with other plants and animals, soil moisture and other geological phenomenon. Today, huge amount of money is being spent every year on pesticides to control pest and to improve food production. A detailed study of Vrikshayurveda would give us instead a holistic crop management system.
There are references to this science in scriptures such as:
• Brhatsamhita of Varahamihira (6th century) also contains a chapter titled Vrikshayurveda and chapters on allied subjects such as divining groundwater, productivity and non-productivity of land as indicated by natural vegetation, etc.
• Sarngadhara Paddhati (written by Sarngadhara) in its chapter “Upavana vinoda” deals with arbori-horticulture and discusses planting, soil, nourishment of plants, plant diseases and remedies, groundwater resources, etc.
• Krishi sukthi – A text on agriculture narrated by sage Kashyapa. It contains the description of eatable and uneatable substances, methodology of paddy cultivation. Period of the work is considered to be 8- 9 century A.D.
• Amarakosha – A Sanskrit lexicon of 6th century A.D, compiled by Pandit Amarasimha. Chapters like Bhoomi Varga, Vanoushadi varga give a comprehensive glimpse of the art of classification of soil, land, implements used etc.
• Krishi Parasara – This book explains about agriculture depending on rainfall, seed collection, preservation and sowing.
• Arthashastra by Kautilya – It enlists the functions of the officer in charge of agriculture and his assistants, tax collection from the people based upon the agricultural output.
• Atharvaveda – The proper documentation for the plant based pharmacopoeia was started around 3000 B.C -2000B.C in the Atharva Veda with information about 300 plants.
• Agnipurana is a dedicated text signifying the importance of agricultural science.
• The Dhanwanthri Nighantu, Raja Nighantu and Bhavaprakasha Nighantu also describe some aspects of Vrikshayurveda.
However, two books are more specifically dedicated to Vrikshayurveda:
• Vrikshayurveda written by Salihotra (around 400 B.C), which describes techniques to help plants and trees to bear fruits throughout the year irrespective of the season, climatic conditions etc.
• Vrikshayurveda written by Surapala (1000. A.D) – This scripture explains countless techniques about how to fertilize the soil or raise larger fruits. The cultivation of about 170 plant species are described, including water management, soil conservation, fertilizers, the various diseases affecting the plants and their treatment. It describes in details the cultivation and preservation of the plant from its seed till its maturity. There was only one existing copy on palm leaves manuscript of Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda, which was preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, before its recent translation into English.
Vrikshayurveda of Surapala glorifies trees and tree planting. It discusses various topics connected with the science of plant life such as procuring, preserving, and treating of seeds before planting; preparing pits for planting saplings; selection of soil; method of watering; nourishment and fertilizers; plant diseases and plant protection from internal and external diseases; the ideal layout of gardens; managing groundwater resources; etc. Here are some prescriptions from Vrikshayurveda.
From a spiritual standpoint, the scripture further promises bliss in the Urdhva Lokas to the devotees for their service to the environment. Planting trees like Bilva, Nyagrodha (Banyan), Ashwatta (Sacred Fig), Dhatri (Gooseberry) Mango, Neem, Udumbar (Cluster Fig) is presented as a sacred deed.
“Ten wells are equal to a pond, ten ponds to a lake, 10 lakes to a son and ten sons are equal to one tree.” – Surapala
The book even explains about the method for increasing the fragrance of flowers. Different manures are used for different flowering plants. For wounds to the trees, the treatise recommends to apply the paste of bark of Nygrodha (Ficus bengalensis), Udumbara (Ficus racemosa), cow dung, honey and ghee. If a plant is burnt, it can be treated with application of mud and paste of lotus. The irrigation should be done with water mixed with sugar, sesame and milk.
The ancient sages recognized the importance of the cultivation, conservation and harvesting methods of all plants for the sustainable source of supply of nutrients (ahara) and medicines (aushadhi). The scriptures laid emphasis on comprehension of plant taxonomy, classification of soil, relevant practices of cultivation viz. selection of soil, plant propagation techniques (through seeds, roots, cuttings, etc.), plant nourishment, plant diseases and their management.
The different chapters of Vrikshayurveda deal with horticulture, home gardening, preservation of plants, soil treatment, water management and fertilizers. Vrikshayurveda suggests that tree planting is one of the means to attain the four Purusharthas (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha). Utmost importance is been attributed to plantation, with the text equating ten human lives with a single plant!
„Be gracious to forests enriched with medicinal plants”. -Rig-Veda, VII.35.5
The various texts about the science of Vrikshayurveda are divided into sub-topics:
• Bhoomi Niroopana – Explains the classification, fertility and selection of soil.
• Beejotpathi Vidhi – About classification and preservation of the seeds.
• Paada Vivaksha – About morphology and physiology of plants.
• Ropana Vidhi – Location of different types of plants like Vrksha, Gulma, Late etc.
• Nishechana Vidhi – About irrigation and preparation of the special organic manure ‘Kunapa Jala’
• Druma Raksha – About harvesting and protecting the plants.
• Taru Chikista – About the Panchabhuta and Tridosha constitution of plants, their disease and treatment.
• Upavana kriya – Maintaining herbal gardens.
• Nivasasanna Taru Shubhashubha Lakshana – Direction for planting near the houses.
• Taru mahima – About importance of plants.
• Chitreekarana – Explains about techniques to change the habit, colur, smell of flowers and to change the flowering seasons.
In Vrikshayurveda, soils are classified based on vegetation of plants of medicinal and economic value, the fertility of soils were also taken in to account to avoid infertile land and choose soil correctly for growing plants and crops. A whole system of soil and plant taxonomy is expanded.
In the 1st chapter of Vrikshayurveda written by Salihotra, various types of land and soil are described:
• Anupa desha – The land is fertile in nature with abundant water, green trees, climate suitable for the growth of plants and soil rich in natural nutrients.
• Jangala desha – The land is dry and barren. Water content in the soil is less.
• Sadharana desha – The land has moderate water, greenery and soil is having natural nutrients in moderate quantity.
The collection of different parts of plants based upon various seasons has been explained so that maximum potency can be obtained from the part:
• Flowers and Fruits – During their flowering and fruiting season
• Leaves and Branches – During rainy season or spring
• Roots – During summer or late winter
• Bark, Stem – Early winter
Some other interesting points told in the texts:
• For flowering in all seasons – Mixture of Sesame oil cakes, Vidanga (Embelia ribes), sugar cane juice and cow dung is sprinkled to the root of a plant. This practice enables flowering of the plant in all the seasons.
• For seedless fruits – Paste of Yastimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra), sugar, Kustha (Saussurea luppa), flowers of Madhuka (Madhuca indica) is applied to the root of a tree to produces seedless fruit.
• For dwarf variety – A plant grown in a pit supported with four pillars erected close to the roots and irrigated carefully with milk grows into a dwarf variety.
• To control weed – The cut branches of Arka (Calotropis procera) are kept at the entrance of rain water channel. This method minimizes weed population if repeated for several times during rainy season.
• Paddy pest control – Cactus milk is poured into the water inlets of the paddy field to control the pests and insects in paddy field.
• To prevent flower and fruit drop – Asafoetida is applied on the root of the plant and a fine bandage cloth is tied around it. It is used to prevent flower and fruit dropping.
• To purify water – The powders of gooseberry, Kataka (Strychnos potatorum), Musta (Cyprus rotundus) is added to the water to purify it.
Upavanakriya is a chapter of Vrikshayurveda by Salihotra which provides instructions an detaching upon the organisation, cultivation and preservation of gardens. It also defines the Latagraha, which is a house for the cultivation of selected medicinal and aromatic plants that yields in great profusion. After this, it recommends the construction of an artificial hillock (Kridaparvata) along with a grotto a valley, and a large body of crystal-clear water with a fountain in the center.
The chapter ‘Citrikarana’ depicts some astounding techniques such as how to make a plant bloom throughout the year irrespective of the seasons, bring forth premature maturity to plants and fruits, and change the shape and form of trees.
Relevance of Vrikshayurveda
The ignorance of our ancient texts is responsible for the degeneration of our agricultural practices. Ancient sciences are now making a comeback, as there is a huge demand of the conservation and sustainable utilization of forest products as well as the medicinal plant sciences. There is a growing recognition of the need for incorporating the contributions of these traditional systems to meet the limitations of modern medicine and agriculture.
The availability of quality medicinal herbs with the desired pharmacological and biological markers has become a challenge, due to the degradation of soils worldwide. The necessity of a controlled, quality cultivation becomes significant in the sector of medicinal plants. To overcome this, the protocols and methods of Vrikshayurveda are promising.