Traditional Indian Medicine

Traditional knowledge on Indian medicinal practice came from India, which comprised Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha. The practice of traditional Indian medicine has been applied for over 5,000 years and it is estimated that about 8,000 herbal remedies have been used and produced (Huxley, 1984). About 400,000 practitioners of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani medicine or homeopathy could be found in India compared to 332,000 registered doctors (Alok, 1991, BGCI Fact Sheet). Generally, turmeric (Curcuma domestica) and the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) are two popular medicinal plant species used by the Indians. Turmeric has long been used in India as a traditional medicine for the treatment of various sprains and inflammatory conditions (Anon, 1996b).

About 80% of the raw materials for drugs used in the Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy are based on plant resources (Alok, 1991). Over 7,500 species of plants were estimated to be used in folk and tribal, Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Amchi (Tibetan) and allopathic health care in India (Shanker & Majumdar, 1997). Some species popularly used by Indian practitioners are shown in Table 7.

Table 7. Some popular medicinal plants species used in India1
Plant species
Reported number of uses
Centella asiatica
Pergularia daemia
Aristolochia indica
Ichnocarpus frutescens
Alstonia scholaris
Holarrhena antidysenterica
Trachyspermum ammi
Hygrophila auriculiculata
Trianthema portulacastrum
Semecarpus anacardium
  Source: FRLHT Research Department
1The species were the ten most popular ethno-medicinal plants, which had ten, or more uses reported across ethnic communities in South India.
The India Materia Medica lists more than 2,500 medicinal plants used in Indian systems of medicine. Among them, about 500 species are commonly used and about 100 species used in large quantities (Anon, 1999b). Some common medicinal plants used by Indians are neem, kuppamani, marunggai leaves, brahmi, turmeric, senna, galangai, hibiscus, roses, terung pipit, cemai, castor oil, fenugreek and black pepper (Anon, 1998b). In Malaysia, there is limited research on the species of medicinal plants being used by the Indian practitioners and industry. However, the uses of medicinal plants in India could be taken as an example of the utilization of the plant, which is probably applied by the Indian practitioners and industry in Malaysia since the knowledge of the medication basically comes from India. 

In India, the increasing demands of the pharmaceutical industry, which recorded about 46,000 licensed pharmacies manufacturing traditional remedies, have created a shortage problem in raw material supply. One of the major difficulties being experienced by the Indian systems of medicine is that of obtaining sufficient quantities of medicinal plants for the manufacture of genuine remedies. It is necessary to plan for the large-scale cultivation of medicinal plants and to ensure that they are accurately identified, properly processed, free of adulterants and of acceptable quality (Alok, 1991).