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Close up of aloe vera juice being extracted from the plant

Ayurvedic plant medicine: a consciousness based science

Kerala Ayurveda is a source of Ayurvedic teachings, products, lineage traditions and healing services. Much of Ayurveda’s wisdom comes directly from nature and the plant world. Plant medicine is becoming increasingly popular across various industries – wellness, spiritual, food and pharmaceuticals. But what is true plant medicine?
This blog is inspired by the webinar, “The Healing Consciousness of Plants” with Vaidya. Jayarajan Kodikannath
Click here to view the webinar To take care of ourselves and our planet, working with plant medicine in a sustainable and respectful manner is important. It’s our goal at Kerala Ayurveda to preserve the ancient respect of the plant world embedded in the tradition practice of Ayurveda. As holistic remedies become more popular and trends lead to the increasing commercialization of plants, as well as the industrial manipulation of them, it’s all the more important we take cues from the ancient ways. Improper use of plant medicine is not only disrespectful to the plants, ourselves and the earth; it also diminishes the efficacy of the ingredients. Respect and healing potential go hand in hand – isn’t that beautiful? According to the history of Ayurveda, the wisdom of healing was gifted to the ancient sages by the plants themselves. To understand plant medicine in Ayurveda, it’s important to look at consciousness itself. Ayurveda’s wisdom is not considered to be derived from the “normal” human experience we have day to day. The true essence  of this wisdom is considered, according to Ayurveda, to exist beyond the material plane, at the highest state of awareness of Trikal Gyani’s – or, Enlightened Rishis or Seers who could see the past, present and future. That might seem intimidating, but from an Ayurvedic perspective: we’re all truly capable of accessing higher states of awareness, and connecting with this wisdom. When we recognize that plants possess another form of consciousness, we can begin to connect appropriately with that consciousness to facilitate effective, soul nourishing healing.

Close up of tumeric plant

 

The story of Turmeric

To understand the depth of plant consciousness, let’s look at the story of turmeric as one example of the thousands of plant stories in the Ayurvedic knowledge base. Bhavaprakasha, the herbal dictionary mentions that turmeric:
  • Pacifies the Kapha and Pitta Doshas 
  • Enhances complexion
  • Helps with skin and urinary disorders, diabetes, blood-related issues, inflammation, swelling, anemia, and wounds
  • Enhances mental functions
  • Is efficacious in cardiac issues, vitiligo, jaundice and is an anti-toxic
  Turmeric transformed in recent times from a village girl to a city girl. The village girl was organic and true to herself, and the urban version developed from use of her extract: Curcumin. Scientists discovered Curcumin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps with metabolic syndrome, arthritis, mind, exercise-induced inflammation, but has side effects. It causes bleeding disorders, diarrhea, skin rashes, hot flashes, and itchiness. Turmeric does not cause side effects when used in moderation, though Curcumin can.  When using the modified turmeric as Curcumin, the whole and original turmeric is lost. In that process, we lose Ayurvedic tradition. Would you consider everything from plants to the human brain as merely a chemical cocktail? That’s how turmeric is perceived when the extract of Curcumin is isolated as a supplement. Turmeric is not alone – more than 90 percent of supplements are synthetic. Studies show that Vitamin E from natural sources is at least two times more efficacious than synthetic Vitamin E. There is something within the natural plant sources, something subtle and hard for modern science to pinpoint, which enhances their healing potential. Similarly, research on mantras reveals they aren’t mere superstition; they can transform mental and functional systems in human beings. Research on plant cells communicating like animal cells, using bioelectricity or neurobiology, is underway, but we have a ways to go. The world at large still identifies plants as material, and unfortunately denies subtle levels of consciousness.

Woman meditating on a rock in the middle of a stream

 

Embracing a broader definition of consciousness

The subtle layers of consciousness permeate everything in the universe, according to Ayurveda. Ayurveda translates to “the science of life” and offers more than a system for human health. It encompasses the entire cosmos, for it recognizes the interconnectedness, and resulting interdependence, of all existence. Nature is now teaching us a very challenging but important lesson: what it means to live in Adharma or unrighteousness. Our health, the health of many species, our water and our planet as a whole is under the threat of our own human industry’s fallout. When we treat everything for our convenience and consumption, including how large or quickly plants and animals grow, we assume earth and nature are created just for us. Ayurveda reminds us that we must learn to honor all beings and consider them our family. We would not manipulate our family members in a way that goes against their nature. The root Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, talks about the wrongdoings of humans that contaminate and pollute air, water, earth and cause derangement of time cycles, climate change and lead to annihilation of communities through reduction of immunity and pandemics or Janapadadhwamsa Vyadhi where pathogens overtake us. The Covid19 pandemic happened because of our long-standing Adharma to ourselves, animals, plants, and fellow beings.  Studies suggest that we are reaching a point where it is difficult to go back to the normal sustenance of humanity, and have crossed the limit in damaging the environment. However, every transformation in human consciousness starts with a shift in awareness in one individual. This spreads to families, communities, nature, and ecosystems get transformed. You have the power to make the change for yourself, and the whole planet in the process. Ayurveda is here to guide you, by helping you tap into your innate knowledge.

Plant covered bridge

 

Three layers of existence and “One World Family”

Vasudev Kutumbhakam implies we are all a part of this cosmic vibration or “one world family.” All living beings, including plants, animals, birds, and humans exist in three layers and real existence is a union of these layers: 
  1. Physical, material, or structural layer which includes Dhatus, or tissues and the physical body.
  2. Subtle, functional, or energetic layer which includes Doshas and the mind. 
  3. Consciousness, casual layer, or spirit which is sometimes confused with the mind but is the quantum layer beyond energetics. We rarely access this in modern life. 
  Living beings are Stavaram (stationary, like plants) or Jangamam (moving). They have an individual consciousness and are part of the cosmic or collective consciousness. Every being has a tangible influence and contributes to other beings at a physical, energetic, and conscious level. If all honey bees go on a strike, many species can perish, causing extinction of the human race. Which is why we have rituals honoring animals and plants that support us, mantras are chanted in Panchakarma and if we ignore these practices, we lose the essence of Ayurveda.  We honor all beings as an integral part of us. Traditional Ayurveda is clear that we are part of the collective consciousness; if we can harness, align with, and honor every being with body, mind, and soul; with our physical, functional, and conscious existence, we will get the complete potential of nature for our sustenance to bring health, harmony, peace, happiness, and longevity for all, and fulfill our lives’ purpose.

Woman harvesting cardamom

 

How to work with plants as whole, conscious beings

Prabhava is a concept in Ayurveda that defines how materials like herbs, gemstones or even mantras have an action that can’t be explained. While this might appear to defy science as you know it, keep in mind that Ayurvedic science is a 5,000 year old system and the oldest known documented healthcare system. It was formed in a time when humans lived closer to the earth and possessed more tolerance of the unknown, as well as a deeper awareness of subtle energy. What may look like a pointless ritual to some – like chanting mantras – is felt and experienced as a powerful transformative tool to the individual who uses it. Similarly, Ayurvedic plant medicine involves a variety of rituals designed to maximize the efficacy of a plant. When we bring the full material, energetic and plant consciousness through the right processes the plant will bless us with its fullest healing potential. Sharangadhara Samhita, the go-to text for Ayurvedic pharmaceuticals, explains how to harvest herbs and make formulations. It details what parts of specific plants to utilize, when to harvest them based on the seasons, weather and moon cycles, as well as what exceptions can be made in these processes. The text stipulates that you must hold positive intentions in the mind, possess a clean body and spirit, and perform the act on an auspicious day and time in order to create plant medicine. For instance, you may harvest the plant in the morning but not at dawn, facing the sun with silent prayers and mantra chanting, seeking blessings, plucking herbs grown towards the northern direction. Furthermore, you must connect with the plant and specifically request the plant to join you in relieving your suffering, and that of fellow humans.  When the above process is followed, your medicine won’t be limited like Curcumin. When you ask plants to help alleviate suffering and follow these traditions, the plant’s consciousness becomes an active participant, and in essence, sacrifice themself to join you in the healing process. Helping another being in pain is the highest Dharma or righteousness, and the plant takes this opportunity to transition to a higher self. The benefit of herbs harvested as per these traditions is far beyond the material. It is a spiritual journey between family members who happen to be different species. This explains the rituals at our Kerala Ayurveda formulation making unit and why we are so committed to tradition. It also explains why Pudikaranja merely tied to the waist of babies provides colic relief. If the consciousness science of Ayurveda can permeate industries and other healing modalities, we have much potential to heal ourselves and our planet.

About the author

  • Anuradha Gupta

    Anuradha “Anu” Gupta is a NAMACB Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, Engineer, MBA, Meditator, Writer, 200hr Yoga Teacher and Ayurvedic Doctor-in-training at Kerala Ayurveda Academy. She serves as Guest Faculty Member, Content Specialist and AP Mentor at Kerala Ayurveda USA. She also runs her own Ayurvedic practice, Ayurvedic Footprints.

    Anu has an extensive corporate background. She...

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