Brahmi is a perennial, creeping herb, which commonly grows in marshy areas in India, Nepal, Srilanka, China, Taiwan and Vietnam. It is also found in Florida, Hawaii and southern states of the US. It grows up to a height of 2-3 feet, with numerous branches that are10-35cms long. It has oval shaped leaves formed in pairs along the stems. Its five-petalled flowers are small, tubular and white-purple in colour. Its stem is soft, succulent and hairy. The fruit is oval shaped and sharp at the apex. Its ability to grow in water makes it a popular aquarium plant. The herb can be found at elevations from sea level to altitudes of 4,400 feet, and is easily cultivated if adequate water is available. The flowers and fruit appear in summer and the entire plant is used medicinally.
Brahmi is widely reputed to improve memory and alertness, and to lessen or prevent damage to brain cells. Brahmi is the most important nervine herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. According to Ayurveda, it is bitter, pungent, heating, emetic, laxative and sweet in post digestive action. Acharya Sushruta described this herb as useful in ‘Raktapitta’ or bleeding diathesis, beneficial to heart, useful in skin disorders, urinary disorders, fever, asthma, bronchitis and dyspepsia. He also mentions brahmi’s memory enhancing effects and properties of rejuvenation. Charaka also mentions rejuvenation properties as enhancing the quality and span of life, promoting intelligence, destroying diseases, enhancing strength of body and mind, improved digestion, complexion and the quality of voice.
Brahmi pacifies vitiated Vata and Pitha. It revitalises the brain cells, removes toxins and blockages within the nervous system. It has a nurturing effect upon the mind. It improves memory and aids in concentration. It is added to many Ayurvedic formulas as an antispasmodic agent. Recent research has focused primarily on Brahmi’s cognitive-enhancing effects, specifically memory, learning, and concentration and the results support the traditional Ayurvedic claims. Brahmi also increases the level of serotonin, a brain chemical known to promote relaxation. It is unique in its ability to invigorate mental processes whilst reducing the effects of stress and nervous anxiety. This makes Brahmi extremely applicable in highly stressful work or study environments, where clarity of thought is as important as being able to work under pressure.
Benefits of using Brahmi:
• Brahmi has been found to be very beneficial in the treatment of anxiety neurosis and mental fatigue. It has been found to significantly improve IQ levels, general ability, behavioral patterns and mental concentration in children. • Brahmi is useful for improving mental clarity, confidence and memory recall. Due to these properties, it has been widely used by students. • Brahmi is also used for the treatment of epilepsy, insomnia, asthma and rheumatism. • Studies have also shown that brahmi can be used against cancer. • Brahmi is effective against diseases like bronchitis, asthma, hoarseness, arthritis, rheumatism, backache, constipation, hair loss, fevers and digestive problems. • Brahmi is bitter in flavor. In India, it is used in salads, soups, in curry and pickles. • Research has shown that brahmi has antioxidant, cardiotonic properties. • The plant is also used for all sorts of skin problems: eczema, psoriasis, abscess, ulcerations. It is said to stimulate the growth of skin, hair and nails.
Compounds responsible for the pharmacological effects of brahmi include the alkaloids Brahmine and herpestine, the saponins d-mannitol and hersaponin, sterols, acid A, and monnierin. Other active constituents have since been identified, including betulic acid, stigmastarol, beta-sitosterol, as well as numerous bacosides and bacopasaponins. The constituents responsible for Bacopa’s cognitive effects are bacosides A and B. These bacosides improve the transmission of impulses between nerve cells in the brain. The neurobiological effects of these isolated molecules were found to increase protein kinase activity and new protein synthesis, specifically in brain cells associated with long-term memory.
Banyan is the National tree of India. From time immemorial, it was considered sacred an integral part of Indian culture. Vedic literature, epics and classical poetry depicts the banyan tree as representing peace, sacredness and devotion. In a mystical statement, Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita says: “there is a banyan tree, which has its roots upward and its branches down, and the Vedic hymns are its leaves. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas.” (BG 15.1) Elsewhere in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says: Of all trees I am the banyan tree, (Bg 15.1) All the sages are depicted contemplating under the banyan, surrounded by disciples.
Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment while meditating under a banyan tree. And then onwards, the tree is also called as ‘Bodhi’ tree. Banyan often refers specifically to the Indian Banyan or Ficus benghalensis, though the term has been generalised to include all figs that share a unique life cycle. The tree was named ‘banyan’ by early travelers in India who observed that the shade of the tree was frequented by ‘banias’ or Indian merchants. The Portuguese used the word to refer specifically to Hindu merchants who usually conducted their business under the vast shelter of fig tree. The tree provided a shaded place for a village meeting or for merchants to sell their goods.
The Portuguese passed the name ‘bania’ to others. Eventually ‘banyan’ became the name of the tree itself! The tree Banyan is native to India and Pakistan and is found up to an altitude of 1200 m in the western part of the Indian peninsula, but now it grows widely throughout tropical Asia. Wonderful huge trunk-like roots, spreading out from extensive branches, are the specialty of banyan. A banyan starts its life as an epiphyte. It is really wonderful to see its seeds germinating from the cracks and crevices on a host tree, or even on structures like buildings and bridges! Banyan tree has medium, leathery and glossy green leaves with a special shape. Like most of the fig-trees, leaf bud is covered by two large scales. As the leaf develops the scales fall. Young leaves have an attractive reddish tinge. Banyans have unique fruit structures and are dependent on fig wasps for reproduction. Fruits called figs are about 1.8cm in diameter, orange-red turning scarlet when ripe. The fig is not a fruit, but it is some sort of pouch or a fleshy receptacle which contains hundreds of flowers. The fig ripen between February and May, when they become bright red and are very popular with birds, bats, squirrels, certain insects and monkeys.
The seeds of banyans are dispersed by fruiteating birds. The seeds germinate and send down roots towards the ground, and may envelop part of the host tree or building structure with their roots. It is why they are called ‘strangler fig.’ Older banyan trees are characterised by their aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. This huge tree towers over its neighbors and has the widest reaching roots of all known trees, easily covering several acres. It sends off new shoots from its roots, so that one tree is really a tangle of branches, roots, and trunks.
The banyan tree regenerates and lives for an incredible length of time–thus it is thought of as the immortal tree. Regardless of its origin, the tree needs lots of space, and the soil must be deep enough to let the roots grow down a long way. It is a large tree of about 20 m height with a well-developed crown. It can grow in a wide variety of soils and prefers deep sandy loam with a lot of moisture. It tolerates short spells of drought better than other evergreen species. The banyan saplings are extensively used for creating Bonsai, due to the complex structure of the roots and extensive branching. Taiwan’s oldest living bonsai is a 240-year-old banyan housed in Tainan! The wood and bark of the banyan tree are suitable for making paper, and the roots are often used to make ropes to secure wood bundles. Nepalese women crush the root of the banyan tree with a paste to create a hair and skin conditioner.
The banyan tree is also used to produce shellac, which is widely used as an adhesive and surface-finisher in the industrial world. Medicinal uses The Banyan tree has several medicinal properties. Its leaf, bark, seeds and fig are used for the variety of disorders like diarrhea, diabetes, polyuria and some other urine disorders. Ayurveda recommends the use of a concoction made with its astringent milky sap to arrest miscarriages. Therefore, the tree is associated with healing, protection, sensitivity, reliability and generosity. The sap treats external skin inflammations and bruising. The bark and seeds are used as a tonic to cool the body, as well as to treat patients with diabetes. The roots and sap are used to treat skin ulcers, dysentery, and toothaches. Twigs of the banyan tree are sold as toothpicks in India and Pakistan to promote dental health.
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The first banyan tree in the U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in Fort Myers, Florida. It was given to Edison by Harvey Firestone after Firestone visited India in 1925 and was planted in the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. The tree, originally only 4ft tall, now covers 400ft. Kolkata’s Botanical Garden is home to the world’s largest banyan tree, the Great Banyan. This “forest” is all one tree, approximately 250 years old. India’s second largest banyan is at the Theosophical Society in Chennai.