Page:Indian Medicinal Plants (Text Part 1).djvu/44

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xxxvi
INTRODUCTION.

frame is liable, much of the knowledge in regard to it is exact, the outcome of intelligent observation and enquiry, ** "

It may be that much of the knowledge of plants, once possessed by the ancestors of the present aborigines, has become lost to the world owing to their ignorance of the art of writing.*

But we should not treat with contempt the knowledge of herbs possessed by aborigines. There can be little doubt that their "medicine men" possess a remarkably accurate knowledge of the medical uses of the plants around them. We should remember that they have taught us the uses of some of our most important drugs. It is to them that we are indebted for our knowledge of Cinchona in malaria, Digitalis, Strophanthus and Physiostigma in heart diseases, and of Quassia as a bitter tonic. We cannot, therefore, sufficiently admire the practical wisdom of the ancient Hindus when they enjoined on the votaries of the healing art the penetration forests and the climbing of mountains to examine the qualities and properties of the medicines in their natural situations, and gather information regarding them from hunters and shepherds who may have had opportunities of witnessing their effects.†

  • Writing of America one botanist says that "when our forefathers came to this country they found the natives in possession of much medical knowledge of plants. Having no remedies prepared by scientific skill, the Indians were led, by necessity, to the use of those which nature afforded them; and, by experience and observation, they had arrived at many valuable conclusions as to the qualities of plants. Their mode of life, leading them to penetrate the shades of the forest, and to climb the mountain precipices, naturally associated them much with the vegetable world. The Indian woman, the patient sharer in these excursions, was led to look for such plants as she might use for the diseases of her family. Each new and curious plant, though not viewed by her with the eye of a botanist, was regarded with scrutinizing attention : the colour, taste, and smell were carefully remarked, as indications of its properties. But the discoveries and observations of the Indians have perished with themselves ; having had no system for the classification or description of plants, nor any written language by which such a system might have been conveyed to others, no other vestige remains than uncertain tradition of their knowledge of the medicinal qualities of plants."

† That much of the knowledge of medicinal plants by the primitive man was obtained from hunters and shepherds is evident from what Dr. Raymond Crawford, M. A., M D., (Oxon), Physician to King's College Hospital, London said in his presidential address delivered before the section of the History of Medicine, reported in the Lancet from which it has been reproduced in in the Scientific American Supplement of April 14 and 21, 1917.

"Man, doubtless, will have acquired much of his knowledge of the

nutritive and medicinal value of plants by the same method as the lower animals, by experience. Like them, too, he will have profited by imitation, and imitation embracing his observation of the habits of the lower animals. It must have been of immense importance to man, when he depended largely