Socio-cultural, Ecological and Religious Importance of Plants as Mentioned in the Scriptures (Part-2)

By BALRAM (09-07-2019)


Each and every individual plant received attention and was studied for the benefit of mankind.

According to Manusmriti, plants have been classified as follows—

  1. osadhi (the plants which die after ripening of fruits)
  2. vanaspati (the plants that bear fruits only)
  3. vrksa (the plants that bear either fruits alone or flowers alone)
  4. gulma (shrubs)
  5. trna (grass) and
  6. valli (creepers entwining support).

The Caraka Samhita, on the other hand, contains reference of classification of plants in which four divisions of plants are observed .These are vanaspati, vanaspatya, osadhi and virudh. In the Caraka Samhita, plants are also classified on the basis of their medicinal properties. In the Baudhayana Dharmasutra, the plants are divided into two broad classes as osadhi and vanaspati. Vanaspati  is used to mean the trees that bear fruits only, but no flowers.

In the Bhagavata purana  six classes of plants are described. These are—

  1. druma (trees that bear both flowers and fruits)
  2. vanaspati (trees that bear fruits only)

     3. osadhi (medicinal plants)

4. lata (creepers)

     5. vlrudh (creepers that creep on the ground)

6. tvaksdra (plant with tough bark having sara flowing through the bark).


In Matsyapurana a wider specification of plants had been described.

These are:

i) vrksa ii) vanaspati iii) vanaspatya iv) lata v) virudh vi) valli vii) pratana viii) gulmaj ix) trna and x) osadhi.


The principal division of trees in the Agni purana is observed to be three, such as, the vanaspatis, vanaspatyas and osadhis.

In the Brahmavaivarta purana, the descriptions of seven classes of plants are found. It is mentioned there that vrksa, trna, lata, gulma and virudh of Brindavana were appeared as Lord Krsna to Brahma. Vanaspati or the fruit bearing trees are repeatedly mentioned in the Purana in connection with the description of Brindavana.

In the Agni purana and the Matsya purana, the plants are categorized according to their medicinal properties. In the Agni purana, medicinal herbs are described to have rasas (juices). It is mentioned that amla and lavana rasas are produced from Soma (the moon) while katu and kasaya rasas are said to have come from Agni (fire) . Besides, five kinds of medicinal preparations are referred in the Agni purana.



Plants and Trees have been regarded as living beings since Vedic times. Ancient works like the Rgveda, Manusamhita, the Mahabharata etc. contain references regarding the consciousness of trees and plants.


The Vedic seers discovered the plant’s power of hearing. In the Rgveda [RV. X.97.21], it is mentioned that the plants possessed the sense of hearing. Similar references are also found in the Mahabharata [srotrena grhyate sabdastasmacchrn-vanti padapah/MBPI, XII.184.12] where it is said that the plants are endowed with the sensibilities of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching and the feelings of joys and sorrows. Consciousness in plant is recognized in Manusamhita [antah samjna bhavantete sukha duhkha samanvitah / MS. 1.49]. In the Bhagavata purana [BHP. III. 10.20], it is mentioned that life exists in plants which possess dormant consciousness and sensation of touch.  In the Agni purana [prasastam capyasokanam kamimpadatadanam/ AP. 247.30] also, it is mentioned that plants possess the sensation of touch. It is referred in connection with the growth and nourishment of trees. It is stated that asoka tree blossoms at the touch of lady’s feet. In the Agni purana, knowledge of the plant physiology is revealed in the section of the Vrksdyur veda.

In Agni puranait is mentioned that the plants that are grown at an interval of twenty cubits become well developed; an interval of sixteen cubits are also found to produce good plants. But an interval of twelve cubits is not recommended. It was also observed that the trees which were closely planted become fruitless. In the Mahabharata, [MBH. XII. 184.16] the process of photosynthesis is referred. It is described thus in the epic that just as water is sucked through the lotus so also plants with roots drink (absorb and draw up through the stem) watery solution with air.


Some plants are described in the Puranas having medicinal properties to fight with different diseases. Some of the plants of this category are:

  1. i) dadrughna It is so called because it is found in the Puranas to be used to cure dadru or ringworm.
  2. ii) Arsoghna — It is so named because it is found efficacious for curing arsa.

3. Krmighna is named since it is effective for curing intestinal worms.

4. iv) Sothaharim is named in the Agnipurana as it cures swelling caused by dropsy. It is recommended as a beneficial plant in removing dropsy and accordingly the name sothaharim (curer of swelling) comes.


Some plants were very much used for various domestic purposes. In this regard, khadira was a common plant, the twig of which was used by the then people as a toothbrush and hence it was known to the people as dantadhavana.


To be continued in Part-3