: 2021  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 198--207

Compilation of herbal drug substitutes suggested in selected classical ayurvedic texts

C N Shanti Vasudevan1, Ima Neerakkal2,  
1 Research Scholar, Department of Botany, Sacred Heart College, Thevara, Kochi, Kerala, India
2 Associate Professor, Department of Botany, Sacred Heart College, Thevara, Kochi, Kerala, India

Correspondence Address:
C N Shanti Vasudevan
House No. 83, LPS Road, Palarivattom, Kochi - 682 025, Kerala


Introduction: Ayurvedic literature suggests the use of readily available substitute drugs (Abhava Pratinidhi Dravya) with similar properties (rasa, guna, and veerya) for genuine drugs in its scarcity or absence (Abhava Dravya). Data Source: Ayurvedic texts – Yogaratnakara, Bhavaprakasha, Bhaishajya Ratnavali, and Vaidya Chintamani. Review Methods: The present review focuses on enlisting such alternative substitute plants or plant parts suggested in ayurvedic texts – Yogaratnakara, Bhavaprakasha, Bhaishajya Ratnavali, and Vaidya Chintamani. The International Plant Names Index and the Plant List were referred for citing the latest scientific names. Results: The compiled list of original substitute drug pairs includes Sanskrit name, scientific name, family, and their habit. Two of the pairs were found repeated in all the four texts while five pairs were found in three texts. Fourteen pairs were found repeated in two texts. Some of the plants for whom substitutes are being suggested come under, Ashtavarga Rare Medicinal Plants. Conclusion: This concept needs to be scientifically analyzed for identifying genuine substitutes. Comparative scientific studies on original and substitutes suggested can help to avoid adulteration in medicinal plants and can also act as a conservation strategy to protect rare medicinal plants.

How to cite this article:
Vasudevan C N, Neerakkal I. Compilation of herbal drug substitutes suggested in selected classical ayurvedic texts.J Ayurveda 2021;15:198-207

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Vasudevan C N, Neerakkal I. Compilation of herbal drug substitutes suggested in selected classical ayurvedic texts. J Ayurveda [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 7 ];15:198-207
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Large number of plant species has become vulnerable to extinction due to urbanization and deforestation. The increasing demand for the medicinal plants by various processing industries (pharmaceuticals, food, cosmetics, perfumes, etc.) have led to overexploitation of plants.[1] Hence, there is an urgent need to develop methods for the conservation of plants.[2] Among the various strategies adopted for medicinal plant conservation, the concept of drug substitution mentioned in the ayurvedic literature can be considered a method of sustainable use of medicinal plant. The concept of drug substitution is accepted in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic literture suggests the use of readily available substitute drugs with similar properties (rasa, guna, and veerya) for genuine drugs in its scarcity or absence.[3] The concept of substitute has been mentioned in texts such as Charaka Samhita,[4] Bhavaprakasha Nighantu,[5] Bhaishajya Ratnavali,[6] Yogaratnakara,[3] Chikitsasara Sangraha,[7] and Ayurveda Saukhyam.[8] Of the different substitutes being suggested for several plants in ayurvedic texts, the present study focuses on enlisting such herbal drug substitutes enlisted in classical texts such as Yogaratnakara, Bhavaprakasha, Bhaishajya Ratnavali, and Vaidya Chintamani. The list includes Sanskrit names, binomial names, family, and habit of the plants.

 Materials and Methods


Yogaratnakara is a compilation work of the Indian Medical system. It is a well-known treaties on Indian Medicine as discussed in the several books of the ancient period to the later part of the 17th century A. D. In the chapter on basic concepts of Ayurveda in Yogartnakara, the concept of abavavarga (substitute drugs) has been suggested.[9]


Bhava Prakasha Nighantu written in the 16th century by Bhavamishra is renowned Ayurvedic pharmacopeia mostly of plant origin along with a concise description of drugs of metal and mineral origin with processing techniques and therapeutic uses. The book is unique as it includes information on contemporary drugs.[10]

Vaidya Chintamani

Vaidya Chintamani written by Vallabhacharya, an important treatise of Ayurveda from Andhra Pradesh is a bilingual work in the Sanskrit and Telugu language. The book contains large information about different Ayurvedic formulations with the details of their ingredients, method of preparation, mode of administration, anupana, and dose, etc. Details are very elaborative.

Bhaishajya Ratnavali

Bhaishajya Ratnavali is a classic work of Govindadas Sen compiling different categories of herbal and herbomineral formulations.[11]

Compilation of substitutes mentioned in selected Ayurvedic texts

Botanical identities of Sanskrit names of drugs mentioned in Ayurvedic texts were verified using The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India[12] and Madanapala Nighantu[13] Herbs with controversial identity were excluded. The list of original and substitute drugs mentioned in Yogaratnakara, Bhavaprakasha, Bhaishajya Ratnavali, and Vaidya Chintamani were tabulated along with their scientific names, families, and their habit. The International Plant Names Index[14] and the Plant List[15] were referred for citing the latest scientific names.


Original and substitute plant drug pairs suggested in the selected Ayurvedic texts were tabulated [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]. Among the enlisted pairs, two of the pairs were found repeated in all the four texts, whereas five pairs were found in three texts. Fourteen pairs were found repeated in two texts [Table 5]. Substitute drugs were suggested for plants coming under Ashtavarga – rare medicinal plants category.{Table 1}{Table 2}{Table 3}{Table 4}{Table 5}

 Discussion and Conclusion

Most of the original and substitute drugs mentioned in the Ayurvedic texts belonged to different angiosperm families. In few cases, gymnosperm drugs such as Taxus baccata L. and Abies spectabilis (D. Don) Mirb. were substituted by angiosperm plants Tagetes erecta L. and Elettaria cardamomum (L.) Maton, respectively. Angiosperms are ecologically dominant and more advanced group with potential for prolific reproduction, rapid colonization, and fast growth.[16]

In few cases, the substitute drug suggested came under the same family, which may be due to morphological similarity with the original drug as in case of Saccharum officianarum and its substitute Arundo donax both coming under Poaceae and Pimpinella anisum and its substitute Carum carvi coming under Apiaceae. Some original and substitute pairs suggested came under the same genus like, Piper longum-Piper nigrum and Solanum surattensis-Solanum indicum. The logic behind suggestion of these pairs could be justified by the presence of common phytoconstituents between them as reported in earlier works.[17] Substitution of sparsely available plant part with easily available ones is also mentioned, as in place of latex of Calotropis gigantea with its juice was being suggested.

Mention of the substitutes Plumbago indica and Solanum xanthocarpum for the original drugs Semecarpus anacardium and Clerodendrum serratum, respectively, in all the four texts referred can be supported by the common therapeutic uses suggested for the original and the substitute in The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India.[18] List of original drugs suggested included the drugs coming under Ashtavarga – rare medicinal plant.[19] Substitutes were suggested for such drugs.

Drugs coming under this group, Malaxis muscifera,[20] Fritillaria cirrhosa,[21] Lilium polyphyllum,[22] Polygonatum verticillatum,[23] Crepedium acuminatum,[23] Habenari intermedia,[24] and Platanthera edgeworthii are reported to be critically endangered, endangered, or threatened. Substitutes suggested for these drugs if scientifically studied can help in encouraging the usage of substitutes and thus act as a strategy for medicinal plant conservation. Several strategies such as in situ and ex situ conservation, cultivation practices, resource management, biotechnological approaches, and sustainable use of medicinal plant resources are being suggested for medicinal plant conservation.[25]

Ayurvedic literature on substitution is not supported by the scientific proof. Hence, the different substitutes suggested have to be systematically studied by further phytochemical and pharmacological studies to confirm the legitimacy behind the concept of Abhva Pratinidhi Dravya. The concept of drug substitution has been scientifically validated in pairs like Ativisha–Musta by pharmacognostic, phytochemical,[26] and pharmacological studies.[27] A review on herbal drug substitutes acting on the digestive system has been reported.[28] The legitimacy of the substitutes suggested can be evaluated by phytochemical and pharmacological studies and scientifically proven may help in reducing adulteration.

Financial support and sponsorship

Corresponding author thank UGC for receiving Teacher Fellowship under Faculty Development Programme during XIIth Plan period, from UGC, SWRO, Bangalore.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



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