The traditional medicine is one of the oldest in world. It had different branches like Ayurveda,Yoga, Siddha, Tantric, and folk medicine. People used various herbs, metal and animals as medicine in order to cure their diseases.
The drugs in the pharmacopoeia of the Kaviraj or native medical practitioners are derived alike from the vegetable, animal and mineral kingdoms. Vegetable medicines are procured from the barks, roots, leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, juices, gum and wood of the plants. Their effects are said to vary with the period at which they are gathered. They are never procured from plants growing in jungle localities. And lucky days and hours are generally consulted by the Kaviraj in collecting them. Medicines derived from the animal kingdom are prepared from skin, hair, nails, blood, flesh, bones, fat, marrow, bile, milk and dejections such as urine and dung. Medicines prepared from skins, bones, and nails used as fumigation. Urine is always given internally as a laxative and tonic in spleen and liver diseases, leprosy, jaundice and anasacra. The urine of the cows and rhinoceroses is always preferred. Fat and marrow are used as an ointment and also given internally in cases of weakness. Blood is given in cases of loss of blood and flesh mixed with other medicines in cases of weakness, phthisis and nervous diseases. Bile is considered as a stimulant. Medicines revived from mineral kingdom consist of metals and salts of the latter, rock salt, borax, bit salt (Laban) and an impure soda are used as the principal ingredient. In former days, iron and tin were the only metals used in medicine by native physicians, but in more modern times, mercury, gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc have come more or less into general use. Mercury is extensively used. Hindu writers on meteria medica describe various processes for purifying it. Preparation medicine from gold said to increase memory and restore the power of manhood. Mercury, silver and lead are regularly mixed with gold and the manner which the gold is prepared invariable turns into an oxide. It is considered valuable as remedy in intermittent fevers, spleen disease, gonorrhea and consumption. Silver is worked up with sulphur and lemon juice over a furnace at a high heat. This preparation of acid, cooling and astrigen is given to promote appetite, strength, digestion and colour of skin. Copper worked up with sulphur, common salt and lemon juice over a furnace is used in fevers, diarrhea, spleen and diseases of liver and blood such as leprosy, piles etc. Preparation of lead is used in cases of diarrheas, gonorrhea, leprosy and ulcer and those of tin in obesity, worms and jaundice. Zinc is used in a same manner and for the same purposes as copper, sulphuret. Antimony is used as an emetic and in cases of eye disease. The preparation of iron is done with the sulphate and oxide of the metal. The lobar mandal is the ferruginous earth dug from the floor of the blacksmith’s shop.
The kabiraj or Hindu medical practitioners have not been educated in any established medical school, practise their art with much secrecy and has very little information can be obtained from them regarding their mode of treatment. The Civil Surgeon reports as follows – “in intermittent fevers during the cold stage, the patient is wrapped with blankets and the feet and hands are rubbed by an attendant, who warms his hands over a fire for the purpose. During the hot stage, pills are administered containing a preparation of mercury and haritaki (terminalia chebula) mixed with senna are given as an aperients. In the sweating stage, various powder are rubbed over the body such as Banhaldi or wild turmeric power of burnt shells etc. in order to check profuse perspiration. During the intermission, quinine is administered disguised by an admixture of a red powder called “rasasindhu”. Asnenic also is given and a medicine containing this drugs called bishbari (poison pills) has a great reputation. The ignorant natives believe that it contains the poison of cobra. Remittent fevers are treated differently. To relieve the intense headache which accompanies the disease the kabiraj applies bags of heated sands to the head. They also give aniseed water and decoction of neem leaves in very small quantities to relive thirst. In the next stage, pills containing mercury, sulphur, aconite, pepper, nut galls etc. are given drastic purgatives such as croton seeds boiled with cow dung are given. Bitter things such as decoctions of neem, golancha, chirata etc. are administered. In case of spleen, the use of ghee (classified butter) and milk as food is interdicted. The actual cautery is much used in the treatment of this disease.
In cholera carminatives and astrigen such as nut galls, nutmegs, cinnamon, cloves etc. are given initially followed by opium , hemp leaves (bhang) assafoetide, black salt (kalanamak) etc. in collapse of the body , the stimulant used consist of musk, nilakantha ginger campor etc. Mercury is also tried and the body is rubbed with turmeric, ginger and medicated water is strictly forbidden. In dysentery astringents such as nutmeg, opium, kurchi, mutha grass, bels (aegle marmelos) are given from the outset. In dropsy purgatives are frequently administered and patients are directed to live chiefly on milk and allow diet.