Newsletter, April-June 2006


 D.K. Ved and Archna Singh

 Since ancient times, the drug 'Vidanga' or 'Baibidanga' has been an important ingredient in a number of ayurvedic formulations. Vidanga has found a mention in all the three ancient Indian ayurvedic treatises namely Charakh Samhita, Sushurta Samhita and Ashtanga hridayam.  Besides Ayurveda, Vidanga is reported to be used in Unani (Baobarang), Siddha (Vaivilangam), Folk, Tibetan (Byi dan ga) and Homopathic (Embelia ribes) systems of medicines as well. Even today, the drug Vidanga, generally comprising of red or black globular mature dried fruits is commonly sold in most of the raw drug markets in India. This drug is highly esteemed as a powerful anthelmintic and is used as an ingredient of applications particularly for ringworm and other skin diseases. In recent times, 'Vidanga' has received a fresh impetus in view of the extensive experimental and clinical trials on its contraceptive potentiality.

Medicinal Value and Application

The dried fruit of Vidanga is considered anthelmintic astringent, carminative, alternative and stimulant. It has been employed in India, since ancient times, as anthelmintic and is administered as powder, usually with milk, followed by a purgative. The dried fruits are used in decoction for fevers and for diseases of the chest. An infusion of the roots is given for coughs and diarrhoea. Aqueous extracts of the fruit show anti-bacterial activity against staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. Vidanga is used as anthelmintic and in flatulence of children. In Unani medicine, the seeds are used for kidney affections. It is also used for the treatment of dental, oral and throat troubles. When used with Ficus religiosa and borax in milk, it acts as a quick aborticide. It is also reportedly used for treating leprosy.

The source

Many scholars of ayurveda and botany have correlated Vidanga to the plant Embelia ribes Burm. f.. Vidanga was included as official drug in the Indian Pharmacopoeia in the year 1966 and the botanical origin was described as fruits of E. ribes only. Since then, it is widely accepted that the botanical source of the drug 'Vidanga' is the dried berries of fruits of E. ribes belonging to family Myrsinaceae. There are however two more species of the same family, namely E. tsjeriam cottam A. DC. (Syn. E. robusta C.B. Clarke and E. acutipetallum Lam. ExHassk. S.M.& M.R.) and Myrsine africana L. which is also commonly traded under the name 'Vidanga or Baibidanga'. Whereas E. tsjeriam cottam, also sold in the name Vidanga bheda, is a well-known substitute, M. africana is known to be used more as an adulterant (Sareen, 1996). According to Balwant Singh et al. 1972, sometimes the fruits of E. tsjeriam-cottam have been used either mixed up with it or in place of it, but they, too, have been reported to be more or less similar in properties. These two drug sources are found to be closely allied to the former both morphologically as well as chemically in terms of their active principle namely Embelin (Embelic acid, 2,5-di-OH-3-unde3cyl-1, 4-benzoquinone). Embelin is a characteristic constituent of many of the species belonging to the family Myrsinaceae. However, the amount of the active principle present in each of these species varies. Study of the market samples of this raw drug (Vidanga) has revealed that fruits of another species, of Myrsinaceae namely Rapanea wightiana Mez (=Myrsine capitellata Wall var lanceolata C. B. Clarke) are also encountered. It is a variable species of Rapanea capitellata (Wall) Mez (=M. capitellata Wall) which includes 2 or 3 varieties. The fruit is reported to be edible and Seeds contain embelin (1.6%). However, it is difficult to underpin this species as a probable candidate for Vidanga as we do not have access to enough records of work and literature to support this fact.

The Distinguishing Features of Embelia ribes, E. tsjeriam-cottam and Myrsine africana

Although the fruits of these three species appear to be almost similar in size and shape, E. ribes having smallest size and M. africana being largest of the three, there are characteristic distinguishing features of each of them.  The fruits of E. ribes which is accepted to be the valid source of the drug Vidanga, as described by Sareen (1996), are globular, dull red or brown colour, up to 4 mm in diameter, more often with a five partite persistent calyx and a short stalk. The surface of the fruit is warty. The thin pericarp encloses a single seed of red colour, which is enveloped in a delicate membrane. It has a faint and spicy odour and is pungent with astringent taste. The fruits of E. ribes, resemble black pepper fruits in appearance and dried fruits are commonly employed as adulterant of black pepper. Sareen also describes E. tsjeriam-cottam and M. africana as a common substitute and adulterant of this drug respectively. E. tsjeriam - cottam is also identified as a substitute of E. ribes by Balwant Singh et al. The dry fruit of E. tsjeriam-cottam called Vidanga bheda in Ayurvedic materia-medica, are similar in size and shape to those of E. ribes but differ in the structure and the colour of the outer surface, which is not warty but shows fine parallel striations running from the base to apex. The colour is purplish red. The odour is similar to that of the fruit of E. ribes but the taste is pungent and oily. The characteristic feature of this species is the presence of oil glands in the outer mesocarp, this feature is totally absent in the fruits of E. ribes. The fruits of Vidanga bheda are more commonly available in the Indian Market. In fact our raw drug collection from various markets namely Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Amritsar, Orissa and Chattisgarh were found to contain seeds of E. tsjeriam-cottam and not E ribes. Same is also reported by Shah and Kapoor (1974), who studied the market samples of Vidanga from Tamil Nadu, Delhi, and U.P and observed that all the market samples collected by them too contained the fruits of E. tsjeraim-cottam and not the fruits of E. ribes. E. tsjeraim-cottam is considered to have similar properties and are generally used together or as substitute for each other.  Whereas the fruits of Myrsine africana of the same family may be regarded as one of the known adulterant. This material is of larger size, about 5 to 6.5 mm in diameter, reddish brown in colour and has a smooth outer surface. The characteristic odour and pungent taste of E. ribes and E. tsjeriam-cottam is missing in this case.

(raw drug pictures of E. ribes and E. tsjeriam-cottam to be included)

Current Importance In Trade

It is known to be in extensive trade in local, regional as well as global market. The annual domestic consumption of this raw drug and the volumes that are traded in the raw drug markets is notably high. The market studies conducted in some of the major raw drug markets during the period 1997-2000, has revealed that the drug is dealt in high volumes estimated to be about 500tons per year, commanding a price ranging anywhere between Rs.60 to Rs. 250 per Kg across various trade centres located in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Amritsar, Orissa and Chattisgarh. The summarised information presented in the accompanying table provides the market data on Vidanga from across some of the major markets.

Table: Trade information on Vidanga across some of the important raw drug markets

Embelia ribes / Embelia tsjeriam-cottam                                    Habit: Liana;           Parts: Fr (R), Fr.(B)

Sl. No.

Name of The Raw Drug Market

Trade Name

Rate (Rs. / Kg)

Quantity (Kg)


Hyderabad Market

Baibidang red(Fr.-R), Baibidang black (Fr.-B), Vai-vidang (Fr.)

Fr (R&B):180,                 Fr: 150-160

Fr. 4000-5000


Delhi Market


Fr. 135-160



Mumbai Market

Vaividang, Vaividang (Red), Vavding (Kala), Vavding Lal Kala

Fr. 60-120, Fr(R): 60-250 Fr.(B):110-160



Calcutta Market

Bai-Bidang, Baibiranga (Vavding) Red or Black

Fr. (R&B):94-100

Fr. 10000-80000


Dhamtari Market, Chattisgarh

Vai - Vidang

Fr.: 85.00

100000 - 500000


Jagdalpur Market, Chattishgarh

Vai - Vidang (black)

Fr. (B): 70.00

100000 - 500000


Keshkal Market, Orissa

Vai - Vidang (black)

Fr. (B): 70.00

100000 - 500000


Raipur Market Study, Chattisgarh

Vai - Vidang (black)

Vai - Vidang (red)

Fr. (B): 80.00

Fr. (R): 95.00

100000 - 500000


Bagdihi Market, Orissa

Vai - Vidang (black)

Fr. (B): 65.00


The commercial importance of this plant drug is also confirmed by the study conducted by CERPA, New Delhi, under the aegis of Dept. of ISM & H in 2000-2001. This study has estimated the domestic consumption of Vidanga to be of the order of about 400 tons, valued approximately at Rs. 400 lacs, for the year 1999-2000 and is one of the top 50 traded plant drugs in India. This study has also estimated the annual growth rate of about 23 % and projected the demand to touch 1000 tons by 2004-2005.

The demand for Vidanga is being met entirely from wild collections and no commercial cultivation is underway anywhere in India. It constitutes an integral part of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) or Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) collection and trade by the tribal and locals living in and around the forests, thus playing an important role in the household and local economy of a community or a village. Besides this, the dried fruits of the species under the name Embelia, are also reported to be exported to Europe.

The Issue

The issue of identification of plant sources of Vidanga, as available in the plant raw drug markets across the country and used as raw material by the industry for production of formulations of indigenous systems of medicine, along with the forests of specific bio-geographic regions, which are providing this important plant drug has been engaging our attention. It is obvious that the large volume (approx. 500 tons) is not obtainable from E. ribes which occurs sporadically in the Western Ghats, outer Eastern Himalayan region and North East India. E. ribes is a large woody climber and the plant generally bears fruits on the branches climbing high up on tall trees like Vateria indica L. in Southern India. As a result, the procurement of sizeable quantities of fruits from such wild woody climbers seems extremely difficult. In contrast, E. tsjeriam-cottam is a large woody scandent or straggling shrub (rarely erect shrub) and is wider spread in distribution and thus is more accessible source for the raw drug. This could be one of the reasons for most of the market samples, from different markets, predominantly containing the fruits of E. tsjeriam-cottam. The proportion of fruits of E. ribes in the market samples of Vidanga, consisting of fruits of both species of Embelia, has been observed to be less than 1 %. The sizeable proportion of E. tsjeriam-cottam presently seems to be collected from Bastar region (Chattisgarh). Though there is no serious problem of identification in the case of E. ribes, however given the importance of this drug, morphology (the minute size and shape) and the volumes potentially available from its wild populations, the probability of substitution or adulteration is high.

Our studies, on the market samples, so far suggest that Vidanga is being obtained from four different plant species namely E. ribes, E. tsjeriam-cottam, Myrsine africana and Rapanea wightiana. There is need to carry out more indepth and thorough studies to understand the extent of volumes harvested from different plant species, of different bio-geographic regions, and traded/used as Vidanga.

News Scan

Saving medicinal plants and biodiversity

Mar 10 2006

Category: News

Place: Pune

The Medicinal Plants Conservation Centre (MPCC), based in Pune, Maharashtra, has initiated a conservation venture to tackle the problem. The centre, set up by Rural Communes, a Mumbai-based NGO, has, with help from the Maharashtra forest department and the Union ministry of environment and forests, identified and managed 13 Medicinal Plant Conservation Areas (MPCA) adjoining forest lands across the state. These MPCAs were selected to represent different eco-climatic and altitudinal zones, and plant species diversity.

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Herbal couture

Jun 23 2006

Category: News

Place: New Delhi

Anitha K. Moosath

Ayur vastra... the revival of a dying family tradition.

Roots, flowers, leaves, seeds and bark of around 200 herbs go into the making of the dyes.

Chandan\' saris, `Indigo\' shirts, `Khus khus\' purdahs Thiruvalluvar Handlooms unfolds a vibrant herbal couture at its Thumpodu outlet in downtown Thiruvananthapuram. The seeds of this herbal couture `ayur vastra\' revolution were sown more than a decade ago, when a few youngsters got together to root out the exploitation of weavers in the nearby handloom hub of Balaramapuram.

The Handloom Weavers Development Society was formed soon after and among its members were a few from the Kuzhivila family. One of their forefathers, C.R. Ayyappan Vaidyar, was the court physician to Sree Moolam Tirunal of the erstwhile princely State of Travancore. He was a weaver too and provided the royal family clothes dyed in herbs.

\"The family tradition was dying and we wanted to revive it. Moreover, herbs seemed a bright alternative to synthetic dyes,\" says K. Rajan, chief technician at the society\'s dyeing unit. \"With the little knowledge I had of this tradition, we experimented a lot. We initially displayed the clothes at exhibitions and it caught the fancy of quite a few.\" The clientele kept growing and about nine years ago, the Thumpodu shop was opened. The society got a boost three years ago, when a Rs 19-lakh Japanese grant came almost like a windfall. It set up its own dye house and bought a few machines.

Organic process

\"The entire process is organic. The cloth is bleached with cow\'s urine, which has high medicinal value. The dyeing gum too is herbal. It does not pollute like synthetic dye. And the waste is used as bio manure and to generate bio gas.\"

Roots, flowers, leaves, seeds and bark of around 200 herbs go into the making of the dyes. The material worked on is mostly cotton and silk; there are a few sample pieces in wool and jute as well.

Health benefits

\"The clothes sell not just because of the `green\' label. Herbal clothes have proven good for the body. Indigo is good for the skin, khus khus helps fight asthma and so on,\" says Satheesh, a society member. The medicinal quality will last longer, if natural oil soaps are used for washing, he adds.

Last year, the State Coir Department conducted a six-month clinical trial at Ayurveda College, Thiruvananthapuram. Four rooms were set aside for treating rheumatism, allergy, hypertension, diabetes, psoriasis and other skin ailments. The clothes, bed linen and mattresses for patients were dyed in herbs and the walls, ceiling and floor lined with medicated coir.

\"We treated around 40 people. And the response was remarkably good, especially in cases of arthritis and skin ailments,\" says Dr Vishwanathan, former head of the Drug Research Department of the college.

\"It was all herbs in the air clothes, linen and wall lining. It effected a rejuvenation of sorts. In the last 7-8 years, my sugar levels had never fallen so low. And now, it does not shoot to dangerous levels as before. Of course, I am on ayurveda medicines as follow-up,\" says G.V. Das, who was part of the clinical trial.

Growing demand

Herbal mattresses, especially those filled with khus khus, are priced Rs 2,000 each and have become popular.\"Khus Khus keeps the body really cool. There is a lot of demand from Ayurveda hospitals and heritage resorts,\" says Satheesh. `Chandan\' and `khus khus\' saris with thin `zari\' border are moving really well. \"It feels great to wear the essence of herbs. It breathes in positive vibes,\" says Jayashree, a bank employee. Herbal reams from Thumpodu are reaching foreign shores as well, although the society is not into direct exports. \"There is a lot of demand from Italy, Germany, France, the US and Gulf. They mainly buy dress material, bed linen and furnishing,\" says Rajan. The society members feel that the khus khus purdahs will be a big hit in Saudi Arabia. Decking up houseboat interiors with medicated coir is next on their agenda. \"So much effort has gone into making ayur vastra that we want to preserve our rights,\" says Dr Ravi, who was advisor to the Government in charge of sustainable development and offered all help for this experiment. A scientific validation study is under way at the Regional Research Laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram. Once it is over, the society\'s patent dreams may just go green.

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ICMR To Develop Drugs From Medicinal Plants

Jun 28 2006

Category: News

Giving an impetus to the traditional medicinal system, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) today signed an MoU with National Innovation Foundation (NIF) to develop drugs from medicinal plants or multi-herb formulations that have never been compiled.

The MoU that is valid for next five years was signed by ICMR Director General N K Ganguly and NIF Executive Vice President Anil K Gupta.

As per the MoU, the ICMR will work towards validating the safety and efficiency of the practices that are claimed to have therapeutic value by grassroot healers.

"This step will also serve to recognise, respect and reward the knowledge-rich, economically poor indigenous people," an ICMR release said.

The ICMR will be utilising a huge database of 30,000 medical practices prepared by the NIF, an autonomous body sponsored by Science and Technology Department, through its 'Honeybee Network'.

The database has a compilation of rare medicinal practices which were never codified or authenticated by any medical research agency. These are also not mentioned in the classical texts of either Ayurveda, Siddha or Unani, the release added.

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