Myths about eggplant (brinjal) as medicine are holding up Indian release of GM brinjal, but brinjal is not a medicine

Book available as pdf for free download (see link below)

Previous posts at GMO Pundit have covered GM insect protected eggplant being developed as a new crop variety in India. This insect-protected crop, making use of Bt protein trait, could avoid a large amount of current synthetic pesticide spraying in India and prevent many poisoning risks to farmers and their familes. The Hindu newspaper story quoted below highlights how concerns about GM eggplant (brinjal) potentially  interferring with ayuvedic medicines in India have delayed governmental approval of insect-protected brinjal.

The Hindu : Sci-Tech / Agriculture : Lab test report to pave way for Bt brinjal release NEW DELHI, August 8, 2011

The government has ordered a laboratory test of to find out if genetically modified brinjal is fit for preparation of ayurvedic medicines, with a senior official saying its report in next two months could pave the way for commercial release of Bt brinjal.“Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under Ministry of Environment and Forest has ordered for lab test to assess compositional analysis to find out if ayurvedic principles are disturbed in Bt brinjal,”, the official said.P. Anand Kumar, Principal Scientist, National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) under Ministry of Agriculture told reporters here that the test is being conducted in National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad.
NIN is India’s premier nutrition research institute working under the aegis of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.The lab test report which is expected in next two months would pave the way for commercial release of Bt brinjal, he said.The NRCPB scientist said the test was ordered to clear apprehensions in a section on whether Bt variety of brinjal would have the same efficacy for preparing ayurvedic medicines as the non-GM.India had put on hold commercial cultivation of genetically modified brinjal in February 2010 in the backdrop of intense opposition from NGOs and several States.Mr. Kumar said there was no differences about scientific efficacy of GM crops among the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Science and Technology, ICAR and other governmental institutions…

Fortunately these issues are thoroughly examined in a recent book by Dr Kam Rao about the mooted medicinal qualities of brinjal that are allegedly threatened by biotech version of the crop. The executive summary of this book is provided below, as is a free-access link to the full book in pdf format. 

The bottom line message of this book: brunjal is not a medicinal plant. Solanum medicines come from other Solanum species. 


C Kameswara Rao
August 1, 2011

The activists opposing the commercialization of Bt brinjal have asserted that Bt brinjal would seriously affect the use of brinjal in the Alternative and Complementary Systems of Medicine (ACSM) in India, through ‘loss of synergy’. The then Minister for Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India (GoI), repeatedly echoed this view. While there was no appropriate and substantial documentation to justify this highly sensationalized claim in the MoEF’s Bt brinjal moratorium document (MD) of February 9, 2010 or elsewhere, the much repeated high decibel noise has clouded public mind and it became necessary to clarify on the issue in detail.

This article analyzes the issues raised and provides a detailed survey of authentic literature on the use of brinjal (Solanum melongena) and other species of Solanum in the ACSM in India, in particular Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopathy.

The issues addressed are 
a) Alternative and Complementary Systems of Medicine, 
b) Problems in establishing the identity of Indian medicinal plants,
c) Patterns of distribution of therapeutically active chemical compounds in plants,
d) Establishing identity of medicinal plant species cited in classical literature,
e) Reliability of sources of information on medicinal plants,
f ) Botanical and vernacular nomenclature of brinjal and relevant species of Solanum,
g) Dr G Sivaraman’s letter to the MoEF, and his reference to the CSIR publication Wealth of India, and Nair and Vasudevan’s book,
h) Use of species of Solanum in Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopathy,
i) Other issues raised by Dr Sivaraman (synergy, use of raw brinjal in medicine and safety of cooked Bt brinjal),
j) a concluding statement, 
k) 36 references, and
j) an Appendix containing the list of species of Solanum occurring in India. 

Amonga host of literature sources consulted, the more important ones are 
a) the Ayurvedic formulary of India, 
b) the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India, 
c) Siddha Materia Medica, 
d) Formulary of Siddha Medicines and 
e) an extensive compilation, the Database of Medicinal plants.

There is a lot of confusion in the botanical identity and nomenclature of several species of Solanum occurring in India. Several names of brinjal in Samskrith, Tamil, Arabic, Persian and Urdu are also applied to other species of Solanum in the classical literature on Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani, which is the main reason for erroneously considering some other species of Solanum as equivalent to brinjal (Solanum melongena) and attributing the medicinal uses of the former to the latter. While there can be honest errors of judgement, this state of confusion is being used deliberately, to oppose commercialization of Bt brinjal.

The bottom line is that while such wild species as Solanum indicum, Solanum nigrum, Solanum surattense and Solanum xanthocarpum are used in different ACSM both as single drugs and in formulations, Solanum melongena is not a significant drug and is not an ingredient in any formulation, in any of the ACSM. While every system indicated certain negative effects of brinjal including its allergenic potential, the Siddha system actually prohibits its consumption in certain disease conditions. The claim that brinjal is an important medicine in treating respiratory diseases has no basis in literature. The other claim that brinjal reduces cholesterol was clinically disproved in Brazil. The assertion that the transgenic Bt gene affects synergy in medicine using brinjal is inaccurate and irrelevant when brinjal is not used in medicine. The stray mention of some insignificant uses vii of brinjal as medicine was probably based on the properties of brinjal available centuries ago when the texts of classical medicine were compiled. These minor uses are no longer relevant as the present day cultivated brinjal (there is no wild brinjal) has undergone extensive genetic modification in conventional breeding during domestication through selection of more palatable and safer varieties, which means minimal active principles. In effect, Bt brinjal does not pose any threat to the use of non-Bt brinjal in medicine, as the scope for gene flow from Bt brinjal to non-Bt brinjal is almost non-existent.

August 2011
Issued in Public Interest
(Solanum melongena L.)
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© Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and
Education, No. 1, Gupta’s Layout, Southend Road,
Bangalore 560005, India

Citation: Kameswara Rao, C. 2011. Use of brinjal (Solanum melongena L.) in alternative systems of
medicine in India. FBAE, Bangalore.
Phone: 919845145777; E-mail:

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  1. One wonders how you could interfere with a “medicinal” practice that demonstrably does not work – surely to prove interference you’d have to prove efficacy of the thing being interfered with, at which point it would cease to be alternative medicine and would simply be called medicine.

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