Shilajit is the most important drug of Ayurvedic and folk- medicine systems. In the raw form it is a bituminous substance, which is a compact mass of vegetable organic matter composed of dark red gummy matrix. It is bitter in taste, and its smell resembles cow's stale urine. The botanical name of Shilajit is Asphaltum (mineral pitch).
In the Ayurvedic texts it is called as silajatu or shilajatu, but is commonly known as Shilajit. Its Sanskrit meaning is "conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness." Several other terms like dhaturas, dhatusara, shiladhatu, etc. also have been used for it in ancient medical texts like Sushruta Samhita, Charak Samhita, Rasarangini, etc. The term dhau, which was used as synonyms of Shilajit like dhahurasa, dhahusara etc., was simply to emphasise its potentialities as rarayana, which increases the activities of the saptadhatus of the body.
Shilajit usually collected over the ground or is found flowing out from between fissures in the rocks in summer months due to strong heat of the sun. In India, it is found in the romantic surroundings of the Himalayas: from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Kashmir in the west. It is also found in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, and Norway, where it is collected in small quantities from steep rock faces at altitudes between 1000 and 5000 m. Shilajit samples from different region of the world have different physiological properties.
In the Charak Samhita, Shilajit is described as a product of four minerals: gold, silver, copper and iron, whereas Susruta Samhita included two more minerals, lead and zinc in its composition. According to the predominance of the minerals of the source rock, it was classified into four categories: Sauvarna, Rajat, Tamra and Lauha. The last variety Lauha shilajit or blackish-brown Shilajit is common and is supposed to be most effective. Charaka Samhita mentions that without the aid of Shilajit no curable disease can be alleviated.
According to Susruta Samhita 15,32-40, that obesity can be cured by taking enemas of drugs with liquefying properties which contain minerals like Silajatu, cow's urine, the three myrobalans, honey, barley etc. Traditionally people use it with pure milk to enhance energy, sexual and spiritual power.
Many researchers claim that Shilajit exuding from the rocks of mountains is basically derived from vegetative source. Several shlokas of Susruta Samhita and Rasarangini also maintain this point of view. According to Sushruta, in the months of May-June the sap or juice of plants comes out as gummy exudation from the rocks of mountains due to strong heat of sun and Rasarangini, Dwarishtarang also claim that the Shilajit is an exudation of latex gum-resin etc. of plants which comes from the rocks of mountains in presence of scorching heat. But the exact source of the origin of Shilajit is still under controversy.
There are several hypotheses regarding the origin of Shilajit:
Shilajit is most important drug for many diseases. It was used as a drug in prehistoric periods. There is evidence of Shilajit (Silajatu) in the Indus civilization. Traditionally it is used as power increasing tonic. The following health properties are found in Shilajit:
Shilajit is a humus rich blackish-brown substance, which is very useful in many diseases and serves as a potent tonic. But its source of origin is still under controversy. Traditionally it is also considered to increase virility, cure diabetes, and in Ayurvedic medicine system of India, it is used against various diseases.
Joshi, G. C., K. C. Tiwari, N. K. Pande and G. Pande. 1994. Bryophytes, the source of the origin of Shilajit a new hypothesis. B.M.E.B.R. 15(1-4): 106-111.
Ghosal, S., B. Mukherjee and S. K. Bhattacharya. 1995. Ind. Journal of Indg. Med. 17(1): 1-11.
Ghosal, S., J. P. Reddy and V. K. Lal. 1976. Shilajit I.: chemical constituents. Journ. Pharm. Sci. (USA) 65(5): 772-73.
Phillips, Paul. On Shilajit on the Internet.