Today I was reminded of older articles in this blog on an ancient magical plant called Soma. A drink from this plant gave ancient Aryans magical powers of mind, body and soul. The interested reader will easily find articles on it through using the search tool in the left side bar. Details there are not repeated here.
The ancient Soma plant is now lost or extinct. Several scholars have made many attempts to identify it in modern times, from ephedra to magic mushrooms, each one supporting his own proposals enthusiastically but in the opinion of this author none seem to fit the bill.
In the last decade or so, availability of internet and google search makes the task of a world wide search of plants much easier. This blogger did precisely that some time ago leading to articles just mentioned. As a result of the search, the author narrowed down two plants that came closest to ancient descriptions. These are the Cornus Sericea as found in North America presently and the Sugar Cane found in many different parts of the world as good possibilities. Both grow near lakes and water bodies in wild and both have some sugar content and medicinal value. Both plants have multiple tall stalks with knots in red, green, yellow and tawny colors, both have found use as medicine and food. However the juice from modern varities of the sugar cane plants comes nowhere near the magical plant Soma in its effect as per ancient descriptions.
In the Himalyan region Ephedra gerardiana has been used in India since the Vedic period as a soma substitute when Aryans were no longer able to find the original plant known as soma. Many people took to preparing the sacred soma beverage with substitute plants, one of which was E. gerardiana or Somlata... The effects of Ephedra gerardiana are more stimulating than visionary and it also does not conform to descriptions in Rig Veda.
Unlike magic mushrooms Soma did not cause any hallucinations or departure form reality, like alcohol Soma made humans happy but unlike alcohol it increased physical coordination for warriors and did not intoxicate, like cannabis it was medicinal and meditative but unlike cannabis it made persons more awake and physically active and unlike ephedrine it did not just make a person more awake but also increased spiritual insights. It seems to have contained organic components not yet discovered by modern humans but found in ancient Soma of the Aryans.
Since the effect of plant extracts depends a lot on the process used, an opinion was expressed that cornus Sericea juice is presently not extracted in the best possible way and that an attempt be made to extract and process it as close to the original description in ancient Aryan Vedas. However, since the notes were published, no results have been forthcoming and the author’s attention returns to sugar cane.
It may be mentioned that while in later times after Soma was lost, people attempted to replace it with ephedra including Persian Aryans and various mixtures from other plants even giving it the name Soma or similar names but none seems to come anywhere near the Soma of Rig Veda and nowhere does the Rig Veda indicate any mixing of plants in its very many hymns on Soma. The Rig Veda describes clearly the crushing to extract juice, filtering through wool and purification in wooden vats of a single plant. However it must be mentioned that milk was added to Soma juice and this appears to be an essential step from its repeated mention in the Rig Veda. It is not clear if the milk underwent fermentation as in the Kumis drink of Central Asian warriors. Milk may also have a lot do with the effect of the final drink so prepared.
In many ways ancient descriptions of Soma are much closer to Sugar cane juice than that that of Cornus Sericea. It is very sweet unlike Cornus Sericea, most often tawny in color and the Vedic Soma juice was prepared similar to modern processes. It needs many persons to carry bundles; it is crushed, in ancient times with stones, its juice flows through channels. Further this juice is frothy as described in the Veda and needs to be filtered. In ancient times filtration was done through wool filters. It was then collected in wooden vats and left to purify for some time. Sugar cane juice begins to ferment quickly and in a wooden vat this process is likely to be quicker, especially if the same vat is reused as it must have been.
The resulting drink is indeed pleasant and exhilarating. Soma did not intoxicate and a small percentage of alcohol will not do so either. However a juice so prepared with modern sugar cane still does not come close to the properties of ancient Soma. Even if some considered ancient descriptions exaggeration, ancient Aryans demonstrated its potency by composing voluminous Vedas and even memorizing them in a way only a few autistic persons can in modern world.
A Soma Variety of Sugar Cane ?
A Soma Variety of Sugar Cane ?
There is a possibility that in the past wild varieties of sugar cane existed that contained other compounds that would bring the properties of an unknown variety of sugar cane close to that of Soma. It would be worth expanding searches of Soma in sugar cane varieties. If an ancient species has been lost perhaps with modern techniques of developing new varieties and cross breeding it may still be recovered. Stevens Michael Brumbley et al of the University of Queensland, 2011 have described in their patent that the sugar cane plant is highly suited to genetic modification
The sugar cane plant because of its highly efficient C4 carbon assimilation mechanism, a rapid growth rate and large quantities of sucrose in its stems has ideal properties of a bioreactor. The plant may produce with some genetic modification any nucleic acid which encodes a protein, polypeptide or peptide of interest and this includes phenethylamine, a compound that has effects similar to many described for Soma. However while in isolated chemical form this chemical has harmful side effects, these are expected to be minimal or absent in a natural combination as produced by a living plant. Such a genetic modification of sugar cane and its processing my method similar to the original Soma recipe may lead a drink similar to the original Soma drink and recovery of a sugar cane variety close to the original, now likely extinct plant. Further work in this direction appear highly promising.