Use in Indigenous Health Practices.
For more than three thousand years, shilajit otherwise known as mumijo or mineral pitch has been venerated as an elixir in traditional health practices such as Unani, Siddha, and Ayurveda, particularly known for its regenerating and stabilizing properties. In archaic writings, Vaidyas and Hakims have touted its powers and given it a special place among health agents. They use this herbal concoction for its astounding effects on the mind and body. They have even gone so far as to say that there is barely a curable ailment that cannot be treated with the substance, thereby making it a substance that provides “life expansion.”
The chemical makeup of shilajit is made of hundreds of medical plants fermented naturally for at least 40 years under specific atmospheric conditions. These constituents make for the thick, sticky, and dark appearance of the mineral pitch.
Shilajit emerges from the process of humification. During this process, plant fossils and other organic matter that have been compressed under numerous rock, undergoing extreme metamorphosis under desired conditions, such as precipitation, air pressure, solar radiation, extreme temperature changes. Shilajit is a by-product of that transformation.
Research points to latex-rich vegetation growing in the vicinity of shilajit bearing rocks as the most probable source of mineral pitch. Examples are Trifolium repens and Euphorbia royleana. Bryophytes like mosses and liverworts have also been seen growing in the same areas, and are believed to be sources of shilajit. A closer look into these bryophytes shows that they have the same nutrients and minerals occurring in mineral pitch.
Places of Origin
Because of the intense temperature variations and extreme pressure experienced by the mountainous areas of Pakistan, China, Nepal, India, Russia Tibet, Scandinavia, and Central Asia, these places have come to be naturally rich in shilajit. Extreme conditions of nature ensure that it flows abundantly out of these rocks.
Shilajit was first documented in a classical medical scripture known as Charaka Samhita. Where it was referred to as “Shilajatu,” a dark gelatinous matter emitted from the mountainsides of Nepal and India when the rays of the sun warmed the rocks in the months of Jyestha and Ashadha. Sushruta Samhita’s treatise also discussed how these rocks bear gold and other metals, and how they cause the secretion of the substance when they are heated. It goes on to lay out the purification before it can be safe for consumption.
Mumijo is a substance that is virtually similar to shilajit, except for some minor differences in chemical composition. It is said to be discovered by the indigenous people living in the Altai mountains ( A mountain range in Central and East Asia, where China, Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan meet). Folk people residing along the Caucusus Mountains and other Eurasian ranges have also come to know of its medical use.
As unfamiliar, as these may sound, it would be surprising to know that that they are merely derivations of a term more common among the contemporary population: mumie, the Greek word for preservation, as in the mummified body.
Mumijo is also known by other names all similar-sounding variations such as:
It’s health properties have been lauded in texts across the world and among various civilizations: Sumerian, Persian, Egyptian, Turkish, Arabic, and Persian.
While mumijo and shilajit are quite similar to the point that some sources refer to them interchangeably.
When Was Mumijo Discovered In Altai Mountain Ranges?
Villagers in the Eastern parts of Asia and Europe have been using mumijo as a health enhancer well before it was ever documented. Because of this, that specific time of discovery cannot be ascertained.
It is most likely that Himalayan villagers were first to discover it and its health properties since it is the Himalayan rocks that bear this substance in abundance. Oral records tell us of huge white monkeys that would travel to the mountain peaks every summer and convene there. These monkeys would then be witnesses eating a gummy, dark matter which they obtained from the Himalayan mountains.
Their curiosity piqued by this exciting sight, the villagers then began consuming the same dark substance. Eventually, they felt all the health benefits that came from consuming it, both in body and in mind. Those who tried the substance observed more strength in their bones and muscles and felt healthy and active even in old age.
While its ancient use renders it impossible to put an exact date on its actual discovery, records and documentation provide us with an idea or at least an approximation of its discovery in periods within particular places.
As mentioned, the first documented reference of mumijo was in the ancient Sanskrit medical texts, Charak Samhita. This treatise was written in the 6th century BCE, which means people have used shilajit well before this date.
Another text from a different civilization that brings up the discovery of shilajit is “Mahzanul Adwiya” ( The Form of Climates ) written by Alhakim Alyavi. It tells the tale of how a dark substance was found in a cave. According to the text, the Sultan’s guard first came upon it and reported it to the Sultan. After that, the latter ordered a sentry be stationed outside the cave to guard the treasured substance. Once every year, the Sultan would have his servants gather all the mumijo inside the cave.
From then on, shilajit has been given well-deserved recognition in the medical sciences across various civilizations.
Avicenna, the Persian Polymath during the Islamic Golden Age, recognized the health properties of shilajit. Other great thinkers like Buruni and Paracleus have expressed the same view. Aside from praising the potency of shilajit, their writings discussed the process of purification before shilajit can be ingested to treat a plethora of ailments.
The Spread of Shilajit
When Asia and Europe began trading, mineral pitch finally became known in the West. Emperors and kings prized the dark ooze so much that merchants would only exchange it for weight in gold. Because of this, the health advantages could only be enjoyed by the wealthy during those times. Fortunately, mineral pitch has become more accessible albeit not as affordable, considering its countless uses and benefits.