Ayurvedic medicine originated in India over 3,000 years ago, and it has remained one of the most popular traditional health care systems in the country. As a result, Ayurveda has the oldest and most developed herbal medicinal system in the world. The aim of Ayurvedic herbal medicine is to restore health in healthy individuals and fighting disease.
There are many ways can transform your health. Ayruvedic herbs have a specific therapeutic effect to help balance the three dosha constitutional types—vata, pitta, and kapha. Each herb will increase the dosha that has similar properties that exist in the herb. The Ayruvedic herbs are also made up from the five basic elements—water, earth, fire, air, and ether. Vata is linked with ether and air; pitta with fire and water; and kapha with earth and water.
Each Ayuvedic herb has many benefits for the mind, body, and spirit. Ayurvedic herbs will be used for every condition and health problem from boosting the immune system and supporting mental health and focus, to improving digestion and supporting detoxification and toxin elimination. Various Ayruvedic herbs are used internally, externally on the skin, or even made into an essential oil and used in aromatherapy.
Top 10 Ayurvedic Herbs
Ayurvedic herbs are often sold in formulas since they are thought to be most effective when combined. Certain herbs can even promote the actions of other herbs. Most Ayurvedic herbs work best when taken over persistently over a long-term time frame. Ayurvedic herbs can be used as food and medicine. Overall, it is impossible to even scratch the surface of the hundreds of herbs used in Ayurveda. In this article we will explore a few of the herbs beginning to become popular in Western medicine cabinets, and a few others you need to know. The following are my top 10 Ayurvedic herbs, as well as a couple of key honorable mentions.
Turmeric is one of the greatest treasures of Ayurvedic medicine, and it treats a wide range of illnesses. This ancient root comes from the rhizome of the Curcuma longa plant. The key chemical compound in turmeric is called curcumin, and nearly 7,000 research studies have evaluated its effectiveness, suggesting that curcumin is useful for chronic inflammation and pain, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, diabetes, skin health, brain health, high cholesterol, liver health, and cancer. In Ayurveda, turmeric is able to balance all three doshas, but it balances pitta most with its blood-cleansing properties. The herb makes a great addition to Indian dishes and also various dressings, marinades, meat dishes, and drinks.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an Ayurvedic herb that roughly translates as, “strength of a horse.” In classical Ayurveda, as an adaptogenic herb, it increases strength and recovery, promotes rejuvenation and life-extension, and benefits sleep, intellect, and cognitive development. Today, ashwagandha is best known for promoting stamina and energy. Studies have shown that ashwagandha increases thyroid hormone production, promotes fertility, and reduces anxiety. From an Ayurvedic perspective, ashwagandha reduces vata and kapha. It also contains antioxidant, anti-tumor, hemopoetic, immunomodulatory, and aphrodisiac properties. Ashwagandha is often found in capsule and powder form, and it can be taken as a tea.
3. Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is also called tulsi, and it is commonly used in Ayurveda as an herbal tea and medicinal plant found various herbal formulas. You can also add tulsi leaves or tulsi powder to your salad for an interesting flavor. It is highly regarded as an adaptogen with anti-stress, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic abilities through key compounds called caryophyllene and eugenol. In classical Ayurveda, holy basil is used to clear excess dampness in the lungs, and current studies show that it can increase lung capacity and reduce labored breathing. It is also commonly used to treat anxiety, adrenal fatigue, acne, hypothyroidism, diabetes, headaches, conjunctivitis, and cancer. It has also been recommended for insect bites, chronic fever, diarrhea, malaria, arthritis, bronchitis, and skin diseases.
The neem tree, Azadirachta indica, is believed to have originated in Burma or India. It is also called Indian lilac or margosa. Azadirachtin is the most active compound in neem, which is used for killing and repelling pests. Neem is also one of the most powerful detoxifiers and blood purifiers in Ayurveda. As a result, neem is useful for wound healing, skin damage, and pitta-related eye and skin diseases. Neem is a useful skin care herb, and could smooth wrinkles, relieve dry skin, stimulate collagen, and reduce allergies, eczema, acne, and psoriasis.
Triphala, or triphala churna, is not just one Ayurvedic herb, but three. In Sanskrit, it translates as “three fruits powder.” Triphala is made from the fruits: amla (Emblica officinalis), bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica), and haritaki (Terminalia chebula). Amla in particular is effective for the pitta dosha, while bibhitaki benefits kapha. Haritaki benefits all three doshas; however, its anti-inflammatory abilities are most useful for the vata dosha. Triphala is the most well known Ayurvedic herbal formula, and it is recommended for detoxification and digestion. As a daily supplement, it also treats cancer, reduces cholesterol, improves arthritis, and aids in weight loss. Triphala can be taken long term; however, for greater effectiveness it is best to take a two-week break every 10 weeks while taking the herbal formula.
Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), or bacopa, is named after Brahma, the god of the Hindu pantheon. It is one of the best purifying herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, and it is a top tonic for the nervous system and brain. It is believed to promote better mental health and a clear mind. Although it benefits all three doshas, it is especially beneficial for balancing high pitta conditions, and removing toxins from the nervous system. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2010 found that bacopa significantly improves memory and retention in healthy older adults. Another 2008 study found that bacopa reduced anxiety and depression, and improved cognitive function in the elderly. Brahmi is also known to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, stress, joint pain, backaches, while also increasing sexual performance in women and men.
Asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) is a dried sap from the roots and stem of a type of perennial fennel plant. It is a crucial ingredient used in Indian cooking, and is often combined with lentils and vegetables like cauliflower. It is a common ingredient in dishes such as dahl and kichadi. It also goes by the popular names hing, ting, hengu, and food of the gods. In Ayurveda, it is used for digestion and stagnation of the gastrointestinal tract, asthma, coughing, sciatica, paralysis, epilepsy, importance, low libido, and decreasing high vata. It is also known for its gas relieving, antispasm, laxative, mucous thinning, and sedative properties. Research shows that the chemicals in asafoetida may help treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hypertension, and blood sugar problems.
Guggul (Commiphora wightii) is made from the gum resin of the mukul myrrh tree. Guggul is known as the Sanskrit name guggulu, which translates as “protects from disease.” Studies have found that guggul helps induce weight loss in obese patients more than 90 kg in a 30-day time frame. Guggul is thought to help with weight loss through increasing lipid metabolism, stimulating the thyroid, inducing death in fat cells, and inhibiting fat cell formation. In Ayurveda, guggul will reduce vata and kapha, while it doesn’t aggravate pitta unless taken long-term or in high doses. It may also promote detoxification and rejuvenation, and support regular menstruation. In addition, guggul is used to treat high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, gout, bronchitis, skin diseases, nervous disorders, cystitis, ulcers, and tumors.
Trikatu, or trikatu churna, is a popular complementary formula of triphala. In Sanskrit, trikatu translates as “three pungents” or “three peppers.” The Ayurvedic formula contains the combination of ginger (Zingiber officinale), Indian long pepper (Piper longum), and black pepper (Piper nigrum). Trikatu is a specific digestive tonic that may help people with low digestive fire, while increasing pitta. As such, trikatu is touted as a warming formula that promotes healthy digestion, eliminates waste and toxins, and enhances the breakdown of food and nutrient absorption. It could also help treat ascites, skin diseases, intestinal parasites, liver conditions, allergic rhinitis, high cholesterol, diabetes, bloating, gas, and constipation. Trikatu is used in powder and capsule form, and might improve symptoms in as little as two weeks, although it may take four to six weeks for the most significant effects.
Like ashwagandha benefits men, shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is reportedly the best rejuvenative Ayurvedic herb for women’s health, and as a reproductive tonic. It contains phytoestrogens, which help enhance reproductive health and sexual performance while simultaneously rebalancing estrogen levels in the body. Shatavari may also increase milk secretion in breastfeeding women. It is a species of asparagus common throughout India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Himalayas. In Ayurvedic texts, shatavari is used for various health problems, including dyspepsia and gastric ulcers. It is able to increase kapha, and decrease pitta and vata. Shatavari is also useful in the treatment of inflammation, liver disorders, nervous system disorders, headaches, fever, coughing, anxiety, diabetes, rheumatism, and certain infectious diseases.
Honorable Mention #1. Aloe Vera
The Egyptians once called aloe vera “the plant of immortality.” In Ayurvedic medicine, aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis Miller) is used to treat digestive issues, including excessive gas, constipation, indigestion, worm infestation, and appetite loss. Aloe vera is also used for wound healing and skin conditions, burns, core sores, dry hair and itchy scalp, and diabetes. It is also used in dentistry due to its antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antifungal properties.
Honorable Mention #2. Bitter Melon
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is a medicinal fruit with a long history in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also called karavellaka, bitter squash, bitter gourd, and balsam pear. Studies have found that bitter melon helps manage diabetes and blood sugar levels, reduce respiratory infections, decrease inflammation, protects against cancer, reduces coughs and fevers, and treats skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. It also helps manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and treat jaundice, kidney stones, and gout, and digestive complaints like constipation, peptic ulcers, and abdominal pain.
Ayurvedic Herbs: Final Thoughts
There really are too many excellent Ayurvedic herbs to mention, and there are indeed so many benefits of each of them. Although I detailed 12 herbs above, other popular Ayurvedic herbs include gotu kola, tribulus, ajwain, jatamansi, guduchi, katuki, manjistha, shilajit, ginger, cumin, fennel, coriander, cardamom, licorice, gokshura, fenugreek, and myrrh.
Interested in trying Ayurvedic herbal medicine? Ayurvedic herbs are beneficial for everything from digestion and mental health problems, to respiratory infections and skin conditions. It is a good idea to consult with an Ayurvedic doctor to see what herbs are best for your health concerns.
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