Archive for the ‘ Herbs & Spices ’ Category

Kali Mirch (Piper Nigrum) (Black Pepper)

Black pepper – spice and medicine

The western world knows black pepper only as a condiment but in India it is also one of the foremost indigenous medicines. Known as Marich in Sanskrit and Piper nigrum scientifically, its popular name is kali mirach. Black pepper is a native of the Western Ghats. In the medieval era its fame as a spice attracted traders from all parts of the world. Nowadays, it is cultivated in other tropical countries also.

Right from the writings of Charaka and Sushruta to the works of other acharyas, black pepper has been amply described in almost every ayurvedic text. It is pungent in taste and light, sharp and hot in effect. It placates vata and kapha but aggravates pitta. The modern analysis of black pepper shows it as consisting of a volatile oil, a few alkaloids besides moisture, protein, minerals, fibre and carbohydrates. Rich in vitamin B-complex, it contains traces of calcium, iron and phosphorus.

Carminative, stimulant, aromatic, digestive, diuretic, tonic and anti-coagulating agent — this how the curative properties of black pepper have been described in Ayurveda. It excites the salivary and sweat glands besides killing intestinal worms and propelling a downward movement of abdominal wind.

Black pepper is also one of the few herbs which Ayurveda describes as pramathi (helping to open obstructions in different channels of the body).

Black pepper has been used for various health problems. Starting from common cough and cold, sinusitis and bronchitis to indigestion, distension of the abdomen, colic and conditions involving sluggishness of the liver, black pepper is used singularly and also in combination with other herbs. Though in almost every Indian home black pepper is present as an important culinary item, given below are some simple tips to gain its medicinal benefits.

To promote appetite and allay distension, a quarter teaspoonful of the powders of both black pepper and white jeera should be taken with butter milk an hour before lunch. Pepper is beneficial in the treatment of cold and fever. In the case of acute running nose accompanied by a headache and bodyache, taking for two or three days warm milk boiled with a pinch of the powders of pepper and turmeric is a tried home remedy. Pepper powder and common salt are an excellent dentifrice, which prevents dental caries, foul breath and painful gums.

Ayurvedic texts says that after mixing black pepper, dry ginger and piper longum (pippali or magh) in equal parts a distinctive combination is achieved which is known as trikatu. Having multiple uses like triphala, trikatu is the drug of choice for diseases like sinusitis, bronchitis, indigestion, urticaria, obesity and many other kapha and vata disorders. To be avoided in severe acidity, it can be taken mixed in honey in a dose of one to two grams twice a day.

There are numerous classic medicines showing the use of black pepper, including the famous Marichyadi Tailam, which is applied externally in various skin diseases. As a single drug dose of black pepper is half to one gram and to counter any troublesome effect, desi ghee is considered to be its anti-dote.


Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)

Ashwagandha – Indian ginseng

Ashwagandha is one of those ayurvedic herbs which have attracted worldwide attention for its salutary effect on the human body. Popularly known as asgandh and scientifically called With ania somnifera, it has been held in high esteem by the leading lights of Ayurveda.

Described in ancient texts as balya (tonic), rasayan (rejuvenating) and atishukrala (potent spermatogenic), ashwagandha is sweet, bitter and astringent in taste; and light, unctuous and hot in effect. Its small plant grows wild throughout drier regions of India but to meet the increasing demand in the domestic as well as international market, better varieties of ashwagandha are favoured for cultivation. Though all parts of the plant have medicinal properties, it is the root which constitutes the main drug.

Ashwagandha is a highly acclaimed herb for its tonic effect on the brain and the nervous system. Detailed clinical investigations have shown that it acts as an anti-stress and adaptogenic medicine. Ayurvedic texts describe it as having anti-inflammatory, diuretic, analgesic, aphrodisiac, diuretic and mildly sedative properties. Modern research has found several types of alkaloids in it of which somniferin and withaniol are responsible for its multiple actions.

Ashwagandha is also a proven immune-modulator, antioxidant and hormone precursor which tends to regulate important physiological functions. It is used to cure a number of ailments like nervous and psychiatric disorders, arthritis, low backache, emaciation, impotency, hypertension and insomnia. Ashwagandha improves general alertness and prevents all types of weakness. It increases one’s strength and stamina.

By virtue of its uses ashwagandha is often referred to as the Indian ginseng and assuredly prescribed by experts for all people — young but tired or old and retired.

The present-day competitive and fast lifestyle subjects us to tremendous mental and physical stress resulting in disturbed psychosomatic equilibrium, the loss of energy and reduced body resistance. Similarly, in middle age problems, the menopausal syndrome and conditions involving chronic fatigue and senile debility, there is no better natural remedy than ashwagandha. Scientific studies have found it to be endowed with anti-tumour, anti-ulcer properties and also a good adjunct in wasting diseases. The use of ashwagandha during the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis also helps one to gain fast relief from inflammation, stiffness and pain in the joints.

Ashwagandha is best used in its powder form. Readily available as a classic medicine called Ashwagandha Churna, this powder can be taken in the dose of one to three grams at bed time preferably with warm milk. This helps induce sound sleep besides giving other therapeutic benefits. In weak and emaciated children, a small dose of ashwagandha is given mixed with butter, sugar and a few pieces of peeled-off almonds.

There are several other classic ayurvedic medicines which include ashwagandha as an important ingredient. For example, in Ashwagandhadi Churna, another herb called vidhara is equally mixed with ashwagandha and it is an effective medicine for male sexual insufficiency. Ashwagandha ghrit and Ashwagandharishta are well-known medicine which have been used since ancient times. Though the therapeutic use of ashwagandha is generally safe, for its long-term utilisation patients are advised to consult a physician.

Dhania (Coriandrum Sativam) (Coriander)

Coriander cure

The ordinary Indian kitchen, which exudes a lot of warmth and aroma, is also a place where the traditional knowledge of the relationship between food and health is passed from generation to generation. Along with turmeric, ginger, pepper and many other day-to-day kitchen items, coriander is also a herb which is frequently used in our food — not only due to its pleasant smell but also for its many corrective and restorative medicinal properties.

Popularly called dhania, coriander is known as dhanyaka in Sanskrit and Coriandrum sativam scientifically. It is used in two forms — as a fresh and tiny leafy plant and also as dry seeds. Ayurvedic texts have described it as astringent, bitter and sweet in taste and unctuous and light in effect. Green plants of coriander are considered to be cold, whereas dry seeds have been described as semi-hot.

It alleviates vata, pitta and kapha — all the three doshas of the body. It is antipyretic, anti-flatulence, diuretic, carminative, digestive, anti-diarrhoeal, and a killer of intestinal worms. Fresh and green coriander is rich in moisture beside having protein, minerals and carbohydrates. Coriander seeds are dried when they are ripe. These seeds give an aromatic odour and spicy taste.

From ancient times, coriander is used as a medicine in Ayurveda. Its use is indicated in treating a number of diseases like indigestion, diarrhoea and dysentery, piles, intestinal worms, fever resulting from a heat stroke, migraine and cyctitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder). Interestingly, it is one of those few herbs which have been described as anti-aphrodisiac.

In everyday practice, coriander can be used as a very good home remedy for many health problems. Here are a few tips:

Diarrhoea and dysentery: To treat diarrhoea and dysentery bilgiri (the dry pulp of bael), coriander, dry ginger and nut grass (nagarmotha) should be crushed and mixed in equal quantity. Take one teaspoonful of this powder with warm water two or three times a day. This helps in relieving stubborn complaints of passing mucuous-mixed stool.

Indigestion: Simply chewing a few leaves of fresh coriander helps to overcome abdominal distress caused by acidity and gas intention. Taking one or two teaspoonfuls of its juice allays excessive thirst.

Headache: Many people complain of headache occurring at a specific time of the day. In Ayurveda, this type of headache has been described as suryavabhedaka. Take one gram of coriander powder, five crushed pieces of black pepper and the powder of two grams of ustakhadoos. Soak these overnight in a cup of water. After filtering and adding one teaspoonful of sugar, take this liquid empty stomach — preferably before sunrise. Many Unani texts recommend this formulation for the treatment of migraine also.

Coriander controls non specific excessive menstrual discharge. It is also used as a medicine to control hyper sexual excitability in both males and females. Ancient ayurvedic texts describe Dhanya Panchak Qwath which is a very good adjunct in the treatment ofchronic colitis.

Yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza Glabra) (Liquorice)

Liquorice: the sweet healer

LIQUORICE was used as a medicine in many ancient civilisations and even today it continues to be a very popular herb around the globe. Called yashtimadhu in Sanskrit, Glycrrhiza glabra scientifically and mulathi in common parlance, liquorice grows wild but is also cultivated in sub-tropical and warm regions in many parts of the world including India. It is the root of the plant which constitutes the drug.

Ancient ayurvedic scholars valued liquorice as a repository of many medicinal properties. It has been described as kaphanissaraka (expectorant), kanthya (good for throat) and nadibalya (nervine tonic). Liquorice is also an anti-pyretic, an anti-inflammatory and a wound-healer medicine. Pandit Bhavamishra has written that liquorice improves the complexion, relieves problems of the eyes, acts as an spermatogenic and an antacid agent and is also an effective general tonic.

Sweet in taste and heavy, unctuous and cold in effect, liquorice pacifies vitiated vata and pitta. The liquorice root chiefly contains an active principle called glycyrrhizin, which is many times sweeter than cane sugar. Besides, glucose, potassium, calcium, starch and vitamin B complex, modern researchers have identified a number of other constituents in liquorice which are responsible for its broad range of effect on the body.

Liquorice is a soothing and expectorant herb and is used in the treatment of various types of cough, bronchitis, asthma and other throat and chest problems. Its antacid and anti-ulcer properties make it a suitable adjunct in the acid peptic disease. Liquorice improves the voice, promotes body weight, allays fatigue and excessive thirst and is beneficial for the reproductive system of both males and females. It liquefies the mucous and helps in its smooth expectoration. For this purpose, a small amount of its powder can be taken mixed in honey as and when required. In sore throat and irritation in the larynx, a small piece of raw liquorice, if chewed or sucked, provides amiable relief. In chronic bronchitis and smokers’ cough taking two or three times a day with honey crushed powders of one gram each of liquorice and pippali (magha) is a trusted home remedy.

Liqourice is a good medicine for hyperacidity. Taking one or two grams of liquorice powder gives immediate relief from pain and burning of the epigastrium. In case of stomach ulcer it can be taken with coconut water. In non-specific urethritis and burning micturation one gram of liquorice powder can be taken along with half a gram of giloy satva. This combination is very effective in gynaecological afflictions like leucorrhoea.

In the Indian subcontinent liquorice is eaten with betel leaves where it acts as a digestive stimulant. Unani physicians use the extract of liquorice which is called rubbusoos. Yashtyadi Churna, Shatavari Ghrita and Gaduchyadi Taila are among many classic ayurvedic medicine which contain liquorice.

Precaution: Parts of similar-looking plants and stem pieces of liquorice are often sold in place of the liquorice root. The prolonged and uninterrupted use of liquorice may cause an imbalance of sodium and potassium resulting in increased body weight and puffiness of the face. Pregnant women and patients suffering from heart and kidney ailments are advised to consult their doctor before using liquorice as a long-term remedy.

Lavanga (Syzygium Aromaticum) (Clove)

Lavanga’s aroma & power

Known as lavanga, devakusuma and shripushpa in Sanskrit and Syzygium aromaticum scientifically, clove is an aromatic spice used in most of the Indian homes. Though a native of South-East Asia, clove is so much embedded in Indian culture that apart from its culinary or medicinal use, it forms an essential part of the ritual offerings made to the gods since time immemorial.

Ancient ayurvedic texts describe the dried flower buds of the clove tree, which are its usable part, as bitter and pungent in taste and light, sharp and unctuous in action. Clove alleviates kapha and pitta and, contrary to the general belief, Ayurveda considers it to be cold in effect. An analysis of clove shows it to contain protein, fat, carbohydrates and minerals. The clove buds, on steam distillation, yield a volatile oil.

Charaka has described clove as agnimandya-nashak (remover of anorexia). Other scholars have explained it as aromatic, stomachic, antiflatulent and antispasmodic. It stimulates various body organs like the salivary glands, the skin, the liver, the heart and the kidneys and also acts as a deodorant, expectorant, antipyretic and bitter tonic. Clove oil contains ingredients that help stabilise blood circulation and regulate body temperature.

Clove is a widely used drug in Ayurveda. It cures indigestion, loss of appetite, excessive thirst and vomiting. It checks tooth decay and counters halitosis (bad breath). It is also prescribed in hyperacidity and gastritis.

Clove is used in chronic cough, bronchitis and hiccup. In China and Persia, it is considered to be an aphrodisiac.

Clove forms an essential part of the household kit to treat many ailments. Here are a few tips:

Taking half a gram of the powder of fried cloves in a teaspoonful of honey promotes enzymatic flow and boosts the digestive function. The decoction of clove is also a good digestive cordial and is given to persons after the ritual fasting. In cough associated with bronchitis, clove works as a mucolytic agent if its powder is taken in honey with a little powder of mulethi. The famous Lavangadi Vati is an effective medicine to allay bouts of dry or wet cough of any etiology. The use of clove in toothache is a common practice. In tooth decay or cavity, the application of clove oil not only relieves the pain. Due to its mild antibacterial properties it also fights infection. It is a commonly used ingredient of mouth freshners.

Clove oil, though a skin irritant, is used in many linaments and oils which are applied to relieve joint pains, sprains and other soft tissue and bone injuries. In the market, cloves from which the oil has already been extracted, are also sold. Having poor curative value, these are light-weight and small in size. They exude less aroma than normal and have a wrinkled appearance.

Many classic ayurvedic medicines such as Avipattikar Churna and Lavangadi Churna contain cloves as an important ingredient. The average daily dose of the clove powder is 1 gm whereas of its oil it is one to three drops. Prolonged use may cause inflammation and ulceration of the tongue and the mucous membrane of the mouth cavity.

Amaltas (Cassia Fistula)

Amaltas: a gentle laxative

Called by many names such as Aragwadha, Chaturungal, Karnaikar and Rajvriksha in Sanskrit and Cassia fistula scientifically, amaltas has been amply described in ancient Indian literature including the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Its medium-size tree is found throughout the greater part of India and is favoured for planting along roadsides and in gardens. Though all parts of the tree are medicinal, it is the long cylindrical fruit that generally represents the herb.

Amaltas has been used in Ayurveda as a gentle laxative which can be taken safely even by children and expectant mothers. Charaka was so much impressed by its efficacy that in his compendium he named a special chapter after it. Sweet in taste and heavy, soft, unctuous and cold in effect, amaltas is a pacifier of vata and pitta but has also been described as the purifier of vitiated pitta and kapha of the colon.

Though the root, leaves, flowers and fruit pulp of amaltas have common laxative properties, all of these have different medicinal value also. Whereas the root is a strong purgative and killer of intestinal worms, the leaves are a blood purifier and anti-inflammatory. Amaltas flowers have demulcent and lubricating properties and the fruit pulp is a soft laxative. It is also an anti-pyretic, a diuretic and an expectorant agent.

Ayurvedic texts have indicated the use of amaltas in a wide range of diseases. Though its most common use is for relieving constipation, it is also a very efficacious drug in various skin diseases like scabies, pruitis, boils and glandular swellings.

Amaltas is used in liver disorders, upward flow of the abdominal gas (udavarta), bronchitis, arthritis and some of the metabolic disorders.

Since amaltas is easily available, it can be safely utilised as a household remedy in a number of diseases. Here are a few tips:

Constipation and piles: As a soft and safe laxative, 10 to 20 gm of the pulp should be soaked in a glass of water for a few hours. After straining, this water can be taken at bed time. To manage occasional piles, boil together 10 gm each of amaltas pulp, hararh and munakka and take this decoction for a few days at bed times. Besides clearing the bowels, it also helps in checking the bleeding resulting from external or internal warts.

Gout and rheumatoid arthritis: As a first step towards the treatment of arthritis ayurvedic texts recommend using Rasna Saptak Qwath which, along with other ingredients, contains almaltas. Yet as a home Remedy in rheumatoid arthritis, a decoction of its pulp can be taken as a vehicle with 2 gm of the powders of sonth, hararh and giloy.

Skin diseases: The dressing of the juice or paste of the leaves of amaltas is very effective in ringworm infections. It is also applied in chilblains. The famous Aragwadharishta is a useful medicine in a number of stubborn skin diseases.

Caution: To avoid adulteration, it is better to purchase the dried amaltas fruit instead of the pre-extracted pulp. Fresh pulp can be obtained by breaking it open. Though the use of amaltas is generally safe, an overdose can result in griping in the abdomen besides temporary discolouration of the urine.

Bhringaraja (Eclipta Alba)

Bhringaraja: hair herb

Called by many names as bhangara, kesharaja and Eclipta alba (botanically), bhringaraja is prominent among the herbs chosen by Ayurveda for hair-care. Depending upon the colour of its flowers, ancient texts describe bhringaraja to be of three types — white, yellow and blue. Practically, only the first two varieties are found as the blue form seems to be the transformation of the white one at the ripe stage. The whole plant (panchang) is medicinal.

Bhringaraja is pungent and bitter in taste and light, dry and hot in effect. Experts in modern medicine have drawn an alkaloid known as ecliptine from it. Bhringaraja pacifies vata and kapha but aggravates pitta. Ayurveda texts have described bhringaraja as keshya, which means something beneficial for one’s hair. The less known but equally important virtue of bhringaraja is its salutary effect on the liver. It is also carminative, digestive, diuretic and laxative. It helps in blood formation and is a rejuvenator and tonic of immense value.

Both Charaka and Sushruta have mentioned several uses of bhringaraja, whereas another leading light of Ayurveda, Rishi Vagbhatta, has written about bhringaraja kalpa, which is a specific regime for the purpose of rejuvenation only. In case of liver disorders like jaundice, bhringaraja is a promising herb. It is also used in a number of other problems like skin and ophthalmic disease, anaemia, hyperacidity, migraine and non-specific glandular swellings. Some of the common uses of bhringaraja are as under:

Hair and scalp tonic: Since time immemorial bhringaraja is used to prevent hair loss, dandruff and premature greying. Oils prepared with bhringaraja are, therefore, found occupying an important place in the hair-care kit in every Indian home. Though there are many formulations of the famous Bhringaraja Taila, it can be made at home by simply processing one kilogram of its juice in 4 kg of sesame oil.

Liver and spleen disorders: Taking 10 ml of the fresh juice of bhringaraja daily is a good adjunct in the treatment of jaundice and also in the enlargement of the liver and the spleen. It improves appetite and digestion too.

Hyperacidity: Chronic cases of acidity respond well if given 2 gm of the powder of dry bhringaraja, hararh and amla, all crushed in equal parts. Sootshekhara Rasa, the well-known classic ayurvedic, medicine for acidity and ulcer, is actually prepared by stirring the core medicine in the juice of bhringaraja.

A tonic: To gain the tonic effect, ayurvedic texts mention a number of formulations containing bhringaraja. Whereas 10 to 20 ml of its simple juice is prescribed to be taken every morning for at least 40 days, another way of taking 2 gm of triphala churna with 10 ml juice of bhringaraja dissolved in a cup of water daily is described as an anti-aging prescription.

Other uses: Bhringaraja is also used for treating many diseases like leucoderma, migraine and skin disorders. Though it is better to use bhringaraja in its fresh form, in winter, when it is out of season, its powder or decoction can be adopted by procuring it from the pansari shop in the dry form.