Ayurveda: Ancient Indian Medicinal HerbsLynn Seminole
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda — a Sanskrit term meaning “knowledge of life” — is an ancient Indian system of natural medicine. The practice is based on the concept that disease is caused by an imbalance in a person’s overall being. Ayurvedic practitioners offer natural therapies and interventions to help patients regain balance within the body, mind, spirit and environment.
About 240,000 American adults use Ayurvedic medicine, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
According to the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA): “Our five senses serve as the portals between the internal and external realms, as the five great elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth dance the dance of creation around and within us.”
“Ayurveda groups these five elements into three basic types of energy and functional principles that are present in everybody and everything. Since there are no single words in English to describe these principles; we use the Sanskrit words Vata, Pitta, and Kapha to describe their combinations.” These three principles are known as doshas. In ayurvedic medicine, it is believed that if an imbalance occurs in any of the three doshas, illness occurs.
According to NAMA, “Everything that we experience, be it a physical substance, a thought, or emotion, has certain qualities. The ancient texts of Ayurveda classify these qualities — called gunas in Sanskrit — into 10 pairs of opposites, making 20 qualities total (for example, heavy vs. light).”
“Theoretically, everything in the universe can be described in terms of these gunas, or qualities, including the doshas. The foundation of Ayurvedic treatment relies upon recognizing when gunas have become excessive or deficient, as this is known to cause doshic imbalance and lead to disease. Ayurveda applies the opposite qualities to return to balance.”
Herbs are used extensively in Ayurvedic treatment. Siesta Botanicals offers three botanicals commonly used in Ayurveda including ashwagandha, holy basil (tulsi) and the spice turmeric.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng or winter cherry, is an ancient Ayurvedic herb. It belongs to a class of medicinal herbs known as adaptogens and has been used for more than 3,000 years to help reduce stress, improve stamina and increase concentration levels.
Many of ashwagandha’s health benefits are attributed to its high levels of withanolides, hormone precursors that can convert into human physiological hormones to help bring balance to the body. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can help improve sleep and reduce stress.
In one review, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, ashwagandha was shown to outperform psychotherapy by reducing anxiety in a group of subjects by 56.5% compared to only 30.5% in the psychotherapy group.
In another study, published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, researchers evaluated the safety and efficacy of a high-concentration extract of Ashwagandha to see whether it could reduce stress and anxiety and improve the general well-being of 64 adults with a history of chronic stress.
The findings show that participants who received the high-concentration full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract exhibited a significant reduction in scores on all the stress-assessment scales on Day 60, compared to the placebo group.
According to the study authors, “Ideally, an adaptogen should: a) decrease stress-induced damage, b) be safe and produce a beneficial effect even if the number of administrations is more than required, c) be devoid of any negative effects such as withdrawal syndromes and d) not influence the normal body functions more than necessary. Ashwagandha is one adaptogen that possesses all of the characteristics listed above.”
Organic Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), or Tulsi, is an aromatic perennial plant in the family Lamiaceae. It is native to the Indian subcontinent and widespread as a cultivated plant throughout the Southeast Asian tropics. Tulsi is cultivated for religious and traditional medicine purposes, and for its essential oil. It is widely used as an herbal tea, commonly used in Ayurveda, and has a place within the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, in which devotees perform worship involving holy basil plants or leaves. Many people consume holy basil as a stress reliever. Holy basil has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
According to a research paper, published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, hundreds of scientific studies in vitro, animal and human experiments have shown that holy basil exerts a unique combination of actions that include antimicrobial, anti-diarrheal, antioxidant, anticataract, anti-inflammatory, neuro-protective, cardio-protective, anti-diabetic, memory enhancement, anti-asthmatic, anti-arthritic, adaptogenic and anti-stress activities.
According to the author, “Of all the herbs used within Ayurveda, tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn) is preeminent, and scientific research is now confirming its beneficial effects. There is mounting evidence that tulsi can address physical, chemical, metabolic and psychological stress through a unique combination of pharmacological actions.”
“Tulsi has been found to protect organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals, and physical stress from prolonged physical exertion, ischemia, physical restraint and exposure to cold and excessive noise. Tulsi has also been shown to counter metabolic stress through normalization of blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid levels, and psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognitive function and through its anxiolytic and anti-depressant properties.”
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a flowering plant of the ginger family Zingiberaceae. The plant is a perennial, rhizomatous, herbaceous plant native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia and has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The rhizomes are used fresh or boiled in water and dried, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder commonly used as a coloring and flavoring agent in many Asian cuisines, especially for curries, as well as for dyeing. Turmeric powder has a warm, bitter, black pepper-like flavor and earthy, mustard-like aroma. Turmeric has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Research has shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can benefit inflammation, pain, metabolic syndrome, and help in the management of inflammatory and degenerative eye conditions. Turmeric is also promoted as a dietary supplement for a variety of conditions, including arthritis, digestive disorders, respiratory infections, allergies, liver disease, depression, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.