Your Introductory Guide to Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine
Very broadly defined, medicine can be anything from a spice in your kitchen cabinet to the antiperspirant deodorant in your bathroom drawer.
A medicine is an agent capable of producing biological responses within the body. Responses may be desirable or undesirable. When a medicine produces a desirable response, it is deemed therapeutic.
In the United States, when we think of a medicine, pharmaceutical drugs come to mind. The kind that is administered by our physician at the doctor’s office. And for good reason . . . in the US, we spend a large portion of our health expenditures on prescription drugs.
In the past decade, total pharmaceutical expenditures have increased from $284 billion in 2008 to $310 billion in 2015 (Adams, 2015).
But is that the full cost? What are the side effects of these medications? What are they doing to our body’s biological process?
Ayurvedic medicine looks at the human form and says that illnesses is a result of weaknesses in the body. Wherever the weakness lies, we give disease the opportunity to creep in. When we identify areas of potential weakness, we use diet, lifestyle and herbal remedies to target those areas, strengthen them and render them less susceptible to disease.
A skilled Ayurveda doctor is called a vidya. Vidya comes from the root word, vid, meaning “knower” or “seer”. The Ayurveda doctor is called the vidya because in their diagnosis they are preventing disease by predicting the path of pathology based upon a patient’s symptoms, they see, they strengthen, they prevent.
Herbs are instrumental in this process. They are used in treatment protocol to support the body’s natural functioning, rather than to stimulate an artificial response in attempt to ease suffering.
The best kept secret in modern medicine is that given the right conditions the body heals itself. (Greger)
Herbal medicine builds upon the body’s natural strength so that all organs, tissues, muscles and cells can get to work, functioning in the way they were designed to.
Supplementing with herbs does not only treat symptoms, but also assists the body in unwinding disease processes. As a result, the body is freed from the root cause of the aggravating symptom.
Here is a short list of some favorited Ayurvedic herbs to assist with common complaints.
For Fatigue: Ashwagandha.
This herb is used as an adaptogen, meaning it is used to help the body adapt to stress. It has a normalizing effect upon bodily processes, assisting the body back toward homeostasis. It is nourishing, to all seven tissues, especially the muscle tissue and reproductive fluid. It works as an aphrodisiac and energizer, but also as a sedative and tranquilizer.
For skin ailments: Amalaki.
Amalaki translates to “that which supports the bodily tissues”. It is said to enhance the span of life. Amalaki is well known for its bolstering support of antioxidant activity with an extremely high Vitamin C content. It is a rejuvenative as it purifies the blood, assisting in the health of the skin both externally and internally (in the gut, respiratory tract and mucous membranes of the body).
For mental acuity: Brahmi.
Brahmi, a.k.a. bacopa is a nervine tonic that means “expansive state of awareness”. Brahmi works to directly enhance all cellular awareness. It increases intelligence and memory. It also works as an antidepressant and mental energizer. It is currently being studied for its effects on Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Natural Anti-biotic: Neem.
Nimba means “that which purifies the Earth”. Neem’s bitter and slightly pungent taste work to cool the body while taking care of infections, parasites, worms, rashes, wounds, cuts, fever and other diseases associated with bacterial or viral infections. It is commonly used for inflammatory acne, eczema, cold sores and psoriasis.
For irregular/sluggish digestion: Triphala.
Triphala means “three fruits”. It is a mixture of Ayurvedic herbs, Amalaki (to support intestinal repair, targets pitta dosha), Bibhitaki (to support the natural balance of intestinal mucus, targets kapha dosha) and haritaki (to support the natural strength and function of the intestinal muscles, targets vata dosha).
Combined, these herbs make a rejuvenative tonic that is beneficial for all body types (vata, pitta, kapha). It works to ease constipation and maintain healthy function of the bowel. Triphala also benefits eyesight, and provides antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body.
*Note: Consult with an Ayurvedic Practitioner or vidya before beginning any new herbal protocol. It’s important to understand your body type as well as the nature of your imbalance so the herb can have the correct action on the body.
Adams, M., & Adema-Hannes, R. (2010). Pharmacology for nurses: a pathophysiological approach. Toronto: Pearson Canada.
Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2015). How not to die: discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. New York: Flatiron Books.
Lad, V. (2002). Textbook of Ayurveda Volume III. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.