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Home > Ayurveda: An Alternative Medicine > Ayurveda Herbs
Ayurveda Herbs

Ayurveda ("science of life") is a system of medicine that combines natural therapies with a personalized approach to the treatment of disease. This form of healthcare focuses equally on the wellness of the body, mind, and spirit. Ayurvedic physicians ascertain the overall health of people by looking at their unique strengths and susceptibilities and by identifying their metabolic type (vata, pitta, or kapha).

Once the individual`s overall "constitution" is determined, a specific treatment plan is designed to guide the person back to a state of harmony. Ayurvedic medicine utilizes practices such as yoga, exercise, meditation, massage, dietary changes, herbal tonics, and herbal sweat baths.

Herbs used in Ayurvedic Medicine

 [ Ashwagandha | Boswellia | Coleus | Ginger | Gotu Kola | Guggul | Gymnema | Licorice | Myrrh | Phyllanthus | Picrorhiza | Turmeric | Tylophora | Alfalfa ]

  1. Ashwagandha
    Botanical name:
    Withania somniferum

    AshwagandhaParts used and where grown
    Ashwagandha, which belongs to the pepper family, is found in India and Africa. The roots of ashwagandha are used medicinally.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    The health applications for ashwagandha in traditional Indian and Ayurvedic medicine are extensive. Of particular note is its use against tumors, inflammation (including arthritis), and a wide range of infectious diseases.

    The shoots and seeds are also used as food and to thicken milk in India. Traditional uses of ashwagandha among tribal peoples in Africa include fevers and inflammatory conditions. Ashwagandha is frequently a constituent of Ayurvedic formulas, including a relatively common one known as shilajit.

    Active constituents
    The constituents believed to be active in ashwagandha have been extensively studied. Compounds known as with anolides are believed to account for the multiple medicinal applications of ashwagandha. These molecules are steroidal and bear a resemblance, both in their action and appearance, to the active constituents of Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) known as ginsenosides.

    Indeed, ashwagandha has been called "Indian ginseng" by some. Ashwagandha and its with anolides have been extensively researched in a variety of animal studies examining effects on immune function, inflammation, and even cancer.

    Ashwagandha stimulates the activation of immune system cells, such as lymphocytes. It has also been shown to inhibit inflammation and improve memory in animal experiments. Taken together, these actions may support the traditional reputation of ashwagandha as a tonic or adaptogen -an herb with multiple, nonspecific actions that counteract the effects of stress and generally promote wellness.

    How much is usually taken
    Some experts recommend 3-6 grams of the dried root, taken each day in capsule or tea form. To prepare a tea, 3/4-1 1/4 teaspoons (3-6 grams) of ashwagandha root are boiled for 15 minutes and cooled; 3 cups (750 ml) may be drunk daily. Alternatively, tincture 1/2-3/4 teaspoon (2-4 ml) three times per day, is sometimes recommended.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    No significant side effects have been reported with ashwagandha. The herb has been used safely by children in India. Its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding is unknown.At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with ashwagandha

  2. Boswellia 
    Common name: Salai guggal
    Botanical name: Boswellia serrata

    BoswelliaParts used and where grown
    Boswellia is a moderate to large branching tree found in the dry hilly areas of India. When the tree trunk is tapped, a gummy oleoresin is exuded. A purified extract of this resin is used in modern herbal preparations.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    In the ancient Ayurvedic medical texts of India, the gummy exudate from boswellia is grouped with other gum resins and referred to collectively as guggals. Historically, the guggals were recommended by Ayurvedic physicians for a variety of conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diarrhea, dysentery, pulmonary disease, and ringworm.

    Active constituents
    The gum oleoresin consists of essential oils, gum, and terpenoids. The terpenoid portion contains the boswellic acids that have been shown to be the active constituents in boswellia. Today, extracts are typically standardized to contain 37.5-65% boswellic acids.

    Studies have shown that boswellic acids have an anti-inflammatory action -much like the conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used for inflammatory conditions. Boswellia inhibits pro-inflammatory mediators in the body, such as leukotrienes.

    As opposed to NSAIDs, long-term use of boswellia does not appear to cause irritation or ulceration of the stomach. One small, controlled, double-blind trial has shown that boswellia extract may be helpful for ulcerative colitis.

    Boswellia SerrataHow much is usually taken
    Many doctors recommend the standardized extract of the gum oleoresin of boswellia. For rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, 150 mg of boswellic acids are taken three times per day. As an example, if an extract contains 37.5% boswellic acids, 400 mg of the extract would be taken three times daily. Treatment with boswellia generally lasts eight to twelve weeks. In the one clinical trial to date, people with ulcerative colitis used 550 mg of boswellia extract three times per day.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Boswellia is generally safe when used as directed. Rare side effects can include diarrhea, skin rash, and nausea. A physician should closely monitor any inflammatory joint condition. At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with boswellia.

  3. Coleus
    Common name:
    Botanical name: Coleus forskohlii

    ColeusParts used and where grown
    This attractive, perennial member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family originated in the lower elevations of India. It is now grown around the world as an ornamental plant. The root is used medicinally.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    As recorded in ancient Sanskrit texts, coleus was used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat heart and lung diseases, intestinal spasms, insomnia, and convulsions.

    Active constituents
    Forskolin, a chemical found in coleus, activates the enzyme adenylate cyclase. This enzyme is a turnkey compound that initiates a cascade of critical events within every cell of the body. Adenylate cyclase and the chemicals it activates comprise a "second messenger" system that is responsible for carrying out the complex and powerful effects of hormones in the body.

    Stimulation of the second messenger system by forskolin leads to blood vessel dilation, inhibition of allergic reactions, and an increase in thyroid hormone secretion. Forskolin has other properties as well, including inhibition of the pro-inflammatory substance known as platelet-activating factor (PAF) and inhibition of the spread of cancer cells.

    Studies in healthy humans, including at least one double-blind trial, have shown that direct application of an ophthalmic preparation of forskolin to the eyes lowers eye pressure, thus reducing the risk of glaucoma. Direct application of the whole herb to the eyes has not been studied and is not recommended.

    Forskolin may help dilate blood vessels and improve the forcefulness with which the heart pumps blood. A preliminary trial found that forskolin-reduced blood pressure and improved heart function in people with cardiomyopathy. It is unknown if oral coleus extracts would have the same effect. A small double-blind trial found that inhaled forskolin could decrease lung spasms in asthmatics. It is unclear if oral ingestion of coleus extracts will provide similar benefits.

    Coleus ForskolinHow much is usually taken
    Coleus extracts standardized to 10 to 18% forskolin are available. While some doctors expert in herbal medicine recommend 50 -100 mg two to three times per day of standardized coleus extract, these amounts are extrapolations and have yet to be confirmed by direct clinical research.

    Most studies have used injected forskolin, so it is unclear if oral ingestion of coleus extracts will provide similar benefits in the amounts recommended above. Until ophthalmic preparations of coleus or forskolin are available, people with glaucoma should consult with a skilled healthcare practitioner to obtain a sterile fluid extract for use in the eyes.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Few adverse effects of coleus have been reported. It should be avoided in people with ulcers, because it may increase stomach acid levels. Direct application to the eyes may cause transitory tearing, burning, and itching. The safety of coleus in pregnancy and breast-feeding is unknown.

    Are there any drug interactions
    Certain medicines may interact with coleus.

  4. Ginger
    Botanical name:
    Zingiber officinale

    GingerParts used and where grown
    Ginger is a perennial plant that grows in India, China, Mexico, and several other countries. The rhizome (underground stem) is used as both a spice and in herbal medicine.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    Traditional Chinese Medicine has recommended ginger for over 2,500 years. It is used for abdominal bloating, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and rheumatism. Ginger is commonly used in the Ayurvedic and Tibb systems of medicine for the treatment of inflammatory joint diseases, such as arthritis and rheumatism.

    Active constituents
    The dried rhizome of ginger contains approximately 1- 4% volatile oils. These are the medically active constituents of ginger and are also responsible for gingers characteristic odour and taste. The aromatic constituents include zingiberene and bisabolene, while the pungent constituents are known as gingerols and shogaols. The pungent constituents are credited with the anti-nausea and anti-vomiting effects of ginger.

    In humans, ginger is thought to act directly on the gastrointestinal system to reduce nausea. Ginger has been shown to reduce the symptoms of motion sickness associated with travel by boat and, to a lesser extent, car. Two double blind clinical trials have found that ginger may reduce nausea due to anesthesia following surgery, although one trial could not confirm this benefit. A preliminary trial has suggested ginger may be helpful for preventing chemotherapy-induced nausea.

    While ginger is a popular remedy for nausea of pregnancy, it has only been clinically studied for very severe nausea and vomiting known as hyperemesis gravidarum.This condition is life threatening and should only be treated by a qualified healthcare professional. Because ginger contains some compounds that cause chromosomal mutation in the test tube, some doctors are concerned about the safety of using ginger during pregnancy.

    However, the available clinical research, combined with the fact that ginger is widely used in the diet of certain cultures, suggests that prudent use of ginger for morning sickness is safe in amounts up to 1 gram per day.Ginger is considered a tonic for the digestive tract, stimulating digestion and toning the intestinal muscles. This action eases the transport of substances through the digestive tract, lessening irritation to the intestinal walls.

    Ginger may protect the stomach from the damaging effect of alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen) and may help prevent ulcers. Ginger also supports cardiovascular health. Ginger may make blood platelets less sticky and less likely to aggregate. However, not all-human research has confirmed this.

    How much is usually taken
    For prevention or treatment of motion sickness, 500 mg of dried ginger powder can be taken one-half to one hour before travel, and then 500 mg every two to four hours as necessary. Children below the age of six should use one-half the adult amount. For the treatment of nausea associated with pregnancy, women can take up to 1 gram daily, but should only use ginger for symptomatic relief of nausea and not on an ongoing basis. Ginger may potentially be used for nausea associated with anesthesia or chemotherapy, but only under the supervision of a physician.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Side effects due to ginger are rare when used as recommended. However, some people sensitive to the taste may experience heartburn. People with a history of gallstones should consult a doctor before using ginger. Short-term use of ginger for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy appears to pose no safety problems. However, long-term use during pregnancy is not recommended. A doctor should be informed if ginger is used before surgery as the herb may increase bleeding.

    Are there any drug interactions
    Certain medicines may interact with ginger.

  5. Gotu KolaGotu Kola
    Botanical name:
    Centella asiatica

    Parts used and where grown
    This plant grows in a widespread distribution in tropical, swampy areas, including parts of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and South Africa. It also grows in Eastern Europe. The roots and leaves are used medicinally.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    Gotu kola has been important in the medicinal systems of central Asia for centuries. In Sri Lanka, it was purported to prolong life, as elephants commonly eat the leaves. Numerous skin diseases, ranging from poorly healing wounds to leprosy, have been treated with gotu kola.

    Gotu kola also has a historical reputation for boosting mental activity and for helping a variety of illnesses, such as high blood pressure, rheumatism, fever, and nervous disorders. Some of its common applications in Ayurvedic medicine include heart disease, water retention, hoarseness, bronchitis, and coughs in children, and as a poultice for many skin conditions.

    Active constituents
    The primary active constituents of gotu kola are saponins (also called triterpenoids), which include asiaticoside, madecassoside and madasiatic acid. These saponins may prevent excessive scar formation by inhibiting the production of collagen (the material that makes up connective tissue) at the wound site.

    These constituents are also associated with promoting wound healing. One preliminary trial in humans found that a gotu kola extract improved healing of infected wounds (unless the infection had reached bone).

    Additionally, a review of French studies suggests that topical gotu kola can improve healing of burns and wounds. Clinical trials have also shown it can help those with chronic venous insufficiency. Another trial found gotu kola extract helpful for preventing and treating enlarged scars (keloids).

    How much is usually taken
    Dried gotu kola leaf can be made into a tea by adding 1-2 teaspoons (5-10 grams) to about 2/3 cup (150 ml) of boiling water and allowing it to steep for ten to fifteen minutes. Three cups (750 ml) are usually suggested per day.

    Fluid extract (1/2-1 teaspoon (3-5 ml) per day) or a tincture (2- 4 teaspoons (10-20 ml) per day) are sometimes recommended. Standardized extracts containing up to 100% total saponins (triterpenoids), 60 mg once or twice per day, are frequently used in modern herbal medicine.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Except for the rare person who is allergic to gotu kola, no significant adverse effects are experienced with internal or topical use of this herb. At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with gotu kola.

  6. Guggul
    Common names:
    Gugulipid, Gum guggulu
    Botanical name: Commiphora mukul

    GuggulParts used and where grown
    The mukul myrrh (Commiphora mukul) tree is a small, thorny plant distributed throughout India. Guggul and gum guggulu are the names given to a yellowish resin produced by the stem of the plant. This resin has been used historically and is also the source of modern extracts of guggul.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    The classical treatise on Ayurvedic medicine, Sushrita Samhita, describes the use of guggul for a wide variety of conditions, including rheumatism and obesity. One of its primary indications was a condition known as medoroga. This ancient diagnosis is similar to the modern description of atherosclerosis. Standardized guggul extracts are approved in India for lowering elevated serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

    Active constituents
    Guggul contains resin, volatile oils, and gum. The extract isolates ketonic steroid compounds known as guggul-sterones. These compounds have been shown to provide the cholesterol- and triglyceride-lowering actions noted for Guggul. Guggul significantly lowers serum triglycerides and cholesterol as well as LDL and VLDL cholesterols (the "bad" cholesterols). At the same time, it raises levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol).

    As antioxidants, guggulsterones keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, an action which protects against atherosclerosis. Guggul has also been shown to reduce the stickiness of platelets - another effect that lowers the risk of coronary artery disease. One double-blind trial found guggul extract similar to the drug clofibrate for lowering cholesterol levels. Other clinical trials in India (using 1,500 mg of extract per day)

    GuggulHow much is usually taken
    Daily recommendations for the purified guggul extract are typically based on the amount of guggulsterones in the extract. A common intake of guggulsterones is 25 mg three times per day. Most extracts contain 2.5-5% guggulsterones and can be taken daily for 12 to 24 weeks for lowering high cholesterol and/or triglycerides.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Early studies with the crude oleoresin reported numerous side effects, including diarrhea, anorexia, abdominal pain, and skin rash. Modern extracts are more purified, and fewer side effects (e.g., mild abdominal discomfort) have been reported with long-term use. Rash was reported, however, as a fairly common side effect in one recent study.

    People should use Guggul with caution with liver disease and in cases of inflammatory bowel disease and diarrhea. A physician should be consulted before treating elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with guggul.

  7. Gymnema
    Common names:
    Gurmarbooti, Gurmar
    Botanical name: Gymnema sylvestre

    GymnemaParts used and where grown
    Gymnema sylvestre is a woody climbing plant that grows in the tropical forests of central and southern India. The leaves are used in herbal medicine preparations. G. Sylvestre is known as "periploca of the woods" in English and meshasringi (meaning "rams horn") in Sanskrit. The leaves, when chewed, interfere with the ability to taste sweetness, which explains the Hindi name gurmar-"destroyer of sugar."

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    Gymnema has been used in India for the treatment of diabetes for over 2,000 years. The leaves were also used for stomach ailments, constipation, water retention, and liver disease.

    Active constituents
    The hypoglycemic (blood sugar-lowering) action of gymnema leaves was first documented in the late 1920s. This action is attributed to members of a family of substances called gymnemic acids. Gymnema leaves raise insulin levels, according to research in healthy volunteers.

    Based on animal studies, this may be due to regeneration of the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin, or by increasing the flow of insulin from these cells. Other animal research shows that gymnema can also reduce glucose absorption from the intestine, improve uptake of glucose into cells, and prevent adrenal hormones from stimulating the liver to produce glucose, thereby reducing blood sugar levels.

    Other animal studies have shown that extracts of gymnema leaves can lower serum cholesterol and triglycerides and prevent weight gain, but these effects have not been tested in humans. When placed directly on the tongue, gurmarin, another constituent of the leaves, and gymnemic acid have been shown to block the ability in humans to taste sweets.

    How much is usually taken
    Clinical trials with diabetics in India have used 400 mg per day of a water-soluble acidic fraction of the gymnema leaves. The gymnemic acid content of this extract is not clear. A recent preliminary trial in the United States reported promising results in a group of type 1 and type 2 diabetics who took 800 mg per day of an extract standardized for 25% gymnemic acids. Traditionally, 2 to 4 grams per day of the leaf powder is used.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Used at the amounts suggested, gymnema is generally safe and devoid of side effects. The safety of gymnema during pregnancy and breast-feeding has not yet been determined. People with diabetes should only use gymnema to lower blood sugar under the clinical supervision of a healthcare professional. People with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes cannot use Gymnema in place of insulin to control blood sugar.

    Are there any drug interactions
    Certain medicines may interact with gymnema. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

  8. LicoriceLicorice
    Botanical names:
    Glycyrrhiza glabra, Glycyrrhiza uralensis

    Parts used and where grown
    Originally from central Europe, licorice now grows all across Europe and Asia. The root is used medicinally.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    Licorice has a long and highly varied record of uses. It was and remains one of the most important herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Among its most consistent and important uses are as a demulcent (soothing, coating agent) in the digestive and urinary tracts, to help with coughs, to soothe sore throats, and as a flavoring. It has also been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat conditions ranging from diabetes to tuberculosis.

    Active constituents
    The two major constituents of licorice are glycyrrhizin and flavonoids. According to test tube studies, glycyrrhizin has anti-inflammatory actions and may inhibit the breakdown of the cortisol produced by the body. Licorice may also have antiviral properties, although this has not been proven in human pharmacological studies. Licorice flavonoids, as well as the closely related chalcones, help heal digestive tract cells.

    They are also potent antioxidants and work to protect liver cells. In test tubes, the flavonoids have been shown to kill Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes most ulcers and stomach inflammation. However, it is unclear whether this action applies to the use of oral licorice for the treatment of ulcers in humans.

    An extract of licorice, called liquiritin, has been used as a treatment for melasma, a pigmentation disorder of the skin. In a preliminary trial, topical application of liquiritin cream twice daily for four weeks led to a 70% improvement, compared to only 20% improvement in the placebo group.

    A preliminary trial found that while the acid-blocking drug cimetidine (Tagamet®) led to quicker symptom relief, chewable deglycyrrhizinated licorice ( DGL) tablets were just as effective at healing and maintaining the healing of stomach ulcers. Chewable DGL may also be helpful in treating ulcers of the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. Capsules of DGL may not work for ulcers, however, as DGL must mix with saliva to be activated. One preliminary human trial has found DGL used as a mouthwash was effective in quickening the healing of canker sores.

    Licorice Root PowderHow much is usually taken
    There are two types of licorice, "standard" licorice and "de-glycyrrhizinated" licorice (DGL). Each type is suitable for different conditions. The standard licorice containing glycyrrhizin should be used for respiratory infections, chronic fatigue syndrome or herpes (topical). Licorice root in capsules, 5-6 grams per day, can be used. Concentrated extracts, 250-500 mg three times per day, are another option.

    Alternatively, a tea can be made by boiling 1/2 ounce (14 grams) of root in 1 pint (500 ml) of water for fifteen minutes, then drinking two to three cups (500-750 ml) per day. Long-term internal use (more than two to three weeks) of high amounts (over 10 grams per day) of glycyrrhizin-containing products should be attempted only under the supervision of a doctor. Licorice creams or gels can be applied directly to herpes sores three to four times per day.

    DGL is prepared without the glycyrrhizin in order to circumvent potential safety problems and is used for conditions of the digestive tract, such as ulcers. For best results, one 200-300 mg tablet is chewed three times per day before meals and before bed. For canker sores, 200 mg of DGL powder can be mixed with 200 ml warm water, swished in the mouth for three minutes, and then expelled. This may be repeated three or four times per day.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Licorice products that include glycyrrhizin may increase blood pressure and cause water retention. Some people are more sensitive to this effect than others. Long-term intake (more than two to three weeks) of products containing more than 1 gram of glycyrrhizin (the amount in approximately 10 grams of root) daily is the usual amount required to cause these effects. Consumption of 7 grams licorice (containing 500-mg glycyrrhizin) per day for seven days has been shown to decrease serum testosterone levels in healthy men by blocking the enzymes needed to synthesize testosterone.

    However, in another study, a similar amount of licorice had only a small and statistically insignificant effect on testosterone levels. As a result of these possible side effects, long-term intake of high levels of glycyrrhizin is discouraged and should only be undertaken if prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional.

    Consumption of plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to increase potassium intake is recommended to help decrease the chance of side effects. According to the German Commission E monograph, licorice is inadvisable for pregnant women as well as for people with liver and kidney disorders.De-glycyrrhizinated licorice extracts do not cause these side effects since they contain no glycyrrhizin.

    Are there any drugs interactions
    Certain medicines may interact with licorice. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

  9. MyrrhMyrrh
    Botanical name:
    Commiphora molmol

    Parts used and where grown
    Myrrh grows as a shrub in desert regions, particularly in northeastern Africa and the Middle East. The resin obtained from the stems is used in medicinal preparations.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    In ancient times, the red-brown resin of myrrh was used to preserve mummies. It was also used as a remedy for numerous infections, including leprosy and syphilis. Herbalists for relief also recommended myrrh from bad breath and for dental conditions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has been used to treat bleeding disorders and wounds.

    Active constituents
    The three main constituents of myrrh are the resin, the gum, and the volatile oil. All are thought to be important in myrrhs activity as an herbal medicine. The resin has reportedly been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell) in test tube studies.

    Myrrh also has astringent properties and has a soothing effect on inflamed tissues in the mouth and throat. Studies continue on the potential anti - cancer and pain-relieving actions of myrrh resin. Human clinical trials are lacking to confirm most uses of myrrh.

    In a preliminary trial, patients with schistosomiasis (a parasitic infection) were treated with a combination of resin and volatile oil of myrrh, in the amount of 10 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day for three days. The cure rate was 91.7% and, of those who did not respond, 76.5% were cured by a second six-day course of treatment, increasing the overall cure rate to 98.1%.

    Myrrh RasinsHow much is usually taken
    The German Commission E monograph recommends that persons either dab the undiluted tincture in the mouth or gargle with 5-10 drops of tincture in a glass of water three times daily. In addition, tincture of myrrh, 1-2 ml three times per day, can be taken.

    The tincture can also be applied topically for canker sores. Due to the gummy nature of the product, a tea cannot be made from myrrh. Capsules, containing up to 1 gram of resin taken three times per day, can be used as well.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    No adverse effects from myrrh usage have been reported. At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with myrrh.

  10. Phyllanthus(Niruri)
    Common names: Bahupatra, Bhuiamla
    Botanical name: Phyllanthus niruri

    Phyllanthus(Niruri)Parts used and where grown
    Phyllanthus is an herb found in central and southern India. It can grow from 30-60 centimeters in height and blooms with many yellow flowers. Phyllanthus species are also found in other countries, including China (e.g., Phyllanthus urinaria), the Philippines, Cuba, Nigeria, and Guam. All parts of the plant are used medicinally.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    Phyllanthus has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 2,000 years and has a wide number of traditional uses including internal use for jaundice, gonorrhea, frequent menstruation, and diabetes and topical use as a poultice for skin ulcers, sores, swelling, and itchiness. The young shoots of the plant are administered in the form of an infusion for the treatment of chronic dysentery.

    Active constituents
    Phyllanthus primarily contains lignans (e.g., phyllanthine and hypophyllanthine), alkaloids, and flavonoids (e.g., quercetin).Phyllanthus blocks DNA polymerase, the enzyme needed for the hepatitis B virus to reproduce. In one study, 59% of those infected with chronic viral hepatitis B lost one of the major blood markers of HBV infection (e.g., hepatitis B surface antigen) after using 900 mg of phyllanthus per day for 30 days. While clinical trials on the effectiveness of phyllanthus for HBV have been mixed, the species P. urinaria and P. niruri seem to work better than P. amarus. Clinical trials with hepatitis B patients have used 900-2,700 mg of phyllanthus per day.

    How much is usually taken
    Research has used the powdered form of phyllanthus ranging from 900-2,700 mg per day for three months.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    No side effects have been reported using phyllanthus as recommended in the amounts above. At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with phyllanthus.

  11. Picrorhiza
    Common names:
    Kutki, Katuka
    Botanical name: Picrorhiza kurroa

    PicrorhizaParts used and where grown
    The herb originated in and continues to grow primarily in the Himalayan mountains. The rhizomes or underground stems of picrorhiza are used.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    The bitter rhizomes of picrorhiza have been used for thousands of years in India to treat people with indigestion. It is also used to treat people with constipation due to insufficient digestive secretion and for fever due to all manner of infections.

    Active constituents
    The major constituents in picrorhiza are the glycosides picroside, kutkoside, androsin, and apocynin. They have been shown in animal studies to be antiallergic, to inhibit platelet-activating factor (an important pro-inflammatory molecule), and to decrease joint inflammation. According to test tube and animal studies, picrorhiza has antioxidant actions, particularly in the liver.

    Picroliv (a commercial mixture containing picroside I and kutkoside) has been shown to have an immunostimulating effect in hamsters, helping to prevent infections. Picrorhiza increases bile production in the liver, according to rat studies.

    It has also been shown to protect animals from damage by several potent liver toxins, offering protection as good as or better than silymarin (the flavonoids found in milk thistle). However, it does not have the amount of human research as silymarin. Picrorhiza has also shown to reduce formation of liver cancer due to chemical exposures in animal studies.

    Human studies on this plant are not prolific. A series of cases of acute viral hepatitis in India were reportedly treated successfully by a combination of picrorhiza with a variety of minerals. A number of similar reports have appeared in Indian literature over the years. No double-blind clinical trials have yet been published, however.

    Two preliminary trials suggest that picrorhiza may improve breathing in asthma patients and reduce the severity of asthma.Although, a follow-up double-blind trial did not confirm these earlier trials. A preliminary trial conducted in India found a small benefit for people with arthritis (primarily rheumatoid arthritis).

    Picrorhiza in combination with the drug methoxsalen was found in a preliminary trial to hasten recovery in people with vitiligo faster than those receiving methoxsalen and sun exposure alone.

    How much is usually taken
    Between 400 and 1,500 mg of powdered, encapsulated picrorhiza per day has been recommended. One author considers this equivalent to the use of 1-2 ml of fluid extract twice per day.Picrorhiza tastes quite bitter.Combining with ginger root powder capsules or taking as tea can improve palatability.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Loose stools and colic have been reported when unprepared picrorhiza rhizomes are used as medicine. However, extracts in alcohol have shown much less tendency to cause such effects. No other adverse effects have been reported with picrorhiza. Although the use of the herb is not discouraged in India during pregnancy and breast-feeding, there is little information to determine the safety of the herb during these times.

    Are there any drug interactions
    Certain medicines may interact with picrorhiza. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

  12. TurmericTurmeric
    Botanical name:
    Curcuma longa

    Parts used and where grown
    The vast majority of turmeric comes from India. Turmeric is one of the key ingredients in many curries, giving them color and flavor. The root and rhizome (underground stem) are used medicinally.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric was prescribed for treatment of many conditions, including poor vision, rheumatic pains, and coughs, and to increase milk production. Native peoples of the Pacific sprinkled the dust on their shoulders during ceremonial dances and used it for numerous medical problems ranging from constipation to skin diseases. Turmeric was used for numerous intestinal infections and ailments in Southeast Asia.

    Active constituents
    The active constituent is known as curcumin. It has been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic actions. First, it protects against free radical damage because it is a strong antioxidant. Second, it reduces inflammation by lowering histamine levels and possibly by increasing production of natural cortisone by the adrenal glands.Third, it protects the liver from a number of toxic compounds. Fourth, it has been shown to reduce platelets from clumping together, which in turn improves circulation and may help protect against atherosclerosis.

    There are also test-tube and animal studies showing a cancer-preventing action of curcumin. In one of these studies, curcumin effectively inhibited metastasis (uncontrolled spread) of melanoma (skin cancer) cells.This may be due to its antioxidant activity in the body. Curcumin inhibits HIV in test tubes, though human trials are needed to determine if it has any usefulness for treating humans with this condition.

    A preliminary trial in people with rheumatoid arthritis found curcumin to be somewhat useful for reducing inflammation and symptoms such as pain and stiffness.A separate double-blind trial found that curcumin was superior to placebo or phenylbutazone (an NSAID) for alleviating post-surgical inflammation.

    While a double-blind trial has found turmeric helpful for people with indigestion, results in people with stomach or intestinal ulcers have not shown it to be superior to a placebo and have demonstrated it to be less effective than antacids.

    Preliminary research indicates a possible benefit of oral curcumin supplementation (375 mg of turmeric extract with 95% curcuminoids three times daily for 12 weeks) for chronic anterior uveitis (inflammation of the iris and middle coat of the eyeball).

    Turmeric RootHow much is usually taken
    Turmeric extracts standardized at 90 to 95% curcumin can be taken in the amount of 250 to 500 mg three times per day. Tincture, 0.5-1.5 ml three times per day, is sometimes recommended.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Used in the recommended amounts, turmeric is generally safe. It has been used in large quantities as a condiment with no adverse reactions. Some herbal books recommend not taking high amounts of turmeric during pregnancy as it may cause uterine contractions and people with gallstones or obstruction of bile passages should consult their healthcare practitioner before using turmeric.At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with turmeric.

  13. Tylophora
    Common name
    : Indian ipecac
    Botanical names: Tylophora indica, Tylophora asthmatica

    TylophoraParts used and where grown
    Tylophora is a perennial climbing plant native to the plains, forests, and hills of southern and eastern India. The portions of the plant used medicinally are the leaves and root.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    This plant has been traditionally used as a folk remedy in certain regions of India for the treatment of bronchial asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism, and dermatitis. In the latter half of the 19th century, it was called Indian ipecacuahna, as the roots of the plant have often been employed as an effective substitute for ipecac. The use to induce vomiting led to tylophoras inclusion in the Bengal Pharmacopoeia of 1884.

    Active constituents
    The major constituent in tylophora is the alkaloid tylophorine. Laboratory research has shown this isolated plant extract exerts a strong anti-inflammatory action. Test tube studies suggest that tylophorine is able to interfere with the action of mast cells, which are key components in the process of inflammation. These actions seem to support tylophoras traditional use as an anti - asthmatic and anti -allergenic medication by Ayurvedic practitioners.

    These historical and laboratory findings have been supported by several human clinical trials using differing preparations of tylophora, including the crude leaf, tincture, and capsule. One clinical trial with asthma sufferers, found that tylophora leaf (150 mg of the leaf by weight) chewed and swallowed daily in the early morning for six days led to moderate to complete relief of their asthma symptoms.

    In a follow-up trial with asthma patients, an alcoholic extract of crude tylophora leaves in 1 gram of glucose had comparable effects to that of chewing the crude leaf.

    Another trial found similar success in reducing asthma symptoms using a tylophora leaf powder (350 mg per day.) However, the tylophora was not as effective as a standard asthma drug combination. One double-blind trial failed to show any effect on asthma for tylophora.

    How much is usually taken
    Tylophora leaf-200 to 400 mg of the dried leaf per day or 1 to 2 ml of tincture per day-can be used to treat asthma.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Patients using tylophora may experience temporary nausea and vomiting, soreness of the mouth, and loss of taste for salt, particularly with the fresh leaf and tincture. The herbs safety for use during pregnancy and breast-feeding has not been established. People with asthma should be closely monitored by a qualified healthcare professional.At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with tylophora.

  14. Alfalfa
    Common name: Lucerne
    Botanical name: Medicago sativa

    AlfalfaParts used and where grown
    Alfalfa, also known as lucerne, is a member of the pea family and is native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region. Alfalfa sprouts have become a popular food. Alfalfa herbal supplements primarily use the dried leaves of the plant. The heat-treated seeds of the plant have also been used.

    Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
    Many years ago, traditional Chinese physicians used young alfalfa leaves to treat disorders of the digestive tract. Similarly, the Ayurvedic physicians of India prescribed the leaves and flowering tops for poor digestion. Alfalfa was also considered therapeutic for water retention and arthritis. North American Indians recommended alfalfa to treat jaundice and to encourage blood clotting.

    Although conspicuously absent from many classic textbooks on herbal medicine, alfalfa did find a home in the texts of the Eclectic physicians (19th-century physicians in the United States who used herbal therapies) as a tonic for indigestion, dyspepsia, anemia, loss of appetite, and poor assimilation of nutrients. These physicians also recommended the alfalfa plant to stimulate lactation in nursing mothers, and the seeds were made into a poultice for the treatment of boils and insect bites.

    Active constituents
    While the medicinal benefits of alfalfa are poorly understood, the constituents in alfalfa have been extensively studied. The leaves contain approximately 2- 3% saponins. Animal studies suggest that these constituents block absorption of cholesterol and prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. One small human trial found that 120 grams per day of heat-treated alfalfa seeds for eight weeks led to a modest reduction in cholesterol.

    However, consuming the large amounts of alfalfa seeds (80 -120 grams per day) needed to supply high amounts of these saponins may potentially cause damage to red blood cells in the body. Herbalists also claim that alfalfa may be helpful for people with diabetes. But while high amounts of a water extract of the leaves led to increased insulin release in animal studies, there is no evidence that alfalfa would be useful for the treatment of diabetes in humans.

    Alfalfa leaves also contain flavones, isoflavones, sterols, and coumarin derivatives. The isoflavones are thought to be responsible for the estrogen-like effects seen in animal studies. Although this has not been confirmed with human trials, alfalfa is sometimes used to treat menopause symptoms. Alfalfa contains protein and vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Nutrient analysis demonstrates the presence of calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

    How much is usually taken
    Dried alfalfa leaf is available as a bulk herb, and in tablets or capsules. It is also available in liquid extracts. No therapeutic amount of alfalfa has been established for humans. Some herbalists recommend 500 -1,000 mg of the dried leaf per day or 1-2 ml of tincture three times per day.

    Are there any side effects or interactions
    Use of the dried leaves of alfalfa in the amounts listed above is usually safe. There have been isolated reports of people who are allergic to alfalfa. Ingestion of very large amounts (the equivalent of several servings) of the seed and/or sprouts has been linked to the onset of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in animal studies. It has also been linked to the reactivation of SLE in people consuming alfalfa tablets. SLE is an autoimmune illness characterized by inflamed joints and a high risk of damage to kidneys and other organs. The chemical responsible for this effect is believed to be canavanine.At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with alfalfa.
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