Ayurvedic herbs all have a specific action, as well as a therapeutic action that affects one or all of the three doshas (constitutional types: vata, kapha, pitta). You’ll find that Ayurvedic herbs are generally sold in formulas. This is because they’re usually most effective when taken in combination with each other. Certain herbs harmonize or promote the actions of others. It’s also important to note that the herbs are most effective when taken consistently over the longer term, to enable them to properly balance the body.
These 10 herbs are some of the most well known and best Ayurvedic herbs for health.
- Specific Action: Rejuvenating, aphrodisiac, has a positive effect on the nervous system.
- Therapeutic Action: Lowers vata and kapha.
Ashwagandha is considered to be a primary rejuvenating tonic for men, and is helpful for increasing semen production and treating impotency. Clinical studies also show that it has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-stress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and hemopoetic properties.
In regards to nervous system health, one of the most recent scientific studies (published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine in 2012) found that 600mg of Ashwagandha a day resulted in a substantial reduction in serum cortisol levels, indicating improved resistance towards stress.
- Specific Action: Brain and nervous system tonic.
- Therapeutic Action: Balances all three doshas.
Brahmi is one of the best sattvic (purifying) herbs known. It promotes a calm, clear mind, and boosts mental function. Scientific research into the health benefits of Brahmi is still in its infancy. However, two recent western human trials showed that Brahmi improved memory recall in the elderly, as well reduced anxiety and depression.
3. Guduchi (Amrita)
- Specific Action: Rejuvenating, immune booster and general tonic.
- Therapeutic Action: Lowers pitta, as well as balances all doshas.
Guduchi is considered to be a prime rejuvenating and healing herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It has divine origins in ancient Hindu texts (its other name, Amrita, is known as the nectar of the gods), and is excellent for getting rid of deep rooted imbalances in the body. Modern research has shown it to have a wide range of health benefits. This includes treating cancer, diabetes and allergies, reducing rheumatic complications, normalizing liver function, and acting as an antioxidant.
Guduchi can be combined with Ashwagandha or Shatavari as a general wellness tonic.
- Specific Action: Regulates metabolism, anti-cholesterol.
- Therapeutic Action: Lowers kapha and vata. Does not aggravate pitta unless taken in high doses or for long periods.
Guggulu is regarded as the prime Ayurvedic herb to treat obesity and high cholesterol. Scientific studies conducted over the last few decades have clearly shown it to lower serum cholesterol and phospholipids, as well as protect against cholesterol-induced atherosclerosis. Guggulu was also seen to lower body weight in clinical studies.
5. Katuki (Picrorhiza)
- Specific Action: Liver tonic (hepatoprotective), anti-asthmatic, antioxidant.
- Therapeutic Action: Lowers pitta and kapha.
Katuki is used in Ayurveda for diseases of the liver and lungs. Ayurvedic formulas for asthma also commonly use Katuki as their main herb.
Scientists have been able to isolate the active compounds of Katuki, known as kutkoside and picroside, that combat liver dysfunction. (They’re commonly available in an extract called Picroliv). Not only does Katuki have liver protective properties but it’s been shown to be able to reverse liver damage as well. Scientific study found that Katuki can also help heal gastric ulceration caused by non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs.
- Specific Action: Blood purifier.
- Therapeutic Action: Lowers pitta and kapha, increases vata.
Manjistha is commonly viewed as Ayurveda’s best blood purifying herb. It’s useful for cooling the blood, stimulating circulation, and promoting healthy menstruation in women. Manjishta is particularly beneficial in supporting detoxification of the body, as toxins removed from organs such as the liver can enter the blood stream. It also helps support the lymphatic system, which drains waste from the body and regulates the immune system. If you’re feeling sluggish or fatigued, or are having skin problems, your lymphatic system could be struggling and in need of a boost. Manjistha’s soothing effect is also good for treating all kinds of inflammation and healing the skin.
- Specific Action: Rejuvenating, aphrodisiac, immunomodulatory.
- Therapeutic Action: Increases kapha, reduces vata and pitta.
Shatavari is considered to be the best general tonic for women. It has a slow, gentle action and can be used long term. The herb contains natural hormones called phytoestrogens, which rebalance estrogen levels in the body. It can also enhance reproductive health and sexual performance.
In addition, scientific research has found Shatavari to be helpful for treating peptic ulcers and hyperacidity. It has soothing and cooling properties that help with conditions that stem from the body and mind being overheated. However, most research has focused on Shatavari’s ability to strengthen the immune system. It does this by enhancing the functioning of the immune cells that eliminate potentially destructive organisms and cancer cells.
- Specific Action: Rejuvenating.
- Therapeutic Action: Can balance all three doshas (depending on variety). However, it generally lowers kapha and vata, and increases pitta.
Shilajit isn’t derived from a plant, but instead is a bitumen-like tar that seeps out of certain rocks in the Himalayas during the hot summer months. It’s very slow acting and needs to be used for at least a month for its effects to be felt. Yet, it’s one of the prime Ayurvedic compounds for rejuvenating the body. It has special effect on the kidneys, urinary system, and reproductive organs.
You’ll find Shilajit included in many different Aurvedic formulas, as it’s considered to enhance the effects of any herb that it’s combined with.
- Specific Action: Digestive stimulant.
- Therapeutic Action: Increases pitta.
Trikutu is a popular blend of long pepper (pippli), black pepper, and ginger (sunthi). It’s a recommended digestive tonic for those people with low digestive fire. It helps eliminate gas, bloating, and constipation. It can be used everyday without any negative side effects. Regular use of it also helps increase the absorption of vitamins and nutrients.
- Specific Action: Digestive stimulant.
- Therapeutic Action: Balances all doshas.
Triphala, meaning three fruits, is a popular blend of amla, bibhitaki, and haritaki. It’s probably the best known and most well used formula in Ayurvedic medicine, and is recommended for gentle detoxification of the digestive tract and tissues in the body. It rejuvenates and cleans the intestines, prevents cancer, and aids in weight loss. Similar to Trikutu, it’s a beneficial daily supplement.