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Ashwagandha

Botanical Name: withania somnifera

Other Names: Winter cherry, Indian ginseng

Description: a small woody shrub resembling eggplant. It has yellow/green flowers yielding small orange/red berries in the fall. The leaves are dull green and oval-shaped. Native to Africa, India and the Mediterranean, ashwagandha prefers dry, subtropical climates.  Ashwa means horse and gandha means smell. Its Sanskrit name loosely translates to “horse essence, suggesting strength & stamina.

Family: Solanaceae

Parts Used: primarily the root, but leaves, seeds and fruit also have history of topical use

Energetics: warming, dry, sweet, bitter, pungent

Actions: calming adaptogen, reproductive tonic, aphrodisiac, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, immunomodulatory, thermogenic, antitussive, galactagogue, sedative, stimulant

Uses: In Ayurveda, ashwagandha is a Rasayana, or a rejuvenative tonic that promotes longevity and overall wellness. Ashwagandha promotes memory and cognition, protects against neurodegenerative disorders, and boosts GABA, promoting neural growth and repair. It is high in iron and can build blood when there is deficiency. It nourishes ojas, increasing sperm count and libido. And it directly nourishes the thyroid gland, making it useful for hypo-thyroid conditions. It calms you down while giving you more energy, helpful for when people have insomnia due to adrenal fatigue. It regulates sleep cycles over time and facilitates a more restful sleep in the long-term. As an immunomodulatory, it can strengthen a weak immune response or calm down a hyper immune response.

Indications: general debility, low libido & fertility, nervous exhaustion, convalescence, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis), loss of memory, loss of muscle, tissue deficiency, autoimmune conditions effecting the muscles & joints (rheumatoid arthritis), iron-deficiency, hypothyroid, general tonic for graceful aging.

Contraindications: Ashwagandha is generally safe when used as recommended, though large doses have been known to cause gastrointestinal upset and have abortifacient effects. Ashwagandha can be stimulating to some; do not try it for the first time before bedtime. Because of its heavy & anabolic properties, it is contraindicated for states of high ama/severe congestion.

Preparation & Dosage:  Traditional Ayurvedic preparations combine the powdered root with ghee, warm milk or honey. Standard dosage is 3-6 grams/day of powder. KP Khalsa recommends 10 g a day to promote a restful sleep. As a tincture, 2 ml , 2-4 times a day. 1 tsp twice daily of herbal ghee or honey.

Shatavari

(Asparagus racemosus)

Shatavari is an herb from the Ayurvedic tradition. In Hindi, its name means “one who possesses a hundred husbands,” a hint that this herb has been used traditionally as a fertility tonic. Like all herbs, it has dozens of uses. Read on to learn more about some of its applications.


Family: Schisandraceae
 
Names: Indian asparagus, Shatamuli
 
Parts Used: stems, root

Energetics: sweet, bitter, cooling, moistening

Actions: adaptogen, immunomodulator, yin tonic, antitussive, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, aphrodisiac, galactogogue, diuretic, haemostatic

Chemistry: contains steroidal saponins, isoflavones, polysaccharides and mucilage.

Uses: Traditional use in the Ayurvedic traditions lists dozens of conditions where Shatavari may be helpful. These include rheumatism, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, gastric irritation, infertility, threat of miscarriage, menopausal symptoms, bleeding disorders, chronic fever and any other signs of internal heat or irritation. It is considered to be a nutritive and rejuvenative tonic, especially to pitta constitutions. 

In recent studies, shatavari has been shown to increase both the weight of mammary lobulo-aveolar tissue and the total volume of milk produced. It was found to inhibit oxytocin-induced contractions in vivo. It has shown significant antitussive activity in mice, and in vitro, has proven effective against E. coli, Shigella, Salmonella and Staph. All of this supports the traditional use in treating cough, dysentery, diarrhea, and as a support during pregnancy & breast-feeding. 

Probably the most common use of shatavari is among menopausal women suffering from hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats and vaginal dryness. Again, traditional use of shatavari for menopausal health and as an overall female reproductive tonic has been validated. One study found that over 80% of participants experienced better sleep and reduced hot flashes from using shatavari (Shrestha et. al, 2003). 

Shatavari is thought to strengthen the reproductive organs in both men and women by nourishing the ojas, or the highly refined and nourishing substance that resides in the reproductive tissues of the body. The steroidal saponins in shatavari support the production of reproductive hormones.  

As a nutritive tonic, shatavari enriches the body’s fluids, plasma and white blood cells, strengthening the immune system and providing lubrication and nutrition for the entire body.  This is what makes it a yin tonic in Chinese Medicine. 

Its cooling and demulcent properties soothe all forms of heat and irritation in the urinary, respiratory and GI tracts. Shatavari may be useful for any form of excess heat in the body such as chronic fever, ulcers, and bleeding disorders such as menorrhagia. Bleeding is actually considered to be a heat condition. The cooling quality of shatavari causes blood vessels to constrict which is why it’s used as a haemostatic. 

Indications: infertility, vaginal dryness, low libido, dry, achy joints, anemia, low immunity, inflammation of the GI tract (IBS, gastritis), GI irritation to alcohol consumption, gastric ulcers, menorrhagia, chronic fever, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia due to yin deficiency, food poisoning, dysentery, diarrhea due to heat or infection, dry, ticklish coughs, threat of miscarriage, insufficient milk flow, postpartum weakness, irritation of the urinary tract (cystitis, urethritis)  and any other sign by heat or dryness (even dry skin)–especially when accompanied by chronic stress or adrenal fatigue.

Contraindications: because of its cooling and moistening properties, avoid in cases of sluggish digestion with watery diarrhea, or excessive mucus production. This can be balanced in a formula with warming & drying herbs. 

Dosage:  40-80 drops tincture (1:5), 2 tsp/ 20 g dried powdered root per day, either mixed into food or decodted for 10-15 minutes in 8 oz of water. 

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Resources:
Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston; Healing Arts Press 2007
Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications for Herbs and Herbal Formulas by David Winston; Herbal Therapeutics Research Library (2014)
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra. Twin Lakes, Wis.: Lotus Press (1992)
 

Schisandra

(Schisandra chinensis)

Schisandra is a deciduous climbing vine that is native to China & Eastern Russia. It’s a highly prized tonic herb in traditional Chinese medicine, used to promote longevity and overall wellness. Because it contains all 5 flavors recognized by Chinese medicine (bitter, sour, salty, pungent & sweet), its effects on the body are broad, as each flavor is associated with an organ system. The flavors will come through differently for different people, and there is a saying that whatever flavors you taste first are the flavors you need the most to restore balance. Because it contains a balance of all 5 flavors, it is considered safe for any constitution.

Family: Schisandraceae
Names: 5 flavor berry, Wu Wei Zi
Parts Used: berry

Energetics: sweet, sour, warm, all 5 flavors

Actions: adaptogen, astringent, tonic, antioxidant, hepatoprotective

Uses: As adaptogen, schisandra strengthens the hypothalamic/pituitary/
adrenal axis (HPA) and normalizes the endocrine and immune systems. It has historically been used as a longevity tonic, a sexual tonic, and a tonic for vital energy.  Out of all the adaptogens that exist in the world, schisandra stands out as one that is both calming and invigorating. It can give you sustained energy and endurance while calming the spirit and helping you stay focused. And it is simultaneously nourishing, calming, rejuvenating and detoxifying.

Schisandra is also hepatoprotective, meaning that it protects the liver against damage caused by environmental toxins, viruses or alcohol/drugs. In Chinese medicine, it is considered to nourish the liver yin, or the cooling & nourishing aspect of the liver’s functions. Modern research has shown that schisandra increases metabolism of heavy metals, and can help to decrease elevated liver enzymes. This is helpful for anyone with a liver that is overheated and overworked due to high levels of stress, anger, and controlling personalities as well as anyone exposed to a high level of toxins. It can be a useful herb for someone recovering from hepatitis, mono, or undergoing a hepatotoxic drug regimen such as chemotherapy.

As an astringent herb, schisandra astringes excess fluid, tightening loose tissues to prevent leaky/boggy/atonic conditions such as urinary frequency, prolapse of the bladder, and diarrhea. It is used in Chinese medicine for leaky chi (involuntary sweating, premature ejaculation and ‘wasting & thirsting diseases’) when vital energy is slowly dissipating from the body.

I think of schisandra as an herb for anyone who is feeling puny or sluggish, with poor detoxification, brain fog, blood sugar lability, and a lot of anxiety/stress/overwhelm. It’s great for type A people who have burnt themselves out and are experiencing signs of adrenal fatigue such as metal fog, low energy, low libido, weak immunity. These people would do well to kick the coffee habit, as coffee depletes the adrenals, and schisandra makes a wonderful replacement for your morning coffee, perking you up while helping you to adjust to the symptoms of withdrawal (keeping you feeling stable and focused, alleviating jitteriness, headache and palpitations).

Indications: tuberculosis, mild asthma with wheezing , diabetes, blood sugar lability, diarrhea, nocturnal emission, involuntary sweating, insomnia, forgetfulness, low energy, chronic stress, brain fog, difficulty focusing, anxiety, palpitations, weak immune system, low libido, bladder prolapse, quitting coffee addiction, hepatitis, heavy metal toxicity, mono, cancer

Contraindications: because the sour flavor can increase gastric secretion, use schisandra cautiously if you have gastric ulcers acute gastric inflammation. Its liver detoxifying actions may affect the metabolism of certain medications (inhibiting CYP3A4). Schisandra has shown no harmful effects to fetal development, but it does have a traditional use of inducing labor (20-25 drops of tincture per hour), so large amounts should be avoided by pregnant women. If you are pregnant, seek the guidance of a professional herbalist or midwife before using schisandra regularly.

Dosage: 3-9 grams daily of powder, or 1 tsp of dried berries to 8 oz of water, decoct for 5 minutes or steep for 30 min. Tincture: 30-60 drops (1.5-3ml) qid

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Resources:
Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief by David Winston; Healing Arts Press 2007
Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by Maria Noel Groves; Storey Publishing (2016)
Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications for Herbs and Herbal Formulas by David Winston; Herbal Therapeutics Research Library (2014)
The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety by Simon Mills & Kerry Bone; Churchill Livington (2005)

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**