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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)
 

Kava Kava

(Piper methysticum)
Kava root is a well-known herb used by many to relieve anxious states of mind and to promote a relaxed & euphoric mood. Kava is a large shrub native to Oceana and cultivated from Hawaii to New Guinea. The root is traditionally  pulverized & masticated in water or coconut water, then filtered and served at room temperature. The pungent & bitter taste is followed by a tingling sensation on the tongue, as the kavalactones begin to exert their analgesic effect.

Family: Piperaceae

Names: Kava Kava, Ava Pepper, Ava Root, Kawa

Parts Used: rhizome

Energetics: bitter, pungent, warming

Actions: relaxing nervine, hypnotic/sedative, antispasmodic, local anesthetic, urinary antiseptic, antifungal

Uses & Indications: Kava is primarily used to treat anxiety. It has been shown to reduce anxiety without dampening mental alertness or reaction time. In fact, it seems to improve concentration in some. As an antispasmodic, Kava also relaxes muscular tension and spasm, which makes it especially helpful for those who need to relax both body and mind.  In addition to relaxing tension, it has mild pain-relieving properties and has demonstrated “significant analgesic effects in animal studies, apparently via non-opiate pathways” (1). As a hypnotic, it can also be an ally for those struggling with sleep due to anxiety or muscular tension/pain. Kava has a reputation for helping menopausal women who struggle with mood swings and sleep troubles. Because it is warming, it may exacerbate hot flashes in some.

Kava is traditionally used among Pacific Islanders in ceremony. It is drunk during important political meetings and councils to facilitate an environment of peace and cooperation (How can we get our current leaders to give this a try!?) Kava Chai is a favorite beverage at herbal gatherings, shared at the end of the day, usually accompanied by live music and bare feet in the grass. I can assure you that it is effective at promoting a mild state of euphoria, sometimes resulting in uncontrollable giggles:)

Kava effects everyone differently. For some, it will make you feel giddy, light and uninhibited. For others, it can make you very sleepy. I believe that how kava effects your mood is highly dependent on what your body needs at that time, as well as the dose. Start small. You can always take more.

Alleged Hepatotoxicity & Safety Concerns: Kava should not be taken concurrently with alcohol and should be avoided by heavy alcohol users or anyone with pre-existing liver damage. There is a lot of controversy around the safety of kava, and some regulatory bodies have reacted to allegations of kava causing liver damage, leading kava to be restricted in some countries. As of 2004, a total of 78 cases of liver toxicity associated with kava use had been reported worldwide. However, most case reports had other drugs/alcohol involved (2). After review of the hepatotoxicity cases, it has been concluded that “the hepatotoxicity cases that were definitely attributable to kava were most likely immunologically mediated idiosyncratic drug interactions (IDRs), rather than a direct toxic effect” (3)

One study conducted in 2012 suggested that kava extract caused liver cancer in rodents who were fed massive amounts of kava extract in corn oil (Exposed rats received either 0.1, 0.3 or 1 gram of kava kava extract per kilogram of body weight and mice received 0.25, 0.5, or 1 g/kg), 5 days a week, for 2 years (2). This dose would be equivalent to 17-68 grams a day for a 150 lb human! That is over 100 times the dosing range recommended by Commission E.

Joseph M. Betz, Ph.D., a scientist with the National Institute of Health has a great presentation that discusses the controversy. After reviewing his presentation, it seems clear than when taken in appropriate doses, hepatotoxic effects are rare. Three studies that he reviewed (Sarris et al 2009, Conner et al. 2006, and Gasbur and Klimm 2003) all reported that Kava was well-tolerated among the participants and that no evidence of hepatoxicity was found (2).

Of coarse, every herb effects every person differently, and Kava does seem to have a higher potential than other plants to produce some kind of allergic reaction, especially among Caucasians. So, if you are interested in trying kava for the first time, please start with a low dose and listen to your body. The most common adverse reaction reported are in the form of dry, itchy skin rashes that have been known to occur among heavy kava users. If you notice any symptoms, on your skin or elsewhere, discontinue use. Most cases of clinically documented reactions have subsided within 24 hours of discontinuation.

Contraindications: Kava is probably safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women, when used in moderate doses, but caution should be used. Commission E and the Australian TGA recommend that kava-containing medicines are avoided by pregnant and nursing women, “but these ensued from lack of data rather than from any direct concerns” (3). “Women in some areas of New Guinea traditionally drank kava during pregnancy to promote the flow of milk…” “to induce an easy labor and to correct displacement of the womb” (3). There is no evidence of harmful effects on the fetus in animal studies or case studies. In Hawaii, women avoid any kava immediately after becoming pregnant. And there are reports of kava leaf being used topically to induce miscarriage (3). Taking all of this into consideration, it’s probably best to avoid kava during the first trimester.

Dosage: German Commission E recommends preparations equivalent to 60-120 mg of kavalactones taken 3 times a day (1). That’s about 840 mg/week. Kava does have the potential to be abused, like all mind-altering substances. Please use the plant with respect and gratitude, and remember that while all plants are here to help, they will let you know when you have crossed a line.

References:
1. Hoffman, David “Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine” (2003) Healing Arts Press: Rochester, Vermont

2. Joseph M. Betz, Ph.D. “Kava: Piper methysticum Forst.ppt presentation” from the Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH. December 8, 2013.

3. Bone & Mills “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Second Edition.” Edinburgh London: Churchill Livingstone (2013).

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

This month, in celebration of Kava, we are offering 10% off of our Kava Cocoa and Kava Root Bath.