When I was studying Ayurveda in India, it struck me that the Ayurvedic materia medica (herbs, etc) was largely unexplored, under-researched, and forgotten relative to that of Chinese medicine. (Just to be clear, it still is.) And I thought if there was more research done as to the individual properties, their synergistic effects, and their possible combinations with other medicines, they would be of tremendous value. I figured nutraceutical companies, supplement makers, and naturopathic doctors would put that to great use.

Jiaogulan, Gynostemma pentaphyllumFast forward 6 months, apparently I’m not the only one who felt that way. Take for example, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), an adaptogen known for it calming properties, which has been popping up on my radar screen and in pretty high profile places (Mercola).

Other high(ish) profile Ayurvedic herbs with wide uses and some name recognition are:

  • Neem – Great for skin, hair, clearing up acne, contraceptive properties, anti-fungal, anti-diabetic, antibacterial; yeah, pretty much everything.
  • Tulsi (Basil) – Hey! Its basil, yes like basil for cooking. And for these herbal medicine uses: rheumatism, arthritis, abdominal distension, and blood sugar control in diabetics.

With some name recognition are Amalaki and the formula Triphala.  Amalaki is better known perhaps because it is so fundamental to Ayurvedic medicine being a key ingredients in a number of other formulas including Chyavanprash (longevity tonic) and Triphala, as well as being eaten as a fruit in India, southern China, and many other countries in the region. While not a individual herb, I believe Triphala deserves a mention: a gentle purgative formula is available in capsules and powder in health food stores and seems to have received some awareness.

Lesser known ones have studies showing huge positive impact on blood sugar control:Ayurvedic herbs

  • Charantia (Bitter Melon),
  • Madhunaashini (Gymnema Sylvestre, aka the “sugar destroyer”),
  • Gurmar (Banaba Leaf).

Interestingly, a number of these have been reviewed and approved by organizations such at the UN-World Health Organization (WHO) for the control of blood sugar, yet the FDA refuses to acknowledge their potential.  Perhaps this explains the lack of greater awareness of them here in the US (and points to deeper problems in our healthcare system). On the brighter side, at least some nutraceutical companies are making these useful herbs available to a wider public–see Balance.

Other less well known are, but still with great potential and important uses are:

  • Guggulu – usually combined with triphala, but independently thought to improve thyroid function (and thus weight loss) and lower triglycerides
  • Atmagupta (L-Dopa Bean Extract) – a pre-cursor to Dopamine that enhances mood, sexuality, and movement; found in Otropin.
  • Shilajit – the only non-plant materia on this list, this mineral has numerous uses, particularly those for the genito-urinary tract and blood conditions.

I can only hope that more well-regarded, placebo-control clinical studies continue to be done to expand the understanding of these herbs and the positive impact they offer for health.  That contributes to their legitimacy and wider acceptance. Meanwhile, people like me will continue blogging and talking about them to build grassroots awareness.  And forward-thinking herb and nutraceutical companies will be putting the in more products.

So tell us, in the comments below, had you heard of any of these herbs before?