Ayurveda is one of the most ancient and comprehensive systems of health care in the world. It focuses on leading a healthy life and realizing the full potential of the human mind and body. Ayurveda emphasizes the need to nourish the body with natural and whole foods.
Apart from food, whole herbs are also advised as part of the regular diet. These herbs support and balance the natural body systems. Some of these herbs are advised based on specific imbalances or symptoms, required by the body to maintain its natural balance.
Here are 23 of the most important and effective herbs in Ayurveda that are either part of a regular diet, potent extracts, rasayanas, or herbal mixes.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it can help your body adapt to ever-changing external physical and mental stressors, ranging from cold temperatures to social phobias– without targeting any one system or organ.
Most of the credit for ashwagandha’s benefits goes to a group of compounds called withanolides. Withanolides include withaferins and withanosides too.
The turmeric root has around 235 identified compounds capable of working in harmony in your body and improving your health. The most noteworthy are curcuminoids, responsible for turmeric’s trademark orange-yellow color, and volatile oils.
3. Holy Basil
Well deserving of the title “The Queen of Herbs,” holy basil or tulsi is quite the multitasker in the health department. You’ll reap the most benefits if you’re patient with it, but even a single cup could perk up your energy levels.
A creeping marsh plant, brahmi (also known as bacopa) is all kinds of good for your brain. It is also an adaptogen – which means it helps your body cope with both physical and mental stress.
The leaves are especially valuable with their arsenal of health-promoting compounds.
The fresh burst of flavor typically delivered by fennel seeds can be accredited to a compound called anethole – also found in anise and licorice. Anethole is health promoting and, together with other compounds, brings a range of benefits to the table, quite literally.
A regular for those nurturing a sweet tooth through candies, chewing gums, and beverages, licorice root is popular for being just that – sweet. However, it has so much more to offer than flavor alone. Packed into its root are compounds that travel to your liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart and can do you a world of good.
Neither a nut nor tough to crack, nutmeg is the seed of the plant Myristica fragrans. It can be grated or powdered into a flavoring spice, blending well into comforting baked goods and energizing beverages.
The seed has two oils: an essential oil and nutmeg butter. The essential oil is responsible for nutmeg’s unique flavor and fragrance while also carrying health-promoting compounds.
Cardamom has long been an ayurvedic staple for clearing up ama or toxins in the body. Modern science recognizes this as its diuretic effect – water retention can make you look puffy. Cardamom can also help lower the bad cholesterol and triglycerides, and improve glucose tolerance, all of which raise your risk of metabolic syndrome. It can also balance the gut flora, boost digestion, reduce blood pressure, improve your immunity and reduce inflammation.
The credit for cardamom’s health benefits can largely be given to the volatile oils in its seeds – the very oils that make it intensely aromatic and flavorful.
Often considered the “best among the sour fruits,” the amla fruit (also known as amalaki) has earned a spot in go-to ayurvedic concoctions like chyawanprash and triphala. It finds its footing in all five tastes – sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent – and promises to make you feel a lot more upbeat.
Amla helps your body to cope with blood sugar fluctuations, protects the heart and liver, and regulates the immune system.
You don’t very often come across herbs that go out of their way to help your kidneys. Voila! Tribulus, also known as gokshura, does that and more. You need to look to the fruits and roots of the plant to retrieve its benefits.
Gokshura is very effective in regulating blood pressure levels, supports kidney health, helps your body cope with physical and mental stress, assists muscle building and enhancing athletic performance in men.
Though often considered a troublesome weed, eclipta (also called bhringaraj or false daisies) is quite the herbal antidote. Most of the magic lies in the leaves and roots, though the plant as a whole has loads to offer too.
Bhringaraj helps protect the liver, promotes hair growth, shields the skin from sun damage, stabilizes blood sugar levels, and supports heart health.
Bhuminba also known as kalmegha (“King of the Bitters”) wraps beneficial compounds in its roots and leaves. Two groups of compounds – diterpenoid lactones (extremely bitter to taste) and flavonoids (responsible for color) – can help your immune system remain an impenetrable shield.
This versatile herb strengthens your immune system, limits inflammation, improves digestion, normalizes blood sugar levels and protects your liver.
Bibhitaki, in Sanskit which literally translates to “fearless,” is believed to take away the fear of disease. While that may seem far-fetched at first, we’d say first understand what the tree offers and see if you can trace any of the benefits back to your body’s needs. If you have a match, there’s nothing like it.
This is also why bibhitaki has earned a spot in the tri-ingredient ayurvedic tonic called triphala. The matured, dried fruits are the most helpful, with the mojo concentrated in the fruit rind.
Bibhtaki supports healthy digestive function, manages blood glucose levels, and boosts liver health.
When you’re looking to create a simple, daily habit that will help you feel a lot healthier, having guduchi or indian tinospora may be a good bet. The mature stem is the most beneficial part of the plant, though the leaves and roots contribute as well.
This medicinal herb is loaded with compounds that power up your immune system, keeps respiratory allergies away, stabilizes blood sugar levels and boosts mental health.
The 25-meter tall chebulic myrobalan tree, also known as haritaki, has a tall list of compounds that are quick to smooth digestion and kindle the brain. These benefits are tucked away in the unassuming green drupe-like fruits of the tree – most useful when dry and ripe.
You may be familiar with haritaki’s more established role in the tri-ingredient ayurvedic tonic triphala. However, on its own too, it has loads to offer – earning itself the title “the King of Medicines.”
Dainty and delicate looking it may be, but the jatamansi hides some serious muscle power behinds its humble appearance. Also called spikenard, muskroot, or Nardostachys jatamansi, the rhizomes or underground stem of the plant is used extensively in ayurveda for its potent medicinal qualities.
Jatamansi has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that you can count on to fight various health problems. It promotes hair growth, aids sleep, protects your liver, and lowers high blood pressure. Jatamansi improves learning and memory and eases depression and stress.
Best known for its use as a nerve tonic and immunity booster, velvet bean, also known as kapikacchu, owes its accolades to a compound called L-dopa or levodopa. The body, too, naturally synthesizes this compound, which it converts to dopamine – a game changer for mental well-being. With an extra supply of L-dopa from this legume, you could feel a lot healthier.
The seeds are where the magic lies, including rich reserves of protein. No wonder they help increase muscle mass!
Kapikacchu helps improve your mental well-being, boosts immunity, limits inflammation in the body, and stabilizes your blood sugar levels.
Though scorned upon as a stubborn weed, the grass-like cyperus plant, also known as musta, has many health tricks up its sleeves – in this case, its underground stem (rhizome and tubers).
Aromatic compounds called sesquiterpenes get all the praise and recognition, but it’s likely a team effort of different groups of compounds giving your health a boost.
Musta plays a critical role in maintaining optimum digestive health, limits excessive inflammation in the body, stabilizes blood sugar and blood lipid levels, improves mental function, and helps curb hunger.
Boerhavia, also known as punarnava, very tactfully focuses on three important facets of your health – your immunity, your blood glucose, and your liver function. All of its goodness is hidden away in its unassuming leaves and roots.
Punarnava helps modulate the immune system, boosting and suppressing it based on the need. It triggers insulin-producing cells to stabilize your blood sugar levels, and helps protect the liver.
First off, shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is also called asparagus, but it is not the same as the vegetable (Asparagus officinalis) you’re likely familiar with – same genus, different species.
Shatavari is considered an important herb in Ayurveda due to its versatile reach in the body, owing most of its benefits to steroidal saponins and flavonoids. The roots of the plant store most of these chemicals and are, hence, the most health-promoting part of the plant.
It helps boost your digestive health, immune response system, and heart and liver health. It also balances female hormones that cause mood swings, irregular menstrual cycles and reduced energy levels.
Vidanga is a woody, almost creeper-like herb whose fruits can be easily mistaken for black pepper. They bring a unique set of health benefits to the table, including anti-parasitic action and appetite control. The roots offer benefits as well.
Vidanga helps your body maintain leptin balance, that’s responsible for your natural response to excess food. Thus, it helps in maintaining optimium weight, and supports healthy heart and brain function.
Looking out for your overall well-being, Indian kudzu (also known as vidari) brings balance to both your body and your mind. Its rock-like root tubers have chemicals to help do just that. They mostly include pigment compounds called flavonoids and their derivatives.
This herb assists your body in protecting the brain, supports mental well-being, and balances the entire immune system.
Four herbs are referred to as dwarf morning glory, also known as shankhpushpi – Convolvulus pluricaulis, Evolvulus alsinoides, Clitoria ternatea, and Canscora decussate. Convolvulus pluricaulis is considered the “true” dwarf morning glory.
Best known as a brain tonic, dwarf morning glory has its entire aerial part chipping in beneficial compounds. It boosts memory function, helps fight anxiety and stress related symptoms, and improves thyroid health.