01 Feb 2023
Ayurveda is a traditional system of medicine that originated in India in approximately the 2nd century BC.(1) The term comes from two Sanskrit words: ayur, meaning life, and veda, meaning science or knowledge. We can therefore translate Ayurveda as the science or knowledge of life.
Among the central tenets of Ayurveda is that the universe and everything in it is composed of five elements: fire, water, earth, air, and space or aether. These combine together in different ratios to create three energy types, or doshas, namely vata, kapha and pitta.(2) Everyone has a unique blend of these doshas, which forms our prakriti, or constitution.
According to Ayurveda, doshas govern everything from our bodily functions to our personality traits. Any imbalance may manifest as mental or physical health problems. The aim of Ayurvedic medicine is therefore to preserve wellbeing by maintaining balance between mind, body, spirit and environment.
As a holistic system, the Ayurvedic approach uses a number of methods to promote wellness. These include food, yoga and other forms of exercise, meditation, massage, and herbal medicine. Ayurvedic herbs and spices therefore play a key role in how Ayurveda attempts to prevent and treat disease. Practitioners also believe they’re vital for maintaining our overall wellbeing.
People have been using plants medicinally for thousands of years. When it comes to Ayurveda, scholars estimate that there are approximately 1200-1500 plants in its official pharmacopoeia.(3) From these, practitioners can prepare a range of potent Ayurvedic herbs and spices.
You can get Ayurvedic herbs singly, or as part of a polyherbal preparation that contains extracts from multiple plants. Similarly, there are a multitude of ways in which you’re able to use Ayurvedic herbs. The appropriate method will depend on both the herb in question and its intended purpose. For example, you might apply liquorice root topically to treat skin irritations but take it orally to treat digestive problems.
Practitioners believe that Ayurvedic herbs can provide us with a whole wealth of health benefits. These vary from reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system to helping us cope with stress. While further research needs to be done to clarify these claims, so far there have been some encouraging results. We’ll discuss a few of these in more detail below!
Yet with so many Ayurvedic herbs out there, it can be tricky to know where to start. You could search for those with specific benefits, like Ayurvedic herbs for hair growth or Ayurvedic herbs for weight loss. Alternatively, you might prefer to go for Ayurvedic herbs that support your overall health and wellbeing.
Either way, it’s best to choose Ayurvedic herbs with scientific evidence to back their claims of safety and efficacy. Here are our top suggestions.
These five Ayurvedic herbs all have health benefits that are backed by modern scientific research. They're easy to source safely and reliably, and you can mix them with warm water for a traditional wellness-boosting drink. Alternatively, add them to one of our delicious Ayurvedic recipes!
You probably know turmeric as the vibrant yellow spice that brings flavour and colour to dishes like curry. However, it’s far more than mere seasoning. Turmeric offers numerous potential health benefits, hence its position among the most popular Ayurvedic herbs.
This is largely thanks to turmeric’s main active compound, curcumin. Research shows that curcumin has genuinely impressive anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, studies indicate that it could be as effective as, or even better than, some anti-inflammatory drugs.(4) Moreover, it doesn't have the potential adverse side effects that pharmaceuticals often do. This means turmeric may help ease a range of conditions involving chronic inflammation, like arthritis and diabetes.
Curcumin could also have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system, for example by improving blood flow.(5) In addition, it has powerful antioxidant properties. Turmeric could therefore limit free radical damage to our cells, protecting us against chronic diseases and premature ageing. Curcumin may even have anti-cancer properties, helping to prevent and treat the condition.(6)
Interestingly, like several Ayurvedic herbs, curcumin could also offer psychological and cognitive benefits. For instance, studies suggest it could be an effective antidepressant.(7) Furthermore, curcumin might increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, low levels of which are associated with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.(8)
One caveat is that studies often use greater concentrations of curcumin than you typically find in store-bought turmeric root. That’s why we test for curcumin, to make sure that we source the very best quality turmeric. Our organic turmeric powder contains over 5% curcumin, which is considered high.
In addition, our bodies do not easily absorb curcumin. However, consuming turmeric with black pepper can increase the bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2000%.(9)
Here at Erbology, we love turmeric stirred into warm milk with a dash of black pepper, or sprinkled into curries and stews!
One of the most famous and powerful Ayurvedic herbs, people use ashwagandha for a wide range of health benefits.
First, practitioners class the plant as an adaptogen. This means that it could enable our bodies to better cope with stress. Research indicates that ashwagandha might lower levels of cortisol, which is a hormone we produce when we’re stressed.(10) Studies also suggest that it can help to reduce feelings of anxiety.(11)
Likewise, ashwagandha may improve the quality of our sleep – something which is crucial for our overall health.(12) Excitingly, evidence shows that ashwagandha could aid memory and cognition too, although further studies are required to clarify this.(13)
Turning to physical benefits, ashwagandha joins the ranks of Ayurvedic herbs that may reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.(14) It could also help to lower blood sugar levels, which is particularly advantageous for those with diabetes.(15)
Another interesting effect of ashwagandha is that it could improve your physical performance. Studies indicate it can have a positive impact on strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, and recovery.(16) This means that, out of all the Ayurvedic herbs, it’s an especially good choice for those who enjoy a workout!
So, what’s the best method for taking ashwagandha? You can have it the traditional way by simply stirring a teaspoon of organic ashwagandha powder into warm milk. However, for a tastier treat, we recommend making moon milk. Mix a teaspoon into warm milk, then add cinnamon and a sweetener such as raw honey or agave nectar. This will balance out the bitter, earthy taste of ashwagandha, to create a delicious and soothing bedtime drink.
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