Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Healing Herbs of India: Ashwagandha (Winter Cherry)

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Withania somnifera, commonly known as Ashwagandha, Winter Cherry, Indian Ginseng or Poison Gooseberry is a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. It is said to be one of the most powerful herbs that has been used for more than 3000 years in Ayurvedic system of medicine for curing various health ailments. 

In Sanskrit, 'Ashwagandha' means 'horse smell', probably due to the odour of its root which gives out the smell of that of a horse. This small perennial plant is a native to India, Pakistan, Srilanka and Bangladesh. Its useful parts are seeds, roots and the leaves. 

The herb is characterized by the presence of alkaloids and withanoloids which impart its pharmacological and therapeutic properties.Ashwagandha roots are reported to contain more than 30 steroidal lactones and about 20 alkaloids. Many of the chemical constituents have been investigated for different biological activities. 

The herb is bitter in taste, germicidal, aphrodisiac and diuretic. It is one of the well known valuable herbs reputed to cure cough, fever, ulcers, dropsy, impotency, insomnia, rheumatism, leukoderma and toxicosis. It is also known to increase physical endurance and improve nerve function. It is also known to regenerate the hormonal system and promote healing of tissues. Also, Ashwagandha is known inhibit the aging process and is prescribed in all general debilities.
Ashwagandha is also known as Winter Cherry
The extract obtained from the herb is used in the preparation of chavanaprash, herbal tea, tablets and syrups. Dried roots of the plant are used as a tonic for cold and cough, hiccup, ulcers, female disorders as well as a sedative. The leaves of Ashwagandha are used to treat inflammation and swellings. Clinical research supports the use of Ashwagandha for anxiety, cognitive, inflammation & Parkinson's disease. Experimental studies have also proposed its anti-tumorigenic and anti-inflammatory role in rodents and other mammalian systems. All the results and clinical trials clearly show why Ayurveda has such a high opinion of Ashwagandha as a health booster and rejuvinator.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Healing Herb : Teak (Tectona grandis)

Tectona grandis
Teak (Tectona grandis)

Tectona grandis Linn (Teak) is a large deciduous tree belonging to family Verbenaceae. It has yellowish to reddish brown wood and papery leaves that are often hairy on the lower surface. The tree attains a height up to 40 meters. Teak fruit is a drupe enclosed in a brown, papery calyx. The tree bears bluish to white flowers. It requires a dry tropical climate for its growth. It flowers in February and March. Teak is native mainly to India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Burma but is naturalized and cultivated in Africa and Caribbean as well. 

It is commonly  known as sagwan, saka  (India), Djati, Jati (Indonesia), Kyun (Myannmar), Teck, Mai Sak (Thailand), Giati (Vietnam) and Teca (Brazil). Tectona grandia, Tectona hamiltoniana, and Tectona philippinensis are the other related species of the tree. The biggest and oldest (about 1,500 years old) teak is in Uttaradit, Thailand with a height is 47 metres.

Tectona grandis is an economically important species and the best source of most commercial teak wood products. Teak's high oil content, high tensile strength and tight grain makes it particularly suitable for outdoor furniture applications. It is used in the furniture making, boat decks and for indoor flooring. It is widely used to make the doors and house windows. It is resistant to the attack of termites. The wood contains scented oil which is the repellent to insects. Both the root, bark and the young leaves of teak produce a yellowish-brown or reddish dye used for coloring paper, clothes, matting, and even edibles.

Different parts of this tree are used in ayurveda for treating various health ailments for its acrid, sedative, anthelmintic and expectorant properties. It useful in the treatment of indigestion, headache, gravid uterus, piles, leucoderma, dysentery and burning pain over liver region. The bark is bitter tonic and is considered useful in fever. The ashes of wood applied to swollen eyelids and are said to strengthen the sight. 

The oil of nuts promotes the growth of hair and removes itchiness of skin. The flowers and the seeds are diuretics.  In traditional medicine, a wood-powder paste of the treeis used to treat headaches, swellings and dermatitis (a skin reaction), as well as worms and other parasites of the gut.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Banyan Tree: The National Tree of India

The Banyan Tree: The National Tree of India
Banyan (Ficus benghalensis), the national Tree of India, grows in hot tropical climates prevalent in most parts of India. The name originates from the word ‘Baniya’ or ‘Indian traders’ who sat below the tree shades for meetings and other useful gatherings. The tree is also known by other names such as the Nyagrodhah, Bargad, Peral, Vata, Vatagach, Sriksha, Bahupada and Skandaja.

There are many sacred beliefs and mythological references about this tree. In Hindu culture, the tree is often called 'kalpavriksha', which means 'a divine tree that fulfills wishes'. The leaves of the tree are considered to be the resting place of Lord Krishna. Buddha is believed to have enlightened meditating under banyan tree at Bodhgaya. In the Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva is sometimes depicted sitting in silence, under the banyan tree, with the saints sitting at His feet.
The Banyan Tree: Medicinal and  Therapeutic Uses
The Banyan tree has roots growing on the outside which turn thicker into woods and spread out wider in the region over the years. The tree can grow for a few hundred years and in the process spread its roots over acres of land. One of the widest tree in the world, the Great Banyan is located in Kolkata (India). The tree is said to be about 250 years old. Another such tree, Doda Alada Mara, located in Bangalore, has a spread of over 2 acres.

In Ayurveda, the bark, latex, leaf buds as well as the fruits of the tree are used as ingredients in medicine. Some of the active chemical constituents found in the plant include phytosterolin, ketones, flavonoids, flavonols, sterols, oentacylic triterpenes, triterpenoids, furocoumarin, tiglic acid ester and other esters. Owing to its active chemical composition, there are various medicinal uses of the banyan tree.

In Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha medicine, the milky latex from the stems and leaves of the tree is applied to bruises and to parts of the body that are causing pain. Extract of the roots and the leaves are useful for curing various skin related problems. For healthy hair, crushed prop roots paste is applied to hair. The same formulation is also used as a skin conditioner. Skin ulcers are treated with a paste made from mixing water with ground plant material from the aerial roots of the tree. The milk juice obtained from tree bark is also used as a natural remedy to get rid of skin moles.
Roots of the Banyan Tree
The latex of the plant is applied to the gums to treat toothache and bleeding gums. The bark and seeds are used as a tonic to maintain body temperature. Diabetic patients are also treated by the tonic made from banyan tree. Banyan fruit and its juice are used in rheumatism and lumbago. The bark of banyan is useful in controlling cholesterol. It decreases LDL or bad cholesterol while HDL or good cholesterol levels are maintained.

Taking banyan bark and juice on a regular basis improves the immune function of the body and helps fight against disease causing microorganisms. Treatment for piles is yet another one of the medicinal uses of the banyan tree wherein a few drops of the latex of the banyan tree is given with milk as part of a natural treatment for bleeding piles. Dried roots powder of banyan with milk is also beneficial in the treatment of female sterility and leucorrhea.

In addition to the medicinal uses of the banyan tree, it is also known to have a variety of other uses. The sap produced by banyan tree is used to produce shellac, a strong adhesive. It can also be used to make surface-finisher and for polishing brass and copper. The wood of the tree is used for door panels, well curbs, furniture and boxes. Using the bark of the tree, paper can be created. In India, the broad leaves of the banyan tree are dried and used as plates. The rubber, produced from the sticky milk of banyan tree, is used for gardening. People make use of the roots of the tree to make ropes, in order to secure wood bundles.

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