Actions of Herbs
In the Caraka Samhita herbs are classified into 50 groups (varga) of 10 according to their primary actions (Caraka Samhita Sutrasthana 4). For example, herbs that are jivaniya or life-giving include the well known licorice or madhuka (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and the group that is brmhaniya or strength-promoting includes Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).
Herbs are not taken because they are good for this symptom or that symptom. This is not Ayurveda. That is Western. Please do not take this list and use it irresponsibly and uneducated correlations of symptoms and then start to self treat. I have no responsibility for such childish nonsense. Drugs are used in part with their other qualities of rasa, virya, vipaka, karma, guna and its actions on dosha.
This is just some of the actions of herbs and how Ayurveda categorizes herbs as well as a superficial glance into part of how Ayurveda uses them.
■ Balya: This means strengthening and these herbs are tonics. They are usually heavy and filled with the earth element, like bala (Sida cordifolia).
■ Bhedaniya: These are purgative herbs that forcibly expel the solid and liquid parts of faeces. Kutki (Picrorrhiza kurroa) has this effect at a high dose.
■ Brmhaniya: These are nourishing herbs that are full of the water element; e.g. shatavari (Asparagus racemosus).
■ Caksusya: These herbs improve eyesight; e.g. amalaki (Emblica officinalis).
■ Chhardi nigrahana: These are antiemetic herbs such as fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale recens), pomegranate juice (Punica granatum) or cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum).
■ Chedana: These herbs actively draw out toxins by scratching them from the tissues; guggulu (Commiphora mukul), shilajit (Asphaltum) and black pepper (Piper nigrum) all help to detoxify the deeper tissues.
■ Daha pras´amana: These herbs alleviate burning sensations in the body, such as sandalwood (Santalum album) or coriander (Coriandrum sativum).
■ Dipaniya: These herbs enkindle the digestive fire. They indirectly digest ama. They are usually pungent, hot and dry; e.g. long pepper (Piper longum), black pepper (Piper nigrum) and chitraka (Plumbago zeylanicum).
■ Garbhas´aya: These herbs have an affinity for the uterus, such as ashoka (Saraca indica) and roses (Rosa centifolia).
■ Grahi: These herbs dry the moisture of the body and of the wastes; ginger (Zingiber officinale), cumin (Cuminum cyminum).
■ Hikka nigrahana: These herbs are anti-hiccup such as clove (Syzygium aromaticum).
■ Hrdaya: These herbs have a tonic effect on the heart; arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).
■ Jivaniya: These herbs are life-giving and rejuvenative herbs such as amalaki (Emblica officinalis).
■ Jvarahara: These are antipyretic herbs for stopping fevers including musta (Cyperus rotundus) and kalmegh (Andrographis paniculata).
■ Kandughna: These are antipruritic herbs such as peppermint (Mentha piperita), turmeric (Curcuma longa) and musta (Cyperus rotundus).
■ Kanthya: These herbs are renowned for their affinity for the throat; e.g. licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), long pepper (Piper longum).
■ Kasahara: These are antitussive herbs such as vasaka (Adhatoda vasica) or long pepper (Piper longum).
■ Krmighna: These herbs are specifically for removing parasites and worms; e.g. neem (Azadirachta indica) or kalmegh (Andrographis paniculata).
■ Kusthaghna: These are herbs that treat skin diseases such as neem (Azadirachta indica) or manjishtha (Rubia cordifolia).
■ Lekhaniya: These herbs ‘scrape’ the waste residues out of the body by a drying action. They are usually bitter and pungent in flavour; for example guggul (Commiphora mukul), myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), vacha (Acorus calamus), turmeric (Curcuma longa), triphala, barley, and honey.
■ Madakari: These are substances that cause intoxication, such as alcohol.
■ Madhya: Anything that nourishes the mind and intellect, e.g. brahmi (Bacopa monniera).
■ Mutra samgrahaniya: These herbs reduce the flow of urine such as bhalltaka (Semecarpus anarcadium).
■ Mutravirecana: These herbs are diuretics that increase the flow of urine, such as gokshura (Tribulus terrestris) and coriander (Coriandrum sativum).
■ Nidrajanana: These herbs promote sound sleep; e.g. tagarah (Valeriana wallichi), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).
■ Pachana: These herbs directly ‘digest’ ama. They do not necessarily stimulate digestion as well; e.g. triphala.
■ Prajasthapana: These herbs prevent miscarriage such as ashoka (Saraca indica).
■ Pramathi: These herbs remove the accumulated dosas from the dhatus and cells; e.g. vacha (Acorus calamus) and black pepper (Piper nigrum).
■ Purisasamgrahaniya: These are intestinal astringents that stop diarrhoea such as bilva (Aegl marmelos).
■ Rakta sodhana (rakta prasadana): These herbs specifically clean the blood and ‘alter’ its chemistry so that it does not cause inflammatory problems; e.g. manjishta (Rubia cordifolia).
■ Recana: These herbs are cathartics. They forcibly expel faeces as semi-solid diarrhoea; e.g. castor oil (Ricinus communis) or rhubarb root (Rheum palmatum).
■ Rasayani: These herbs rejuvenate the cells and extend life. They are antioxidants and also remove diseases; e.g. guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), amalaki (Emblica officinalis) and haritaki (Terminalia chebula).
■ Samjn~asthapana: These herbs are used to restore consciousness; e.g. vacha (Acorus calamus).
■ Sandhaniya: These herbs heal broken bones and hasten the repair of broken bone tissue. Guggulu (Commiphora mukul) is famous for this. Resins have a significant role here because resins in general are considered to relate to the blood part of plants just as the bark of trees is said to relate to bone tissue. The analogy is that just as resin heals the bark so it heals the bone. They also encourage circulation to flow to the wounded part of the body and hasten healing.
■ Samana: These are herbs that reduce the pathogenic level of a dosa to a more healthy level. The dosa is not expelled from the body, it is calmed. These are ‘palliative’ herbs, e.g. guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia).
■ Sirovirecana: These are herbs that clear the orifices of the head, also known as errhines. Such herbs are vacha (Acorus calamus) or cloves (Syzygium aromaticum).
■ Sodhana: These herbs actually clear the excess dosas out of the body, e.g. triphala, castor oil (Ricinus communis) or manjishta (Rubia cordifolia).
■ Sonita sthapana: These are haemostatic herbs such as manjishta (Rubia cordifolia).
■ Sramsana: Herbs that are laxatives and clear faeces before complete digestion is complete, e.g. trivrut (Operculina turpethum).
■ Sula pras´amana These are anticolic herbs that prevent intestinal spasms; e.g. hingu (Ferula asafoetida) or cumin (Cuminum cyminum).
■ Sukrala: Herbs that increase semen and/or give force to its ejaculation, e.g. amalaki (Emblica officinalis), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and shatavari (Asparagus racemosus).
■ Sukra janana: These are sperm-increasing herbs; ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and safed musali (Asparagus adcendens).
■ Sukra sodhana: These herbs purify the sperm such as gokshura (Tribulus terrestris).
■ Snehopaga: These are moistening herbs such as castor oil (Ricinus communis) or tila/sesame (Sesamum indicum).
■ Stambhana: These are astringent herbs that are constipating, stop bleeding and are drying. They have the properties of vata and so increase it. Manjishta (Rubia cordifolia) is a renowned astringent that stops bleeding diseases.
■ Stanya janana: These herbs can increase lactation; e.g. fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and shatavari (Asparagus racemosus).
■ Stanya sodhana: These herbs purify the breast milk, e.g. fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and musta (Cyperus rotundus).
■ Suksma: These herbs are penetrating herbs that can travel through the minutest channels, such as salt, neem oil (Azadirachta indica) and gotu kola (Hydrocotyle asiatica).
■ Svasahara: These herbs prevent breathing difficulties such as somalata (Ephedra vulgaris) and vasaka (Adhatoda vasica).
■ Svedopaga: Herbs that induce sweating, e.g. vasaka (Adhatoda vasica).
■ Trptighna: These herbs are thirst-quenching, e.g. amalaki (Emblica officinalis).
■ Udara prasamana: These are antiallergenic herbs, e.g. pit shirisha (Albizzia lebbek).
Chapter IV of Sutra-sthana of Caraka-samhita starts with six hundred evacuatives. Here six hundred evacuatives are described in short which are elaborately discussed in twelve chapters of Kalpa Sthana. Further six location of evacuatives, five sources of extract, five types of extract preparation, fifty great extractives and five hundred extractives are mentioned. Afterwards latex etc. six location, sweat etc. five sources of extract preparation, svarasa (juice) etc. five types of extract preparations are mentioned. Fifty great extractive are described in ten sub-group each contains ten drugs; such as Jivaniya etc. As such five hundred extractives are grouped in fifty great extractives. Again Atreya said that this description is neither too expansive nor too much brevity because there is no limitation of expansion and brevity.
This description can be sufficient for comprehensive knowledge to low intelligence and for practising to them and these are for the knowledge of hidden ideas to the intelligent and proficient in inference and for rational consideration. Regarding such view of Atreya, Agnivesa asked the question about the number of dravya in five hundred extractives because of one drug is included in more than one great extractive so number becomes lesser than five hundred of extractives. After listening to this, Lord Atreya replied on the basis of rational argument with the example. In the end total subjects are summarized in verses.
The word virechana denotes both emesis as well as purgative because of eliminating impurity. Number of six hundred evacuatives include both emesis and purgatives. This number is only for indication and guidance and not restrictive.
Description of five hundred extractives and fifty great extractives indicate the use both single and compound formulations.
Fifty great extractives divided into ten sub-groups. This ten sub-groups starts from ‘JÍvanÍya’ and ending with ‘VayasthÁpana’ is quite corresponding to the subjective of Àyurveda for the purpose to attainment of longevity. Each sub-group contains terms ending with a specific verbal suffix, for instance, the first sub-group contains ending with the suffix ‘Íya’ such as jÍvanÍya and second sub-group ending with suffix ‘ya’ as ‘balya’ etc. and so on.
From the study of fifty group of great extractives it is clear that description of applied aspect of dravyas was chief in period of Charaka. Latter on properties and actions were dealt with. It indicates that first used of dravyas and on this basis concept of their properties and actions were inferred. Here ten number is symbols of indication. It gives the directive to make such type of formulation according to need from drugs of similar properties and actions such as compound formulations of patha, etc to check diarrhoea.