In Ayurveda, a holistic healing system practiced in India for centuries, herbs play a major role. Ayurveda has discovered a wealth of uses for these healing plants. Herbs each contain thousands of chemical compounds, so it’s no surprise that they are good at multitasking. Here are three examples of herbs with myriad benefits.
Take for: Better skin, healthy digestion, balanced blood sugar, and more.
Aloe vera (called kumari in Ayurveda) is a well-known remedy for sunburn. But aside from its topical applications, aloe can be taken internally. It is used in Ayurveda to help balance blood sugar and fats, and promote healthy digestion. It is also prescribed as a tonic for the female reproductive system and to promote regular periods. It’s used to nourish the liver, spleen, and blood; “purify” the body; and aid in liver function. Additionally, aloe is thought to essentially restore the energy of youth, and is often taken to promote youthful and healthy skin.
Aloe vera is available in capsules and as a juice. Take according to label instructions. Alternatively, 1–2 tsp. of fresh gel can be consumed daily.
Take for: A wide range of women’s health concerns.
This relative of the vegetable asparagus is used to “rejuvenate” the female reproductive system, and is often combined with aloe vera in herbal formulas. Shatavari root is taken to increase fertility, balance hormones, and address menopausal concerns, including vaginal atrophy and hot flashes. Today, we know the herb contains phytoestrogens that explain its powers in helping to cool hot flashes. Many women in Asia take shatavari throughout their reproductive years.
This might be one reason why menopausal complaints are rare for many women in Asia.
A common dose is 1–2 gm per day. However, higher doses—up to 15 gm per day—work best for hot flashes. Work up gradually to a dose that is effective.
Take for: Anxiety, stress, depression, and brain health.
Ashwagandha root has centuries of history behind it in Ayurveda as a stress tonic and “grounding” herb used to regulate metabolic processes and stabilize mood. And numerous studies confirm its benefits for stress and anxiety.
One study demonstrated it to be as effective as ginseng for a wide range of stresses. The herb improved chronic unpredictable behavior related to stress; depression; cognitive dysfunction; and adrenal gland atrophy (adrenal glands are responsible for releasing stress-regulating hormones). Plus, the herb reduced brain damage caused by stress by 80%.
In 2012, a study from India looked at 64 stressed-out patients who either took a high-concentration, full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root twice a day for 60 days, or a placebo. Those taking the ashwagandha root extract exhibited a significant reduction in scores on all the stress-assessment scales, relative to the placebo group. The ashwagandha group’s serum cortisol levels were also substantially reduced.
Ashwagandha also offers hope for a stress-related social anxiety condition known as agoraphobia. People with this condition are fearful of leaving their homes, and can be terrified of even walking outside to pick up the mail. One sufferer, formerly unable to leave her home for any reason, reports being able to drive her car after two months of taking this calming herb.
Ashwagandha is available in capsules. I recommend a dose of 5 gm per day.