ayurvedic medicine

Man’s relentless aspiration to overcome ailments & to keep himself healthy has compelled him to try many remedial measures like spiritual healing, medications, and psychological treatment. Among these curative measures, the use of drugs to combat ailments is the one, which got a maximum scope.

Medicines in Ayurveda are called as ‘Aushadha.’ Ayurvedic medicine is becoming popular day by day as they respond well to a wide range of chronic diseases which are left either untreated or worsened due to side-effects by conventional medicine.

Ayurvedic medicines are based on plants, materials of animals & marine origin, metals and minerals. Ayurveda mostly uses plants as the raw materials for the manufacture of drugs.

The fact that Ayurvedic medicine is made following the rules of nature, they are quite suitable for our use with no side-effects if used judiciously.

Ayurveda has explained various aspects of medicines in detail like selecting contents of the drug, their habitat, the season in which they grow, method of storage, way of the preparation process, the timing of medicine intake, dosage, etc.

However, even after Ayurvedic medicines have proved their potential worldwide, there are some misconceptions which can be wiped out only after having detailed knowledge about them.

In how many ways Ayurvedic medicine are prepared?

Ayurvedic medicine exists in both single ingredient form and compound formulations. There are many methods to make medicine as per the given conditions of patient and disease.

Compound formulations have proven more effective than single herbs. Many contents are combined accurately in such a way that one or two of them are active while others play a supporting role by acting as catalysts.

Majority of Ayurvedic medicines are to be taken orally. Hence, medicine is prepared through various following processes to make them more palatable & potent, with a pleasant odor, color, etc. and long-lasting.

Pancavidha Kashaya Kalpana

These are the five necessary preparations which are accepted and followed in Ayurveda. Out of these many secondary preparations have been evolved. These five basic preparations are:

1.    Swarasa (juice)

Swarasa is the first formulation mentioned in Ayurveda and is the most potent one. The fresh juice extracted from a drug is Swarasa.

A part of the plant such as stem, leaves, or the whole plant is nicely crushed and strained to get fresh juice. This juice gets easily well-absorbed & digested and contains fresh active ingredients.

Juice should be made and used instantly.

2.    Kalka (paste)

Generally, it is prepared by grinding fresh herbs to make a thin paste and is used as medicine. If the dry powder is available, water is added & mixed well.

Kalka is rather difficult to take and digest. Hence, it is not used often.

3.    Kwatha (decoction)

Rough powder of the crude drugs is boiled in water to make a decoction. As a rule, decoctions are prepared by boiling one part of drug substances with 16 parts of water until the later is reduced to one fourth.

The mixture is strained through a thin cloth and taken in a lukewarm condition. Decoction has multiple uses and is prescribed usually in almost every disease.

It is usually taken after food for better digestion. All types of the decoction are meant for instant use only.

4.    Hima (cold infusion)

Rough powder of drug is soaked in cold water for 6-8 hours then the macerate the mixture and strain to use cold.

It is mostly used in disorders producing heat in the body such as fever, burning sensation, thirst, etc. Hima should be used instantly.

5.    Phanta (hot infusion)

This preparation is similar to the way we make tea. Roughly powdered drug is added in eight parts of boiling water. Keep it in room temperature for some time to make it cold, and then the liquid is used after straining it through a cloth.

It is commonly used in fevers and as a carminative. Phanta also is to be made and used instantly.

Curna (powder)

This type of Ayurvedic formulation is most commonly used in current Ayurvedic practice. It can be made either out of a single drug or may contain a mixture of herbs, metals or minerals.

Curna is made by grinding the drugs into a fine powder so that it is easy to take orally. Powders are easily metabolized and absorbed when compared with other solid forms like tablets, capsules, etc. leading to early onset of action.

Curna is more economical also when compared with any other medicinal preparation. It is used as a single medicine for the treatment of a varied number of diseases.

Curna plays an essential role in making secondary preparations like in making tablets, syrups, jelly, etc. It is also used for udwartana (powder massage) in many skin diseases & obesity.

It can be licked with honey, ghee, oil, etc. or can be drunk with water, milk or any other liquids in general. It can be used for six months if stored in an airtight container.

Asawa & Arishta (spirituous liquids)

These are the preparations resulting from fermentation. Here medicines are combined and are allowed to be in the same state for 3-4 months. It mainly contains sugar, jaggery, medicinal flowers, liquid medium, and main powdered herb.

The method of preparation of Asawa & Arishta is same except the liquids used for fermentation. Asawa is made by fermenting herbal juices; on the other hand, Arishta is made by adding herbal decoctions.

Many a time purified metallic foils or incinerated metals are added to the preparations to enhance specific medicinal properties.

Spirituous liquids have a unique identity because of the self-generated alcohol in them which brings many advantages like,

  • Strengthens body, mind and digestive power
  • Helps overcome sleeplessness, grief, and anorexia
  • Digestive and carminative
  • Palatable, light, nourishing

Usually, these liquids contain 5 to 10% of alcohol, which also acts as a preservative, and these medicines have no expiry date. It is taken along with an equal quantity of water mixed after food.

Avaleha (concoction)

Avaleha, also known as, lehya is a semi-solid preparation of drug made by the addition of sweetening agents like jaggery, sugar, herbal powder, decoction or fruit pulp/juice are cooked.

Then other substances like honey, ghee, etc. are added to make a soft sweet jelly-like concoction.

Chyawanprash, one of the most widely used Ayurvedic preparation, is a famous example of Avaleha.

Avaleha is an excellent medicine for children, old aged, who have an aversion towards syrup, tablets, powder, etc. Avaleha is commonly used in metabolic disorders, respiratory disorders, hemorrhagic disorders, dysentery, as an immunity tonic & aphrodisiac.

Generally, Avaleha is taken with milk, lukewarm water, sugarcane juice, or any prescribed decoction. It can be stored and used for one year.

Vati (tablets)

Vati is one among the important secondary preparations in Ayurveda pharmaceutics. This is the primarily produced and solid dosage form in pharmaceutical worlds of all medication systems. This is due to its multiple advantages like,

  • Can be swallowed easily
  • Fixation of dosage is quick and easier
  • More economical
  • Longer drug action
  • The bitter taste of herbs and irritating odor of drug can be masked

Vati can be prepared from the herbal, herbo-mineral, or mineral medicines.

Vati is prepared by cooking jaggery, or sugar syrup or Guggulu (a plant sap) added with fine powders of the drug. It is available in doses ranging from 500 mg – 1 gm in different shapes and sizes and is taken along with water, honey, milk, or any other suitable liquid as per the nature of the illness.

Many variants of Vati are available in the market by terms like vataka, gutika, modaka, Vatika, pindi, and guda. Herbal Vati can be used for one year while those made of mineral drugs can be used for an indefinite time.

Varti (herbal suppositories)

Varti is a derivative of Vati preparation. The method of preparing varti is same as that of Vati preparation. However, varti differs in its shape, size, and therapeutic usage.

Varti is introduced into one of the openings of the body other than the mouth, e.g., in the anus, openings of genital organs, nose, eyes, etc. These are solid at room temperatures but dissolves when placed in the body openings.

Varti is famous as suppositories and is in regular use for medical purposes. It can be stored for one year provided they do not lose color and form.

Lepa (herbal applications)

Lepa preparations are the topical medicaments meant for external use to the skin.

One or more drugs are ground to fine powder form and mixed with any of the specified liquid like ghee, oil, milk, water, decoction, etc. to prepare Lepa.

These preparations are best known for cleaning and healing the wounds. Lepas are widely used to add radiance to the face, to treat freckles, herpes infections, poisonous bites, blisters, inflammation, leucoderma, de-pigmentation, and pain.

Lepas are usually applied against the follicular hair direction. This helps in quicker absorption of the drugs through hair roots, sweat glands, and blood vessels.

All lepas are for instant use and should be removed soon after they dry up. We should not apply Lepa during night hours.

Medicated Oil & Ghee

The preparation method of medicated oil and ghee is similar. Ghee or oil is cooked with specified liquids like herbal juice or decoction and herbal pastes. This process of cooking is carried out for 2-3 days.

The medicinal qualities of herbs get added to the unique therapeutic properties of ghee and oil. This preparation aims to enhance the drug absorption, make ghee or oil more palatable and pleasing with a pleasant odor.

Medicated ghee is prescribed to those who are suffering from vata & pitta dosha diseases. Intake of ghee is beneficial for

  • Good eyesight, strength, nourishment, memory
  • Power of digestion
  • Immune-deficient diseases
  • Injuries due to burns, weapons, poison, etc.
  • Cardiac problems
  • Constipation

Medicated oils are usually prepared with sesame oil as the base oil. These oils are a lot different than medicated ones as this penetrate deep into tissues, spreads throughout the body, and reduce vata dosha.

With proper medication, oils can be used in several diseases. They are quick in action and have a nourishing effect on the body. The use of oil is determined by the degree up to which oil is cooked.

Most of the oils are for external application except a few are being used for internal use as Nasya (nasal oil drops), Basti (enema), and oral intake.

This medicated ghee/oil can be preserved for sixteen months, and the dose has to be finalized based on digestion capacity of the patient.

Nasya (nasal route preparations)

Nasya is one among the important modes of drug administration.

Here the medicine in any of the forms like herbal juice, decoction, medicated milk, powder, medicated fumes, medicated oils, etc. is given through nasal route.

The therapeutic benefits are seen in many diseases related to all the body parts above the neck. It is a unique treatment in disorders of head and neck.

Nasya is usually administered during morning hours in summer, noon hours in winter and on non-cloudy days in the rainy season. It is advised for the patients aged in between 8 to 80 years.

Generally, all types of Nasya can be repeated with a gap of a day or two for 7 or 21 days, depending on the severity of the disease.

Rasa yoga (metal & mineral formulations)

Ayurvedic medicines containing metals and minerals are known as Rasa yoga. They are incinerated and made into either pills or fine powder.

There’s a strong misconception that Ayurvedic formulations contain highly toxic metals & minerals like mercury, mica, sulphur, gold, silver, arsenic, lead, copper, zinc, iron, etc. and hence has harmful side-effects. But this is an unfortunate outcome of half-knowledge.

While preparing such formulations metals and minerals are processed for a long time with different procedures such as washing, triturating, heating, and dipping with the purpose to purify them both physically as well as chemically.

They are purified to such extent that they become suitable for our internal use.

Metals & minerals are enriched with several medicinal qualities and hence are considered more useful & effective when compared to the herbal preparations.

Rasa yoga works in smaller doses & is faster in action. They are useful in the majority of challenging to cure disease conditions, and they assimilate quickly in the body. Also, they are generally neutral in taste & are less cumbersome to administer.

Ayurvedic medicine – misuse & misconceptions

Ayurvedic approach is becoming popular globally, and hence, the demand for Ayurvedic medicines is increasing day by day.

In olden days the Ayurvedic physician himself used to prepare these medicines and used to manage them properly. But nowadays to meet the increasing demands many pharma companies have stepped in.

So, the chances of mismanagement of these medicines are a big concern, especially given the vast array of spurious Ayurvedic products currently available in the market.  Hence, care must be taken before selecting any Ayurvedic medicines.

Ayurvedic texts warn against the abuse of well-known medicines, emphasizing the point that even poisons can have medicinal properties when used appropriately, whereas the best medications can be harmful if improperly used.

So, before taking any formulation, consult with the doctor about its nature, dosage, timing, method of intake, etc.

The notion that metallic & mineral Ayurvedic drugs are highly toxic is wrong. They are used only after purification, with recommended low dose, with a specific medium, for a particular period and obeying do’s & don’ts concerning diet, activities, and environment.

Ayurveda has also described the toxic effect, complications, and diseases caused due to ingestion of improperly consumed medicines. These rules apply to all the herbal medicines also.

There is another misconception that Ayurvedic drugs being natural are always safe. This is untrue. Classical texts remark that Ayurvedic medicines have adverse effects when prepared or used inappropriately.

Therefore, drugs should be taken only after considering the timing of medicine intake and dosage as they both vary according to the specific disease and condition of the patient.

Final advice

It is clear now that several factors should be considered before taking Ayurvedic medicines. Despite the fact that these medicines are based on natural materials, do not fall prey to the spurious and adulterated drugs which are sold in the market in the guise of Ayurvedic medicines.

Unguided consumption of such so-called ‘Ayurvedic’ products may lead to serious health issues. For this, you need to be aware of such medicines, and safe selection & consumption may take you towards the path of good health.