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Using nature's medicine, the Ayurvedic way

"Everything in the universe is medicinal - it just depends on how it's used." This quote sounds like something out of a modern, scientific research journal, but it's not. 5,000 years ago, an Ayurvedic doctor named Charaka already understood this, and documented it in his medical text, the Charaka Samhita.

by: Dr. Jessica Vellela, July 20, 2012

"Everything in the universe is medicinal - it just depends on how it's used." This quote sounds like something out of a modern, scientific research journal, but it's not. 5,000 years ago, an Ayurvedic doctor named Charaka already understood this, and documented it in his medical text, the Charaka Samhita.

Current research shows that plants have effective medicinal properties covering a variety of diseases and conditions. Thousands of years ago, this knowledge flourished and was widely applied to handle all varieties of ailments, from acute to chronic and emergency conditions. The difference between then and now is the approach to understanding how it works.

With the reductionist methodology of modern science, attempts are made to break down each component into individual pieces for study. In extremely simple cases this may work, but understanding the complexity of life may not be feasible this way. The myriad of combinations and permutations of individual chemicals, their proportions and interactions, results in something other than just the simple sum of their parts.

Ayurveda takes a radically different approach. Instead of breaking things down, it focuses on the final effect, using a specific set of 12 variables to predict the outcome. These include the person's imbalance (Dosha), medicine/herb to use (Bheshaja), geographical region (Desha), season (Kala), strength (Bala), physical structure (Sharira), condition of bodily tissues (Sara), diet (Ahara), general habits (Satmya), mental temperament (Sattva), natural constitution (Prakriti) and age (Vayas). The interactions between these 12 factors depend on the proportions of their common underlying components, The Five Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether).

Understanding the medicinal effects of herbs is based on how they influence one or more of the Doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha), which are present in each person. When one of the Doshas goes out of its normal range, an herb can be used to reduce or increase it, by affecting its 20 specific qualities (hot, cold, heavy, light, etc.) This approach helps us fine tune our usage of herbs to maximize the beneficial effects and more importantly, avoid any unwanted side effects.

All herbs are NOT for everyone

If you've ever tried a supplement for weight loss, headaches, or any other common ailment, you've probably come across one or two that didn't work for you but worked for someone you know, or vice versa. Why?

Now think about how many herbs are listed as natural antibiotics - Garlic, Ginger, Ginseng, Echinacea, Colloidal Silver, Honey, Citrus fruits, Tea Tree Oil, Mustard, Coriander - the list goes on. At this rate, in a few years we'll be told that almost every natural substance has antibiotic properties.

Choosing the best natural medicine for YOU

The most important factors in selecting natural medicines are your constitution (Prakriti), your imbalance (Vikriti) and the effect of the herb (Bheshaja). Here are some examples:

Honey - A Vata person with a dry cough (Vata symptoms) will get worse by using honey. However, the same Vata person with a productive cough (Kapha symptoms) will get relief.

Ginger - A Kapha person with a cold would be greatly relieved by hot ginger tea. However, a Vata person might not do so well, and instead end up with constipation, especially after drinking large amounts.

Different forms have different effects

Does a dried herb have the same effect as a fresh one? No. Fresh herbs, dry powders, decoctions, and oil/ghee-based preparations all vary and are more effective in certain situations. For each Dosha, certain forms generally work better than others:

For Vata - Oils are ideal.

For Pitta - Ghee, fresh herbs or dry powders, depending on the symptoms.

For Kapha - Dry powders and decoctions.