When I was a child, a popular programme on BBC radio was Desert Island Discs, a show in which various celebrities chose the ten gramophone records they would want to have when marooned on a desert island. I have often amused myself picking my ten Desert Island Herbs, and punarnava is certainly among them. The name punarnava means, quite literally, the Renewer, for local tribal folk observed that the dead, dry plant would spring again to new green life. On the theory of signatures, they took this to mean that the plant was rejuvenative--a fact now supported by rigorous scientific research.
Punarnava, boerhaavia diffusa in Latin, is known in English as Spreading Hogweed. It is an abundant weed, found growing in poor soil, native to both India and Brazil, where it is known as Erva tostão. It belongs to the Four o'clock family or Nyctaginaceae. It is essential to consider the source of your punarnava to guarantee that it is good quality. Buying USDA certified organic punarava ensures that it was consciously cultivated or wild harvested in an area free from chemicals and pesticides. Rasa is sweet and bitter, virya is heating and vipak is pungent. It reduces vata and kapha and may stimulate pitta in excess, though modest amounts will reduce pitta through sweet rasa. Active chemical components include flavonoids, alkaloids, steroids, triterpinoids, lipids, lignins, carbohydrates, proteins and glycoproteins. Some of the most important active components include puranavine and punarnavoside.
Punarnava is a folk medicine and super-food as well as a classical Ayurvedic Rasayana. In India, it is used by traditional tribal healers in Chhattisgarh, Bagbahera and Pithora regions. Healers apply punarnava to the vagina to hasten delivery and also tie the roots, wrapped in red cord, around the woman's waist. They also apply punarnava mixed in whey to breast abscesses. For eye sties, they use punarnava mixed in ghee, and for conjunctivitis, punarnava in honey. They make punarnava oil with nirgundi to ease arthritic aches and pains. The Bhil tribal folk use punarnava roots for blood dysentery. Country folk plant punarnava in their gardens to repel poisonous snakes and scorpions and in West Bengal and Assam, punarnava leaves are eaten as a potherb and are understood to prevent renal calculi. In other areas, the entire plant, including the root, is eaten in curries and soups, while the seeds and roots are used in cereals and pancakes. In South America, Erva tostão or punarnava has long been used by traditional healers for maladies of the liver and kidneys.
In Ayurveda, punarnava acts on the rasa, rakta and mamsa dhatus. It is used as a rasayana for lungs, heart, and kidneys as well as a diuretic, expectorant, and anti-diabetic. It reduces lung and peripheral edema, is anti-rheumatic in painful and swollen joints, improves renal function, breaks up renal calculi, and is valuable in nephrotic syndrome. As a bronchodilator and expectorant, it is used in chronic bronchitis, bronchectasis and plural effusion. As an eye medicine, it is used in glaucoma and night blindness. Punarnava is frequently cited in Ayurvedic texts.
Dhanvanthari Nighantu states, / Punarnava Bhavedushna Tiktaa rooksha Kaphaapaha Sasopha Paandu hrid roga Kaasorakshata Soolajit./
Punarnava is bitter and heating. It is drying. It checks Kapha. It is useful in the treatment of diseases with swelling, anaemia, heart diseases, cough, blood spitting, and colic.
In skin diseases, a paste of the root with dadhimanda (water floating oncurd) is used topically. (Chikitsa-Ch. 7. Charaka.) In urinary calculus, Punarnava decoction is recommended. (Chikitsa-Ch. 7. Sushruta). Sushruta also recommends milk boiled with Punarnava in fevers, and application of Punarnava paste in swelling of the testicles. In eye diseases, Bhavprakash says,
Dugdhena kandoom kshoudrena netrashravancha sarpisha pushpam, thailena thimiram,
kanjikaena nisandhatam, Punarnava haratyaasu bhaskarasthimiram yatha.
With milk in itching of the eyes, with honey in discharges, with ghee in white patches, with oil in immature cataracts, with rice washing water in night-blindness, punarnava is useful in eye diseases.
In nephrotic edema, a tea is made with punarnava, ginger, khus and vetiver. In night blindness, a cup of cow's milk with a teaspoon of punarnava is taken at bedtime. In enlarged spleen, use one teaspoon punarnava with aloe vera gel. In edema, a paste of punarnava can be applied to the swollen areas. This is particularly useful in angioneurotic edema of the face and eyes due to an allergic reaction, since punarnava is an anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory. In itchy allergic eye conditions, bathe the eyes with punarnava eyewash. Punarnava eyedrops can be used twice daily for glaucoma. In asthma, a teaspoon of punarnava and half teaspoon pippali can be given in honey. In allergic rashes, mix punarnava with ghee and honey. In urinary tract infection, punarnava tea is beneficial.
Punarnava Guggulu is the most valuable herbal compound for kidney stones and should be taken daily on a preventative basis by anyone with a history of kidney stones. It is also useful for obesity, goitre, water retention, glaucoma, diabetes and kapha type arthritis.
Punarnava has been extensively researched, with findings backing up its traditional uses. It has been demonstrated that punarnavoside is diuretic, (Gaitonde et al 1974) anti-inflammatory, (Bhalla et al 1968) anti-fibrinolytic, (Jain and Khanna 1989) antibacterical (Olukoya et al 1993) and anti-convulsant ( Adesina 1979). Punarnava has also been shown to be hepatoprotective and choleretic, cardiokine and anti-oxidant. It should always be considered in Hepatitis C because it has demonstrable hepato-protective action. Sony and Bhatt demonstrated effectiveness of an herbal mixture containing punarnava in entamoeba histolytica (1995). It is also anti-fungal. Pari and Sateesh, 2004, demonstrated the ability of punarnava to lower blood lipids in diabetes, as well as showing an antioxidant impact.
This immensely useful herb offers hope for many otherwise incurable or difficult to treat conditions including diabetes, obesity, kidney stones, renal failure and hepatitis C. It is also of great use in common conditions such as allergies and conjunctivitis. Hence, punarnava is near the top of my list of Desert Island Herbs.
Please note: Articles appearing in the Banyan Vine do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Banyan Botanicals. This information is intended to apprise qualified health practitioners of possible Ayurvedic approaches. It is not intended as medical advice.