Arjuna: Getting to Know Your Herbal Allies
Have you ever questioned the value of your heart? Probably not. The heart is known for being the powerhouse of the body, as vital as the brain. The heart muscle plays an integral role in our physical health; we wouldn’t survive without it. However, we value it for more than just its physical function. Our language and its metaphors—heartfelt, heavy-hearted, light-hearted, broken-hearted, having the heart of a lion, and so on—show that our culture associates the heart with psychological, emotional, and even spiritual importance. These days, stressors are in excess, convenience and processed foods are the staple in American diets, and our heart centers require greater care to keep up. Ayurveda teaches us that vibrant heart health depends on a range of holistic and integrated practices to balance the mind, body, and spirit. Herbal allies help us support these practices, and arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) may just be the heart’s herbal hero.
A Tree with Heroic Roots
The name “arjuna” is not unknown throughout the West, but it is most commonly associated with the legendary Mahabharata, one of the most respected books of Indian mythology. Arjuna is a great warrior and one of the five heroic brothers in this epic tale, and many people consider him to be the most important character.1 Centuries ago, the herb arjuna was given a name befitting its traditional role of protecting the heart, much like its mythological namesake brought fortitude, strength, and protection to his family in battle.2 Thankfully, arjuna has no problem living up to its illustrious name.
Arjuna in the Landscape
In a more literal sense, the term “arjuna” means “bright,” “white,” or “shining” in Sanskrit, much like the light reflective bark of the arjuna (also known as arjun) tree.3 A deciduous evergreen that can reach heights up to 100 feet, this majestic tree has been valued for its wood and its therapeutic properties for generations. It grows throughout the wet, marshy, sub-Himalayan regions of India and Sri Lanka, producing clusters of small, white or yellow flowers amid its cone-shaped leaves.4 The thick, white-to-pinkish-gray bark of the arjuna tree molts naturally once a year, and is harvested when the trees are mature. The red inner bark is highly prized as a cardiac tonic and has a similar popularity to hawthorn in European herbalism.5
Harvesting arjuna bark is a process that requires caution despite the tree’s innate tendency to seasonally discard it. Increasing demand for herbal allies such as arjuna threaten the survival of these wild species. Banyan Botanicals’ partners have worked with a farming cooperative in the Indian state of Karnataka to develop a certified organic farm containing nearly 100 arjuna trees. The harvesting of the bark is done in such a way that sustainable regeneration can be assured, the lives and health of these magnificent trees are preserved, and the benefits of arjuna can be enjoyed for generations to come.
The Heart of the Matter
You know the history, you know the botanical characteristics, so what can arjuna do for you? As it turns out, arjuna’s uses are numerous. As we’ve stated, arjuna is one of the quintessential Ayurvedic herbs for the heart; excellent for all manners of heart imbalances. It strengthens and tones the circulatory system, rejuvenates the soft tissues, and promotes proper function of the heart muscle.6 These properties support the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure values, and proper coagulation in the blood. On an emotional level, arjuna has also been traditionally used to promote emotional balance for those experiencing grief and sadness. It is said to give courage, strengthen the will, and fortify the heart to accomplish our goals.7 Furthermore, arjuna has been said to act energetically on the heart chakra, increasing prema bhakti (love and devotion).8 It’s easy to see why arjuna has been the foremost Ayurvedic rejuvenative for the heart for thousands of years—its traditional use has even inspired scientific research confirming its historical value.9
Beyond its heart-balancing traits, arjuna’s astringent, bitter, and slightly pungent qualities make it useful in other areas of the body as well. It has a cooling influence on the physiology, pacifying both pitta and kapha, but provoking to vata if used in excess. It can help alleviate excess kapha in the lungs, due to its affinity for the chest.10 Ayurvedic practitioners have recommended arjuna for digestive imbalances, to improve gallbladder and liver function,11 and for use topically to clear pitta inflammation from the skin.12 And it’s even been used traditionally to strengthen bones and support healthy bone density.13 With such a list of benefits, it’s no wonder arjuna is revered so highly; heroic indeed.
How to Use Arjuna
Traditionally, arjuna is taken in powder form, as taste plays an important part in the digestion of herbs, but it can also be used to create a medicated ghee, added to water with raw honey to make a tea, or combined with milk. Or if you prefer, try our arjuna liquid extract for convenience, faster assimilation into the body, and a longer shelf life.
Arjuna can certainly hold its own, but its benefits are enhanced when complemented by other herbs such as hawthorn berry and guggulu in our Heart Formula. Specifically designed to support the heart and the cardiovascular system, the combination of these herbal buddies helps to detoxify and cleanse the circulatory channels, nourish and strengthen the heart muscle, support healthy circulation, and promote proper oxygenation through the body. It also encourages the release of unresolved emotions, like fear or anxiety, which might otherwise harm the heart. Additionally, you can find arjuna playing a supporting role in some of our other products and formulas: Healthy Bones, Stress Ease, Sweet Ease, Women’s Natural Transition, Breast Care Balm, Daily Massage Oil, and Mahanarayan Oil.
Despite arjuna’s many forms and uses, approach your heart health with care. We suggest consulting your practitioner before incorporating arjuna into your practice, particularly if you are pregnant or nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition. But don’t lose heart…with the proper guidance, an integrated herbal approach may be just what you need to support you on your path to health and well-being.