Getting to Know Your Herbal Allies: Shardunika (Gymnema sylvestre)
Sometimes we all need a little help keeping on track with our healthy habits. It may be all too easy to seek comfort in sweet, indulgent things, and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of temptations. A piece of cake? Yes, please. Maybe some chai too? Yum. Hmm…and another piece of cake? Uh-oh. We went too far. Before we reach for that second piece of cake and make our kapha totally out of whack, let’s turn instead to Gymnema sylvestre. Gymnema sylvestre is known by many names—meshasringi, shardunika, madhunashini, gurmar, Australian cowplant, periploca of the woods. Its Hindi name gurmar beautifully captures the spotlight of this herb, as it translates to “the destroyer of sweet.”1 Shardunika is one of Gymnema’s Sanskrit names. This is the name we use here at Banyan Botanicals and will be used interchangeably throughout this article.
What Does Gymnema Do?
Gymnema sylvestre is a plant native to central and western India, tropical Africa, and Australia. It is an herb that gets straight down to business. There are no embellishments dressing up shardunika—no grandiose myths connecting shardunika to the goddess-divine in plant form (like tulsi), no lofty legends or names that allude to fantastic wild beasts (like chitrak and the spotted leopard). Nope—not for this herb. Even its history is practical, quiet, and straight to the point, diving right into its work on the physiology. With no pomp and circumstance, it stands to reason that shardunika has maintained popularity in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia based on sheer merit alone.
You will notice that direct quality of shardunika the moment you taste it. Try it! When Gymnema sylvestre touches your tongue, it will essentially make your tongue insensitive to the sweet taste. To test the theory, after eating a little shardunika, have a bite of something sweet, like a piece of chocolate. Believe us, you won’t want more than one bite. That sugar will be tasteless and will feel a bit like chalk on your tongue…It’s not pleasant.
Isn’t that encouraging? If something that is usually an indulgent temptation doesn’t even taste good anymore—that will definitely help sway those sugar cravings! But this is only the beginning of what shardunika does. Shardunika’s power to neutralize the sweet taste on the tongue foreshadows the work it does once in your body. This is a great example of “the doctrine of signatures”: while not necessarily Ayurvedic in origin, the doctrine of signatures is an ancient way of interpreting nature’s hints about what a plant can do for you.2 In shardunika’s case, its action of neutralizing the sweet taste is its signature throughout the physiology, beyond just the taste buds.
How Gymnema Sylvestre Works
Gymnema sylvestre is all about neutralizing and regulating sugar.
- The active compound of G. sylvestre is a group of acids called gymnemic acids. These gymnemic acid molecules are similar to the structure of the glucose molecule and are able to fill the glucose receptors on the taste buds, thus blocking the taste for sweet.
- There is a similar action in the small intestine.3 This is one way shardunika helps to maintain healthy blood glucose levels that are within the normal range.
- Shardunika also supports a healthy and happy pancreas, which in turn promotes the healthy production of insulin. This all leads to its support of normal glucose tolerance.4
- For those of us who took anatomy class way back in history, here’s a quick recap: glucose is sugar that comes from the carbohydrates you eat, so blood glucose is the amount of this food-derived sugar in your blood. The pancreas is an organ that produces the hormone insulin (among other functions), and insulin helps regulate glucose in the blood.
All of these—pancreas, insulin, blood glucose levels, metabolizing sweet things—are all about sweet, sweet, sweet in the body. This herb takes its name as the Destroyer of Sweet quite seriously.
G. sylvestre goes further. Beyond neutralizing and regulating sugar and sweet substances after you have ingested them, shardunika helps regulate a healthy appetite, AND it helps lessen cravings for sweet things. Talk about a win-win! Shardunika is ensuring our success even before the sugar passes our lips—because, thanks to it, we won’t be tempted to eat sweet things in the first place. Plus, using shardunika regularly can make sweet foods taste less palatable overall.5 Because of these properties, shardunika can be a great help when focusing on enhancing healthy eating habits and working to attain your healthy weight. (At risk of stating the obvious, healthy diet and exercise are equally important parts of the equation when attaining a healthy weight—shardunika can’t do it all on its own!)
Please note, with its rather effective work supporting healthy blood glucose levels, it is best to first work with your practitioner if you are taking medications or are prone to deficient glucose in your blood. And, as always, if you are pregnant or nursing, please do first consult with your practitioner.
How to Take Gymnema Sylvestre
While shardunika can definitely be effective on its own, adding some herbal “buddies” can certainly enhance what it has to offer. You can even blend your own formula! Making your own formula to fit your needs can be incredibly rewarding, but if this is beyond your comfort zone, a practitioner will be able to formulate a customized blend for your situation.
- Looking for some extra help in clearing kapha and keeping blood glucose levels balanced? Try adding guduchi, kutki, and gokshura to your shardunika.
- How about general regulation of blood glucose to help keep it in the normal range? Shardunika does well with turmeric, bitter melon (karela), fenugreek seeds, and black pepper.
- Looking for an energy boost if you struggle from a long-term pitta or kapha imbalance? Shardunika and shilajit make a great rejuvenating pair.6
How much, you may ask, of each of these herbs in these suggested combinations? Well, that’s up to you, your own unique prakriti and vikriti, and what you’re trying to accomplish. We always recommend starting slow and small, and building up over time until you reach the amount that helps you feel great. And be patient. This is a great practice in learning to listen to your body, as it knows what is best for you!
If you want a ready-made formula that clears kapha, helps keep blood glucose levels balanced, supports a healthy pancreas, and more, check out Sweet Ease tablets. This formula brings forth many of shardunika’s strengths by combining it with neem and turmeric, two herbs that also support a healthy pancreas. Guduchi and amalaki are also included, two tonifying and rejuvenating herbs with a huge list of their own amazing benefits, and they help to make this a well-rounded formula.
Gymnema Sylvestre Tea
Tapping in to Gymnema sylvestre’s long list of benefits is very simple. The most traditional and incredibly easy way to use shardunika is simply to drink it as a tea by adding the powder to warm water. The longer you use it, the more effective it will be, too. Try it out for at least six months for better results.7 We recommend ¼ to ½ teaspoon, once or twice per day, or as recommended by your health practitioner.
Let Gymnema Support You
We find its far-reaching benefits to be nothing short of inspirational, and we call on it to help us through any time we find we’re tempted by a little too much sweet. Enjoy it, and pat yourself on the back as you stay committed to your health goals with a little extra help from shardunika.
How will you welcome shardunika into your life to support you? Whether you choose to use it on its own or in a formula, G. sylvestre will work hard to support you on your path to wellness and balance. You will feel great as you say no to those sugary temptations that used to lure you in—and this is no small feat. The more you meet your health goals, the easier it will be to stick to them. Enjoy all that shardunika can do for you, and remember to celebrate as you continue to succeed.