Super Herbs of Ayurveda: The Healing Powers of India’s Most Revered Medicinal Plants
You’ve likely heard about them. Perhaps you've even experimented with one or more from time to time. Their healing powers have become so legendary, their unique qualities so unusual, that they are revered by herbalists and healers across the planet.
Ayurveda includes a vast collection of herbs within its rich tradition. However, there are some herbs that stand on their own as extraordinary treasures. They are the superstar herbs of Ayurveda. If you take the time to discover their powers, if you learn how to use them properly, they will change your life.
Often we hear about the latest product or “superfood” that is going to take away all our ailments and give us long lasting vitality for the rest of our days. Perhaps we try it out, we wonder if we are receiving its benefits, and all too often we allow it to sit peacefully in the far corner of our cabinet never to be opened again!
My friends, what I'm going to be sharing with you is time tested. These herbs are not part of a coming and going fad. They've been used for hundreds of years with great success by skilled healers taking care of their patients, wise sages aspiring to the highest potential of human life, as well as everyday people wishing to alleviate the suffering from their lives.
What I'm not going to be sharing with you is “quick fixes.” If you're looking for an instant solution to your challenges, this isn't for you. But if you're willing to dig a bit deeper and really work to make a substantive change for yourself, then keep on reading!
What Is a “Super Herb?”
For starters, we need to first clarify what makes up a super herb. It's not enough to classify an herb as “superb” without being specific as to what constitutes that classification. In order to do so in a complete way, we have to take a dive (or at least a dip) into the magnificent ocean of dravya guna, or in other words, the wisdom teachings of Ayurvedic herbology.
The 4 Key Energetics of Every Super Herb
So for now, consider this. In Ayurveda, every super herb has four primary characteristics which make up its healing constitution. Every super herb has:
- A dominant taste
- A dominant energy
- A dominant post-digestive effect
- A dominant special effect
If you understand the main characteristics of an herb (or food for that matter), you will have a very good understanding of how that herb will operate in your body and mind. While there may be several so-called “super herbs,” by understanding these aspects, you'll be able to determine which of these super herbs are going to be ideal for you and your life.
The first way to investigate an herb is through its taste (rasa). Its taste will give us clues as to that herb’s energy (virya). Its energy will tell us if the herb is either heating or cooling to the body/mind. It will tell us if the herb is going to dilate the channels of the body or constrict the channels of the body; will it speed up your digestion, or slow it down.
The taste and energy of the herb will give us insight into its post digestive effect (vipak). The post digestive effect tells us whether that herb is going to cause a net gain or a net loss to your organism. Some herbs are going to have an overall strengthening effect on your tissues, while others will have a purifying effect.
Finally, each super herb has its special effects (prabhav). This tells us what unexpected organs and areas of the body the herb works on or has an affinity towards. Does the herb alleviate mucous from the respiratory system? Does the herb build sexual stamina? Will it help you rest easy at night after a stressful day? These are examples of the herb’s special effects. Many herbalists deal primarily with the special effect but overlook the other important energetics of the herb (taste, energy, and post-digestive effect). Only with all four aspects do we possess holistic and powerful knowledge about that herb!
The Sweet Taste of...
For example, take one of my favorite herbs, licorice. Licorice has a primarily sweet taste (rasa). Most herbs with a sweet taste, licorice included, also have a cooling energy (virya). Herbs with a sweet taste and a cooling energy typically will have a nurturing/strengthening effect on your tissues (vipak). It's typically a predictable pattern.
How about ginger? Ginger's taste is primarily pungent, or spicy. Most herbs with a spicy taste, ginger included, have a heating energy. Herbs with a pungent taste and heating energy tend to have a purifying post-digestive effect. Another predictable pattern that we find in most cases for most plants that we use for medicinal purposes.
However, sometimes there are exceptions to the rule. In rare circumstances, we discover an herb that doesn't follow the normal patterns. These unusual occurrences are eye-opening to herbalists and alchemists alike. And this herbal outlier is the first qualification of our super herbs.
The Supreme Vitality Herb
One example of a uniquely patterned super herb is ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Ashwagandha’s taste is primarily sweet. While most sweet herbs have a cooling energy, ashwagandha's energy is warming. Its post-digestive effect is strengthening/nurturing. The vast majority of herbs that are sweet and strengthening are typically cooling in nature and thus more difficult for the body to metabolize. Not so for ashwagandha! Its gently warming energy makes it easier to digest and easier for the body to benefit from its profound special effects!
Using Herbal Magic
If you think about it, herbs are indeed magical. Why do some herbs support the heart, while others support the liver? How are certain herbs able to promote a healthy prostate gland, while others could focus on an ulceration in the small intestine? Herbs can be extremely specific, and surprisingly intelligent. This is the herb’s special effect (prabhav) or its unique intelligence.
The second qualification for a super herb is a wide variety of effects on a wide variety of tissues and/or organs. While many common herbs have one or two primary effects on an organ system or tissue layer within the body, the super herbs could almost be considered panaceas in and of themselves.
For a super herb, such as ashwagandha, the question is not “what does it do?” The question becomes “what doesn't it do?”
Super herbs often possess polarized benefits. For instance, ashwagandha is famous for its ability to both calm and energize. Turmeric can both warm your digestion and cool excess heat. Triphala both detoxifies and rejuvenates. It is likely the uncommon energetic patterns which these herbs possess that gives them the phenomenal ability to provide healing in an opposite, yet complementary direction!
The Spiritual Herbology
The final qualification for a super herb is, for me, the most important. We've already covered the energetic patterns of an herb, but there is also a subtle energy that is of critical importance...a vibrational frequency per say, that determines its effect on the mind and psycho-magnetic field of a human being.
While certain herbs can have powerful therapeutic effects, we must also consider their vibrational impact. Valerian is a rockstar when it comes to deep sleep; yet its vibratory impact is dulling to the mind and body.
Cayenne pepper is in the upper echelon of circulatory stimulants, yet its energy is so powerfully active that if it were overused, it could disturb the most meditative of minds!
The super herbs all possess what Ayurveda calls a sattvic vibration. In other words, they encourage clarity, compassion, and calm within the mind and body of the person who ingests them. Their clarity producing powers support a person recognizing their true nature, which Ayurveda teaches is the primary path to maintaining health and balance.
For this reason, yogis, meditators, and seers have revered these super herbs for time immemorial. I invite you to study these herbs with reverence, integrate them into your life, and allow them to work their healing magic within you.