The Benefits of Mucuna
Mucuna pruriens, also known by its Sanskrit name kapikacchu, is a nutritive tonic and adaptogen commonly used to nourish the nervous system, support healthy sexual energy, and strengthen and tone the reproductive organs.
This beautiful plant with its velvety seed pods is also a natural source of levodopa (L-dopa), which is an essential precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Thanks to this attribute, it’s revered for its ability to uplift one’s mood and enhance a sense of emotional well-being.
In this article:
- Characteristics of the Mucuna Plant
- Mucuna Pruriens Benefits and Uses
- Modern Research on Mucuna
- How to Take Mucuna
- Is Mucuna Safe?
- The Growing and Harvesting of Banyan’s Mucuna
Mucuna is a creeping vine that grows all over India—particularly in the tropics—and is also found in tropical regions of Africa and the Caribbean.1 A member of the Fabaceae family (or legumes), it is characterized by its delicate lavender or purple flowers and fuzz-covered pods, each containing multiple large beans.2
Mucuna is well known by two Sanskrit names: kapikacchu, which means “one who starts itching like a monkey,” and atmagupta, which means “secret self,” hinting at the value of the seed concealed within the allergenic seedpod.3 In English, the common name for this plant is cowhage, and it is also sometimes referred to as “magic velvet bean,” hinting at its mystical properties.4
Mucuna has been recognized and used for thousands of years in the world of Ayurvedic herbs. There are traditional uses for the root and the trichomes (the irritating hairs themselves), but the large, dense seeds found within the pods offer the powerful rejuvenating qualities that this herb is best known for. It’s these nourishing seeds that are most often used.5
Like Jack's beans of the famed "Jack and the Beanstock", Mucuna pruriens has its own special kind of magic that is delivered to the body with each velvet bean. Ayurveda recognizes mucuna as a source of nourishment and rejuvenation for the tissues, bestowing a foundation of balanced energy and well-being.
Perhaps best known for its affinity for the nervous system and reproductive organs, mucuna's magical benefits extend throughout the entire body:
- Promotes a healthy nervous system. As a rejuvenating herb, mucuna has a profoundly nourishing and rejuvenating effect. It can minimize the effects of stress while supporting a calm and stable nervous system.
- Supports the brain and intellect. As an extension of the nervous system, the brain and intellect are also strengthened and rejuvenated by mucuna’s nourishing qualities. The heavy, oily qualities of the seeds lend strength to any weakened areas of the body.6 In fact, the seeds of Mucuna pruriens are considered a tonic specific to healthy neurons.7
- Supports motor skills and coordination. Mucuna’s work in the nervous system directly affects the muscles as well, encouraging fluid muscular movements, proper sensation, coordination, and keen motor skills.
- Revitalizes the reproductive system. Mucuna is a reproductive tonic that offers support to everyone, including but not limited to those who identify as male and female. It supports fertility, healthy sperm and ova, proper functioning of the reproductive organs, and healthy genital secretions.8,9 As an aphrodisiac, mucuna bolsters healthy sexual energy and libido.10
- Supports healthy digestion and elimination. Because it promotes smooth muscle contractions, mucuna can help foster healthy digestive function and promote proper elimination.11
- Provides significant nutritional content. Mucuna helps to support and maintain balanced blood sugar levels that are already in the healthy range.12 The seeds themselves are considered to be high in dietary nutrition, with nutritive values similar to other commonly consumed legumes.13 The green pods and whole beans are traditionally boiled and eaten in the Himalayas.14
- Natural source of levodopa (L-dopa). Mucuna’s naturally occurring levodopa is an essential precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which contributes to brain and nervous system health.15 Dopamine plays an important role in behavior, cognition, voluntary movement, sleep, mood, working memory, and learning.16
Mucuna in Ayurveda
The vitality bestowed by mucuna nourishes the entire body and calms the nerves, making it an excellent rejuvenative for vata and pitta dosha. While it can be useful for imbalances of a tridoshic origin—those that involve vata, pitta, and kapha—it is typically too dense and heavy for kapha. If you do not know your dosha, you can take our free dosha quiz to see if mucuna might be the right herb for you.
Mucuna’s rasa, or taste, is primarily sweet and bitter. Its virya (action in the body) is warming and its vipaka (post-digestive effect) is sweet. Thanks to its nourishing and building qualities, this herb is excellent for building ojas, the body’s reserve of essential energy, immunity, and vitality.
Mucuna has an affinity for all of the tissues in the body, but is especially suited to balance the nervous, reproductive, and digestive systems. Its restorative qualities are wonderful for the entire nervous system, particularly when excess vata has accumulated in majja dhatu (the nervous tissue).17
In Ayurveda, different parts of plants are seen to work on different tissues in the body and not surprisingly, fruits and seeds correlate with the reproductive system. The seeds of mucuna are revered as one of the best reproductive tonics available in the plant kingdom, supporting every aspect of shukra dhatu (reproductive tissue).18
Mucuna has undergone several clinical trials over the years that have especially focused on its effects on fertility, nerve rejuvenation, and even sleep quality. Below are a few studies that have researched this herb’s effects:
- An Ancient Plant with a Modern Treatment. Bastyr University. 2021.19
- Efficacy of Aphrodisiac Plants towards Improvement in Semen Quality and Motility. PubMed Abstract. 201220
- Mucuna Pruriens Improves Male Fertility by Its Action on the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis. PubMed Abstract. 2009.21
- A Dietary Supplement Containing Chlorophytum Borivilianum and Velvet Bean Improves Sleep Quality in Men and Women. Libertas Academica. 2012.22
- Neuroprotective effects of...Mucuna pruriens. PubMed Abstract. 2004.23
Mucuna is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Here are some options to get you started.
The tablets make it easy to fit mucuna into a busy schedule and take it on the go. We offer tablets so that, if desired, you can chew them and get the taste of the herb (or you can simply swallow them).
Powdered mucuna (labeled as kapikacchu powder at Banyan) is the most traditional method. We recommend taking the powder with warm water, milk, ghee, honey, or another anupan. These carrier substances act as a medium for delivering the herb to its intended destination and can enhance its nourishing qualities.24
Take it in a supplement. Mucuna can also be found alongside other powerful herbs in the following herbal tablets:
- Healthy Vata: A blend of grounding and nourishing herbs to balance excess vata throughout the entire body.
- Men’s Support: Rejuvenating herbs to support the optimal health and function of the male reproductive system.
- Stress Ease: This rejuvenating formula features several adaptogenic herbs and helps the body cope with the daily stresses of life.
- Adrenal Nourish: As the name implies, this blend supports the health of the adrenal glands, nourishes the endocrine system, and promotes balanced energy.
Sip it in your daily latte. Ashwagandha Latte blends mucuna with other beneficial adaptogens, creating a delicious and healthy way to take your herbs daily.
Cook with it. Bring mucuna into the kitchen! To get started, try it in a chai mix, apple-cranberry chutney, or in a “happy” tahini sauce.
For most individuals, mucuna is regarded as a safe and beneficial way to support the health of your body, especially for those with a pitta or vata constitution. However, in some situations, there are some potential side effects and contraindications.
In one study involving a derivative of Mucuna pruriens, mild adverse effects—primarily of a gastrointestinal nature—were reported. These included mild and rare experiences of nausea, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, and insomnia.25
In excess, mucuna can cause headaches, movement disorders, fatigue, tremors, fainting, and thirst.26
Mucuna pruriens should be avoided in cases of high ama (toxicity), congestion, or in acute conditions.27 It should be used with care during pregnancy and breast-feeding, and avoided if there are known allergies to mucuna, its constituents, or other members of the Fabaceae (pea) family.
Mucuna pruriens should also be avoided in patients with psychosis, schizophrenia, glaucoma, heart arrhythmias, chronic nerve pain, and stomach ulcers. Because of the potential for additive effects or interaction, use caution in patients who are taking antidepressants, MAOIs, antidiabetic drugs, or anesthesia.28
If you are taking prescription medication of any kind, it is always best to check with your doctor before introducing an herbal regimen.
Long Term Effects
Generally, mucuna is considered safe for many to take long term. One study that looked at the long term effects of high daily doses of mucuna over a decade's span found that there were some reports of mild gastrointestinal disturbances. Overall, these seemed to be transient in nature.29
As one of our first Fair for Life Fair Trade certified herbs, we are proud and excited to share mucuna’s story.
Banyan’s mucuna is cultivated on farms in and around Rajasthan, India, where it enjoys sandy or loamy soil with good drainage. The seeds are directly sown in the field in the month of July after the ground has been moistened by rainfall. The crop then grows until November or December, at which time the mature beans are harvested, dried, and ground into powder for use.
The variety that is traditionally grown has long pods covered with irritating, creamy white hairs that cause a severe itching upon contact with the skin, which can take hours to return to normalcy.
In the last decade or so, the cultivators we partner with in India have adopted the “Zhandu Kanchha” variety of mucuna. This variety has a higher yield, higher content of L-dopa, and much less of the allergenic hair on the plant.
Even with this new variety, the beans are harvested by expert handlers with proper gear while exercising extreme caution in order to prevent any kind of negative reaction.
Sustainability of Mucuna
Because our mucuna is cultivated, there are no issues with overharvesting or sustainability concerns. Our mucuna is also Fair for Life Fair Trade certified, meaning that we’re committed to following fair trade principles—paying above-market wages, investing in the education of the farmers, and giving back to their communities.
As a part of a larger conversation regarding the sustainability of Ayurvedic herbs, it is important to understand where and how plants are grown and harvested.
We ensure sustainability by sourcing the botanicals used in our products from privately owned farms where each plant has been cultivated or harvested from legal wild-craft sourcing. Our herbs and ingredient-producing plants are harvested at optimal times, using environmentally sustainable practices sensitive to the long-term health of the plants.