“Herbs are the smile and secrets of God.
They are the best friend of humans
and the decoration of any saintly soul.”
– Berdhanya Swami Tierra
Ayurveda teaches us that each plant carries a distinct signature or vibration. When we need an energetic boost, in periods of increased stress or at the change of the seasons, plants can offer an incredible boost to the body-mind.
Working with a naturopath or ayurvedic therapist can be very helpful in determining which herbs are best for you. As much as possible, try to obtain organic sources, which contain fewer chemicals and higher nutrient density.
Here are a few of my favourite plant allies:
Triphala is usually the first formula I recommend to yogis, vegetarians, and anyone seeking to improve their digestion, lose weight, improve complexion or clean up their act in general. Triphala is a blend of three fruits (tri: three, phala: fruits) which brings balance to all three doshas, assists in building sattvic (pure, compassionate, intelligent) tissues and assists in gentle, internal cleansing. Great for pretty much everyone — try it out if you are dealing with digestive issues, constipation, acne, anemia, trying to lose weight, build immunity or travelling. Take 1-2 teaspoons with warm water and/or honey at bedtime.
Natural wellness begins with good, strong digestion. Trikatu is a tasty, heating formula that helps to stimulate digestion by increasing the digestive fire (agni) and to detoxify the upper gastrointestinal tract. Ideal for those suffering from the side effects of an accumulation of toxins (called ama) in the digestive tract (side effects can include low or irregular appetite, food cravings, lack of energy, parasites, candida overgrowth, etc.) Trikatu also helps clear respiratory conditions (e.g. coughs, colds). This is a heating formula, ideal for treating kapha and vata.
This is herb I use in the Canadian fall and winter, to give my immune system a boost or for times of increased stress. It is also great grounder for those suffering from anxiety. The name ashwaghanda translates as “the strength of a horse”, as it increases physical strength and energy, promotes intellect and cognitive development and promotes sound sleep. This herb is commonly known for giving a boost to the male libido and reproductive system, but it is safe for both men and women (and will also energize the women!). Take 1-2 teaspoons daily, with meals; generally used to balance vata and kapha.
Nettle is Canadian grown, natural energizer — an amazing herbal ally for those looking for more energy, beautiful skin, strong immunity, sharp memory and resilience to stress. Nettle nourishes the kidneys and adrenals, and is known to restore sleep cycles, reduce fatigue and replenish energy levels. It is also an impressive source of protein, iron, zinc and chlorophyll. Ideal for pitta and kapha types; can be used by vata moderately. Best when taken as an infusion.
As a pitta woman, this is my girlie tea of choice in the heat of summer, mixed with a little stevia. Hibiscus is traditionally used to bring a cool, calm disposition, to strengthen devotion and to assist with mental attention required in meditation. It is known to purify to the blood and heart, to bring a clear complexion and to support a healthy female reproductive system. Sweet, astringent and cooling, it can also be used to boost metabolism and assist in weight loss, as well as in the treatment of diabetes. Balancing for pitta and kapha. Avoid if you have symptoms of high vata (e.g. anxiety, insomnia, underweight)
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Tulsi is a miracle herb known to support the purity of body, mind and emotions. It’s vibration is purely sattva (the quality of purity, compassion, wisdom), brings calmness and clarity, and can be of great assistance if you are trying to establish new habits or a new health regime. Tulsi removes kapha from the respiratory system and excess vata from the colon. It can help to clear the aura, alleviate stress, boost immunity, act as an antidepressant, as well as treat headaches, colds, respiratory infections, digestive problems, and inflammation in the body. Amazing! Many studies have also shown that tulsi is as effective as many modern painkillers in reducing pain. Tulsi is balancing to vata and kapha, and slightly increases pitta.
Turmeric is another herb of choice for new yogis and meditators, helping to purify the mind, increase flexibility, aid in the stretching of ligaments and connective tissue and reduce inflammation in the body. Turmeric also helps to improve intestinal flora and skin complexion, as well as circulation. Can be taken as a supplement, a tea or in your cooking. Balancing to all three doshas, but could aggravate vata and pitta if taken in excess.
Green tea is slightly controversial in ayurveda – due to it’s vata provoking nature- but it is a great substitute for those seeking to transition away from coffee, or who need a boost of mental energy. Green tea has been associated with improved immune function, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, weight loss, balanced blood sugar levels, the prevention of osteoporosis and the prevention of build-up on your teeth (i.e. it contains a natural fluoride. Avoid non-organic sources of green tea, which have been associated with high levels of pesticides and poor farming practices. Green tea is vata-increasing, and should be avoided if vata symptoms are present (e.g. insomnia, anxiety). All doshas would be wise to balance their intake of green tea with more balanced, sattvic herbs, such as tulsi (holy basil) or nettle infusion.
This sattvic plant, revered by the ancient Egyptians, is known to improve digestion, clear the respiratory tract, balance blood sugar, support weight loss, relieve constipation and reduce cholesterol. For men, it has been shown to increase testosterone and libido. For women, it has a range of benefits, including natural breast augmentation, the reduction of menstrual cramps, increasing milk supply for breastfeeding women, reducing hot flashes and menopausal symptoms, and improved sexual desire. Due to its bitter and warming nature, fenugreek is generally balancing for kapha, useful for vata in small quantities and increasing to pitta.
Ginger is a universal medicine for promoting good digestion and the natural elimination of toxins (ama), and should be the go-to tea for vata and kapha-types (with a little honey or stevia). Ginger is also known to alleviates nausea and support a healthy menstrual cycle. Some studies have found that the regular consumption of ginger may alleviate anxiety, reduce the risk of diabetes and inhibit the growth of some kind of human cancer cells. Balancing for kapha and vata. Kaphas can use dry ginger powder.
Note: While these herbs are safe for most people, you may want to consult with your doctor or natural health practitioner before starting any new health regime, especially if you are pregnant, breast-feeding or have health complications.