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Scientific Rationale for the Use of Single Herb Remedies in Ayurveda


Ayurveda employs single herbs and combinations of herbs in the treatment of diseases. Single herb remedies are usually administered as powders, pastes, decoctions, medicated clarified butter or incorporated into food matrices. Small quantities of adjuvants like honey, clarified butter, sesame oil or jaggery are administered along with the primary drug, most probably to enhance absorption and therapeutic effect. Ayurveda generally uses combinations of herbs to balance the tridosa- modulating properties of herbs and to minimize side-effects. Single herb remedies are unbalanced and therefore, there can be adverse effects. For example, Astangahrdaya recommends consumption of powder of dry ginger (Zingiber officinale) in warm water to cure grahani (diarrhea) (Upadhyaya 1975a). But on account of its constipating property, called grahi in Ayurveda (Upadhyaya 1975b), it is to be used with caution. Because of the inherent danger, knowledge of many single herb remedies was treated in the olden days as a jealously guarded secret. Single herb remedies are considered to be faster in action. Table 5.1 lists some such single herb remedies. These formulae have been collected from Astangahrdaya (Upadhyaya 1975c), Cakradatta (Mishra 1983), Sarngadhara Samhita (Murthy 2017) and Vaidyamandrama (Mooss 1978, 1979).

Evidence in Favor of Medicinal Uses

Acorus calamus L.

Acoms calamus is a semi-aquatic rhizomatous perennial herb (Figure 5.1). It improves mental faculties and digestion. Vaca, Ugragandha, Sataparvika and Ksudrapatrl are some of its Sanskrit names (Warrier et al. 2007a). No clinical trials are reported for the anti-epileptic property of Acorus calamus. However, several studies lend support to the use of this plant in the treatment of epilepsy.

Sedative Action

The volatile oil isolated from A. calamus potentiated the sedative activity of pentobarbitone in mice. The active principle responsible for this activity was inferred to be present in the hydrocarbon fraction of the oil or in an oxygenated component in the oil (Dandiya et al. 1959a). The volatile fractions prolonged sleeping time in mice with pentobarbital, hexobarbital and ethanol. The sedation-potentiating activity was maximally present in the volatile fraction of the petroleum ether extract (Dandiya and Cullumbine 1959). Priming of mice with lysergic acid diethylamide partially prevented the hypnosis-potentiating action of the volatile oil (Dandiya et al. 1959b). Further studies on the potentiation of barbiturate-induced hypnosis in mice by the volatile oil showed that the potentiating action was antagonized by lysergic acid diethylamide as well as dibenzyline hydrochloride. These results suggest that the hypnosis-potentiating action might be mediated through serotonin and catecholamines (Malhotra et al. 1962). Further studies with the essential oil demonstrated tranquilizing action in rats, mice, cats and dogs. The oil inhibited monoamine oxidase at a higher dose (Dhalla and Bhattacharya 1968). A. calamus essential oil antagonized amphetamine-induced agitational symptoms and also inhibited the conditioned avoidance response in rats (Bhattacharya 1968). p-asarone produces sedative and hypothermic effects in rats. In one study, the alcohol extract of the rhizome showed sedative and analgesic properties. The essential oil, crude alcohol extract and aqueous extracts exhibited a depressant action in dogs (Bose et al. 1960).

CNS Depressant Action

Hazra and Guha (2003) studied the effect of ethanol extract of A. calamus on spontaneous electrical activity and monoamine levels of the rat brain. In treated animals, electrogram recording revealed an increase in a activity together with an increase in the norepinephrine level in the cerebral cortex. However, there was a decrease in their content in the midbrain and cerebellum. The serotonin level was increased in the cerebral cortex but decreased in the midbrain. In a similar way, the dopamine


Some Single Herb Remedies Recommended in Ayurveda


Mode of Administration and Indication


Acorns calamus L.

Administration of powder of rhizome mixed with honey and followed by drinking of milk cures even chronic apasmara (epilepsy)

Mishra (1983)179* Upadhyaya (1975c) 478

Allium sativum L.

Paste of cloves mixed with sesame oil cures visamajvara (irregular fever)

Mishra (1983) 29 Upadhyaya (1975c) 297

Hygrophila auriculata (K. Schum.) Heine

Regular consumption of root decoction and cooked leaves cures vatasonita (rheumatoid arthritis), “just as compassion pacifies anger”

Upadhyaya (1975c) 424

Crataeva magna (Lour.) DC

Decoction of bark administered with jaggery cures asmari (urinary stone) and vastisula (pricking pain in bladder)

Paste of bark suspended in bark decoction cures asmari

Mishra (1983) 285 Mishra (1983) 285

Curcuma tonga L

Ghrta (medicated clarified butter) prepared with decoction and paste of rhizomes cures kdmala (jaundice)

Mooss (1978) 68

Cyperus rotundas L.

Twenty tubers crushed and boiled in milk cure dmdtisdra (dysentery with pain)

Mishra (1983) 51

Desmodium gangeticum (L.) DC

Root decoction prepared in milk cures vcita seated in heart (heart disease)

Upadhyaya (1975c) 417

Evolvulus alsinoides L.

Kalka (paste) of roots mixed with sugar, honey and clarified butter relieves within seven days parinamasida (colic due to peptic ulcer)

Murthy (2017) 82

Glycyrrhiza glabra L.

Topical application of root powder mixed with clarified butter heals sadyOvrana (fresh wounds)

Mishra (1983) 352

Ipomoea digitata L.

Powder of tubers soaked in decoction of tubers, dried and administered with clarified butter and honey increases sexual vigor

Mishra (1983) 572

Moringa oleifera Lam.

Oral administration of juice of root bark with honey cures antarvidradhi (internal abscess)

Mishra (1983) 343

Piper longum L.

Ghrta prepared with the fruit cures pjilia

(splenomegaly), yakrt (hepatomegaly) and agnimandya (lowering of abdominal fire)

Mishra (1983) 314

Plumbago zeylanica L.

Detoxified roots are to be ground to a paste and smeared inside a fresh earthen pot. Consumption of curd prepared in that pot cures arsas (hemorrhoids)

Mishra (1983)75-76 Mooss (1979) 148

Saraca asoca (Roxb.) de Wilde

Administration of bark decoction prepared in milk cures asrgdara (dysfunctional bleeding)

Mishra (1983) 503

Strychnos potatorum L.f.

15 g of seeds ground into paste, suspended in buttermilk and administered with honey cures advanced pramSha (urinary diseases of polyuric nature)

Mooss (1978) 14

Tabernaemontana divaricata (L.) R.Br. ex Roem. & Schultes

All the 20 prameha will be cured by eating muffin-like cakes prepared with dough made of ground leaves, sesame oil and rice

Mooss (1978) 17

Terminalia arjuna (Roxb. ex DC) Wight & Am.

Administration of bark powder with clarified butter, milk or jaggery' cures hrdrOga (heart disease), jTrnajvara

(chronic fever) and raktapitta (hemorrhages of obscure origin)

Mishra (1983) 272

Terminalia belerica (Gaertn.) Roxb.

Powder of pericarp mixed with honey cures hikka (hiccup) and svasa (respiratory' distress)

Mishra (1983) 151

Tinospora cordifolia (Willd.) Miers ex Hook. f. & Thoms.

Consumption of ghrta prepared with decoction and paste of stem cures vatasonita and kusdha (leprosy and other skin diseases)

Mishra (1983) 218 Murthy (2017) 120

Vitex negundo L.

Ghrta prepared with leaf juice cures kdsa (cough)

Mooss (1979) 74

Acorus calamus (a), plant with spadix bearing flowers (b), dried rhizomes (c). Reproduced with permission from Dr D. Suresh Baburaj, Ooty

FIGURE 5.1 Acorus calamus (a), plant with spadix bearing flowers (b), dried rhizomes (c). Reproduced with permission from Dr D. Suresh Baburaj, Ooty.

level was increased in the caudate nucleus and midbrain but decreased in the cerebellum. Therefore, A. calamus seems to produce its depressive action by changing electrical activity and by differentially altering brain monoamine levels in different regions of the brain (Hazra and Guha 2003).

Anti-Convulsant Action

Acorus oil was given to adult albino mice one hour prior to the induction of convulsions. It successfully prevented seizures in maximal electroshock seizures test (Khare and Sharma 1982). a-asarone showed a tendency to offer protection against metrazol convulsions and modified electroshocks (Sharma et al. 1961). In a study using electroconvulsions, a-asarone increased the percentage mortality of animals treated with chlorpromazine, but not of those treated with reserpine (Dandiya and Sharma 1962; Dandiya and Menon 1963). The aqueous and alcohol extracts were found to reduce the severity of maximum electric shock-induced seizure in rats. Further, the extracts significantly increased the pentylenetetrazole-induced seizure latency (Manis et al. 1991). The essential oil showed a protective effect against electroshock seizures in rats (Madan et al. 1960). Anti-convulsant activity of A. calamus has been reported by Hazra et al. (2007) and Chandrashekar et al. (2013).

Bhat et al. (2012) studied the effect of detoxification of rhizomes of A. calamus using induced seizures model. Comparative anticonvulsant activity of crude and processed rhizomes was screened against a maximal electroshock (M.E.S.) seizure model to assess the effect of a classical purificatory procedure on the pharmacological action of the herb. Phenytoin was used as standard anti-epileptic drug for comparison. Pretreatment with both crude and processed samples exhibited significant anti-convulsant activity by decreasing the duration of the tonic extensor phase. Processed rhizomes significantly decreased the duration of convulsion and stupor phases of M.E.S.-induced seizures. The results obtained from this study clearly confirms the anti-convulsant activity of crude rhizomes of A. calamus. Subjecting the crude rhizomes to the detoxification procedure did not alter the efficacy of the rhizomes. Contrarily, the process enhanced the activity profile of the rhizomes.

Allium sativum L.

References to garlic in the Bible and the Koran reflect its importance to ancient civilizations as a spice and a healing herb. The name Allium is derived from the Greek root meaning “to avoid” because of its offensive smell (Block 2010). It is an important rasayana herb in Ayurveda (Warrier et al. 2007a).

Organosulfur compounds, sulfides and disulfides are present in human bodies and the environment. The three sulfur-containing amino acids - cysteine, cystine and methionine - are important constituents of proteins, peptides, enzymes, vitamins and hormones. They can interact with or neutralize reactive oxygen species (R.O.S.) and play a vital role in signaling and sensing (Jones 2010). Thus they help to maintain healthy bodies (Goncharov et al. 2015, 2016).

A. sativum is a well-known representative of the Allium genus (family Amaryllidaceae) that contain S-alk (en)yl-l-cysteine sulfoxides (Munday 2012). Garlic has proven effect against an array of Gram-positive, Gram-negative and acid-fast bacteria, including Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella, Micrococcus, Bacillus subtilis, Clostridium, Mycobacterium and Helicobacter (Bayan et al. 2014). Garlic extract showed activity against viral infections like influenza A and B, cytomegalovirus, rhinovirus, H.I.V., herpes simplex virus 1, herpes simplex virus 2, viral pneumonia and rotavirus.

Weber et al. (1992) made an attempt to identify the compounds responsible for the antiviral activity of A. sativum. Using direct pre-infection incubation assays, they determined the in vitro virucidal effects of fresh garlic extract, its polar fraction and the garlic associated compounds dial- lyl thiosulfinate (allicin), allyl methyl thiosulfinate, methyl allyl thiosulfinate, ajoene, alliin, deoxy- alliin, diallyl disulfide and diallyl trisulfide. The virucidal activity was determined against selected viruses, including herpes simplex virus type 1, herpes simplex virus type 2, parainfluenza virus type 3, vaccinia virus, vesicular stomatitis virus and human rhinovirus type 2. Fresh garlic extract, in which thiosulfinates appeared to be the active components, was virucidal to all the tested viruses.

Influenza is an infectious disease caused by an influenza virus. The common symptoms include: high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, cough and tiredness. The influenza virus is constantly evolving and new antigenic variants give rise to epidemics and pandemics. The influenza virus is unique among respiratory tract viruses because of its considerable antigenic variations. These mutations make it extremely difficult to develop effective vaccines and drugs against the virus (Moghadami 2017).

Mehrbod et al. (2009) evaluated the antiviral activity of garlic extract against influenza virus in cell culture. Madin-Darby Canine Kidney cells were treated with effective minimal cytotoxic concentration of garlic extract and 100 T.C.I.D.50 (50% Tissue Culture Infectious Dose) of the virus during infection at different time periods. The viral titers were determined by hemagglutination and

T.C.I.D.jq assays. The antiviral effect of the extract was studied at 1, 8 and 24 hours after treatment of the culture. R.N.A. extraction, reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and free band densitometry were performed to measure the amount of the viral genome synthesized at different times after treatment. It was observed that garlic extract with a good selectivity index has an inhibitory effect on the virus penetration and proliferation in cell culture. The experimental methods used for evaluating the antiviral activity of garlic extract demonstrated that this herb could be used as a potent antiviral agent. These observations are further strengthened by the report of Chavan et al. (2016) that A. sativum extracts can inhibit influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 virus by inhibiting viral nucleoprotein synthesis and polymerase activity.

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