Photo by Andy Holmes
Even though I don’t really pay much attention to astrology, I’ve always secretly liked the fact that the Zodiac sign for Libras is a set of scales, which is supposed to represent balance. I often find myself tipping to one extreme or another, then trying to seek a middle ground, so the symbolism seems like a fitting catch-all for my constant struggle with finding equilibrium.
Does this sound familiar? Grappling to find your center doesn’t only fall under purview of people born within a certain set of days. Everyone cycles through phases of balance and imbalance for reasons both inside and outside their control, and it’s definitely not just a modern issue. The system of Ayurvedic medicine, which was developed in India and has been practiced for thousands of years, is specifically concerned with restoring balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Since “ayu” means “life,” and “veda” means “knowledge” in Sanskrit, Ayurveda is often interpreted as the science of longevity.
There are many components of Ayurvedic medicine, one of which is using certain herbs to restore your body’s natural functioning and healing. Your body likes to keep everything running smoothly, but sometimes it needs a little help to get things back in order. I chose to research popular Ayurvedic herbs that could help regulate inflammatory and stress responses in my body, since those are two things that can definitely get out of whack for me if I’m not careful.
Let’s take a closer look!
Ashwagandha is a plant that has been used for a thousands of years and is commonly known as “Indian ginseng.” It’s considered to be an adaptogen, which means that it can help your body cope with internal and external stress. One small study showed that a treatment group who regularly took a concentrated root extract of ashwagandha demonstrated a reduction in their perceived levels of stress, and their bodily levels of cortisol also dropped.
Though larger studies need to be performed to understand the long-term effects of ashwagandha as well as to confirm that its effective with a larger cross-section of the population, this preliminary evidence is promising. Some people may benefit immediately from taking ashwagandha, but others may benefit from using it for a number of weeks, as demonstrated in the study. However, since this herb is actually a member of the nightshade family, you should avoid it if you have sensitivities to compounds found in fruits and vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes, and red peppers.
Turmeric is another popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s part of the ginger family, and its roots turn into a bright yellow golden powder when you grind it up, giving Indian dishes like curry their signature color. Similar to ashwagandha, turmeric has been used throughout the world for its many health benefits. It’s an antioxidant that helps fight cell damage and the curcumin compound found in turmeric has been shown to help suppress inflammation, which is the root cause of many chronic diseases and conditions.
One key thing that I’ve learned is that curcumin isn’t easily absorbed into the bloodstream, so it’s important to take it with something that can increase its bioavailability. Black pepper is something that will do the trick, so next time you’re trying a delicious golden milk latte to up your turmeric intake, make sure it’s in there.
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson
Boswellia is another natural remedy that’s known for reducing inflammation and used to treat the many health conditions associated with it. Boswellia serrata is actually a tree that grows in dry mountainous areas, and its resin is what’s used to make medicines. Its widely known as Indian frankincense and it can be taken or applied in various forms, like as a capsule or applied to skin.
When my father started having joint pain from arthritis, my husband (who had previously had joint pain from tennis elbow) recommended taking both turmeric and boswellia, and that combination seemed to really do the trick! Studies also show promising evidence that Indian frankincense is also effective for ulcerative colitis in some people.
Finally, holy basil is another stress-busting adaptogen you can use to restore balance in your life. It’s considered to be sacred plant by the Hindus, and you’ll often find it in shrines - perhaps this is because it can help make you calmer by reducing anxiety and reliving some associated depression.
There’s also limited research that shows that holy basil can be a remedy for colds or the flu, and it may be helpful for respiratory infections like asthma and bronchitis. However, it pays to be cautious with this herb because it’s possibly unsafe during pregnancy and/or breast-feeding, or if you have diabetes, are going into surgery, or have hypothyroidism.
My initial research showed that Ayurvedic herbs have a long history of aiding people’s physical health but for the most part, the effectiveness of these herbs has not been fully vetted via well-designed studies. That said, given their ubiquity in cultures and healing systems around the world, I’m optimistic that there are significant reasons why these herbs have been passed down throughout the centuries. As with anything, I do urge you to chat with your doctor before starting to take these on your own - but I hope this overview of common Ayurvedic herbs provides you with as much fuel to consider seeking bodily balance as it has for me.
Have you ever tried any of these herbs? Share below