Ayurveda, Getting to Know New Herbs
Ayurveda is the science of life. It is a living science that perceives the human person as a whole being which can neither be cut up into parts to be treated irrespective of the others, nor abstracted from the whole of its context, the land and world in which it lives. Each land is different, bearing different plants and fruit, being composed of different minerals, and having different climates. Ayurveda seeks to understand and to utilize the local and broader contexts in an appropriate and holistic way that treats the individual not simply as a whole human being, but as a human being within a whole, within the nature which provides it life. Due to Ayurveda’s origin in the Asian sub-continent it has first sought to understand and to utilize the herbs of its locale. However, as the world grows smaller and smaller through the process of globalization and knowledge of Ayurveda spreads, the science of life is broadening its purview to herbs all over the world, and enabling itself to appropriately treat individuals from all regions.
Ayurvedic medicine utilizes a thorough methodology to learn about the nature and effects of new herbs thatis based a fairly simple set of principles. Starting from the most basic and apparent qualities and proceeding to the more subtle and more complex effects, ayurvedic medicine comes to understand herbs in a natural and comprehensive way.
Ayurvedic herbs are classified according to five basic characteristics. The first and most fundamental determination of any herb is its taste and energy, collectively this set of characteristics is known as the energetics of an ayurvedic herb. There are six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent. Each taste has a certain energy, effect, and quality from a group of six contraries. Thus, every ayurvedic herb is either heating or cooling in energy, drying or moistening in effect, and heavy or light in quality. Often herbs bear several or nearly all tastes and so have very complex energetics, but more often than not there is a primary taste which characterizes the herb. After determining the primary taste, the primary energy is determined, and then the post-digestive effect, or vipraka. This will often further determine the next characteristic of the herb, or its doshic effect.
Ayurvedic medicine understands the world and everything in it according to the five basic elements, and the doshas are the particular combination and manifestation of these fiveelements within the human being. Consequently, ayurvedic treatments are principally concerned with restoring balance to the doshas of the body through the use of herbs and minerals which likewise share in the universal qualities of the doshas and so can affect them within the body. The doshic effects of herbs is determined by the three-fold determination of its energetics, and are further qualified by the herbs effects on particular tissues which each have a special relationship with the threedoshas.
The third tier of determination of the nature of ayurvedic herbs are the tissues which it predominantly affects. Even though a particular combination of taste, energy and post-digestive effect will inherently have an effect on a particular dosha, these effects can be modified greatly according to the tissue which the herb works on. Each organ and tissue of the body is primarily governed by a particular dosha, and consequently, doshic imbalance often stems from a particular organ or tissue. Therefore, the part of the body which ayurvedicherbs treat will significantly determine the manner in which its energetics affect the body. Furthermore, the particular organs or tissues which are effected will in part determine the bodily systems which are affected, which is the next tier of classification by which ayurvedic medicine understands the nature of herbs.
By bearing the aforementioned qualities and affecting various tissues in certain ways, ayurvedic herbs each effect a certain number of bodily systems, be it circulatory, respiratory, nervous, digestive etc. Ayurvedic herbs predominantly affect certain parts of the body in certain ways and this naturally renders certain bodily systems affected in similar ways. The determination of the particular systems affected is the final classification of the general qualities of an herb, however, through its combination with the former determinations is found the most specific and most practical classification, the actions of the herb.
The actions of ayurvedic herbs are determined through a synthesis of the four previous qualities and effects. Ayurvedic herbs act in various ways, for example, they can be a stimulant, an expectorant, a diuretic, an emetic, a carminative, an emenagogue etc. The determination of the actions of an herb is the culmination of the previous analysis and one of the most important determinations taken into account in the formulation of any ayurvedic product. The actions indicate how and what an herb will do to the body, and so are of utmost importance to consider in any prescription.
Through this method ayurvedic medicine has taken hundreds and thousands of herbs under its wing to include them in the economy of health which it aims to provide to all mankind. Although, ayurvedic herbs once just included those indigenous to the Asian sub-continent, ayurveda is now growing , exploring, and coming to know new herbs from all over the world. What once might have just been a common weed in the American southwest, is now also an ayurvedic herb, and is brought into the family of this ancient and living science of life.