Woes faced every month by women during the menstrual flow in the form of painful periods, menstrual cramps, and excessive bleeding is not new. Even in earlier times, before the advent of modern medications, women faced a lot of gynaecological problems. Well, something that helped them in that period is non-other than Ayurvedic herbs. Prized as a powerful ‘Divyaushadhi’ and a uterine tonic, here comes Ashoka, your knight in shining armour to save you from all sorts of menstrual worries!
What Is Ashoka?
Ashoka, also known as ‘Ashok Vriksh' in the common tongue, is quite a well-known indigenous tree that has immense medicinal and spiritual benefits. The word ‘Ashoka’ signifies ‘no grief’ in Sanskrit and is considered to be one of the most sacred trees in Indian mythology and is even worshipped in some. Not just the bark, but even other parts of this tree is widely used for different medicinal purposes. It not only helps to provide relief from gynaecological and menstrual problems in women but also provides an absolute remedy for spasms, diabetes, respiratory woes, abdominal pain, skin conditions, kidney problems etc.
How To Identify Ashoka Plant?
Ashoka is a small, erect evergreen tree that goes by the botanical name Saraca asoca or Saraca indica and belongs to the Leguminaceae family. It usually grows to a height of about 7-10 cm. The bark of Ashoka is almost black or dark brown with a warty surface. The stem bark is mainly rough, and uneven due to rounded or projecting lenticels. The leaves of this plant are narrowly lanceolate whereas the flowers are deciduous, yellowish-orange in hue and apetalous. The tree usually starts blooming from February to April. Fruits of the Ashoka tree are pods which are flat, oblong and apiculate with ellipsoid to oblong seeds compressed within them. Ashoka tree mainly stands apart from the rest of the greenery for its attractive foliage and fragrant flowers.
Geographical Distribution And Habitat Of Ashoka
The Ashoka tree grows quite well in slightly acidic to neutral fertile soils with medium to deep drainage facilities.
This rainforest tree is native to Asia and South America. In the Indian subcontinent, it is found growing all over India, especially in the Himalayas, West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Meghalaya.
Synonyms Of Ashoka
The sacred Ashoka tree has been used by several communities since ancient times. Some of its common names in vernacular languages include:
Tamil: Asogam, Mallaikkarunai, Asogu, Ashoka, Sasugam
Malayalam: Ashokan in
Telugu: Asoka, Asokapatta
Kannada: Aksunkar, Achenge, Ashokadamara, Kankalimara
Marathi: Asoka, Jasuni
Sanskrit: Ashok Vriksh, Kankali, Ashoka
Historical And Mythological Reference Of Ashoka
In the Indian subcontinent, the sacred Ashoka tree occupies a privileged place in many Indian folk and socio-cultural traditions. In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that Queen Maya of Sakya gave birth to Lord Gautama Buddha under the soothing Ashok Vriksh in a garden in Lumbini, situated in southern Nepal. In Indian epics, the sacred Ramayana too mentioned Ashoka significantly, that Shri Hanumana first met Maa Devi Sita in the Ashoka Vatica (a garden of Ashoka trees) sitting under an Ashok Vriksha, a place believed to be situated in modern Srilanka.
Chemical Constituents Of Ashoka
Chemicals such as flavonoids, glycoside, saponins, tannins, esters, alkanes and primary alcohols are present in Ashoka extract.
It inherently possesses powerful uterotonic, anti-bacterial, anti-implantation, spasmogenic, oxytocic, anti-tumour, anti-progestational, antiestrogenic activity against menorrhagia and anti-cancer properties. Imbued with these properties, Ashoka holds high significance in treating a host of disorders including menstrual disorders, skin infections, liver problems, stomach problems, jaundice, fever, allergy, asthma, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, rheumatic arthritis, bleeding, diabetes etc. Additionally, it is a successful remedy for treating numerous gynaecological problems and hormonal anomalies like menopause, menstrual disorders, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, leucorrhoea, and yeast infection.
Ayurvedic Indications Of Ashoka
Ayurvedic scriptures and journals have mentioned Ashoka time and again for various indications which include:
- Anulomana (improves breathing)
- Vamana (prevents nausea and vomiting)
- Deepana (enhances stomach fire)
- Pachana (helps in digestion)
- Rochana (stimulates appetite)
- Sonisthapana (treats bleeding)
- Chakushya (treats eye problems)
- Garbhaprada (treats infertility)
- Vamanopaga (treats emesis)
- Mehahara (treats urinary tract disorders)
- Varnya (improves complexion)
- Kshayajit (treats tuberculosis)
- Amahara (treats indigestion)
- Dahahara (relieves burning sensation)
- Prameha (manages diabetes)
- Trutahara (relieves excessive thirst)
- Hikkanigrahana (controls hiccups)
- Triptighno (relieves pseudo-satiation)
- Hridaya (treats heart problems)
- Rasayani (rejuvenates the whole body)
- Kantya (relieves sore throat)
- Vayasthapana (prevents ageing)
- Jvara (useful in fever)
- Kasahara (Relieves cough)
- Shwasha (relieves breathing difficulties)
- Balya (improves muscle strength)
- Gulmajit (useful in abdominal tumours)
- Pandu (treats anaemia)
- Sangrahini (treats diarrhoea)
- Kustha (treats skin disorders)
- Kamala (prevents jaundice)
- Krimihara (relieves intestinal worms)
- Kanthya (improves voice)
- Arsha (treats piles)
- Krichra (treats painful micturition)
- Pushtida (gives nutrition)
Health Benefits Of Ashoka
Remedies Gynaecological Anomalies
Deemed as a powerful female-friendly herb, Ashoka is a boon for treating numerous hormonal problems in women. Not only does it help in treating endometriosis (i.e., a condition which causes inflammation of the lining of the uterus) but also regulates FSH and LH levels within the blood, which in turn helps in regulating overall body development, growth, pubertal maturation, fortifies the female reproductive organs, regulates the menstrual cycle, triggers ovulation and also helps in the formation of the corpus luteum. Being a powerful uterine tonic, the formulations of Ashoka improve fertility when an individual is trying to conceive.
It also plays a key role in regulating periods, treating postnatal health anomalies, and even helping to treat excessive abdominal pain/bleeding. Additionally, it also remedies the pain during dysmenorrhea (kashta artava) and encourages the easy flow of menstrual blood during the menstrual cycle. It controls the abnormal Vata Doshas and lessens abdominal pain and cramps during the menstrual cycle.
For women suffering from PCOD, intake of Ashoka formulations actively helps in purifying the blood and restores uterus health leading to regular, healthy menstrual cycles.
Apart from the usage of this herb during the menstruating period, the bark of Ashoka also plays a significant role during non-period days by normalising excessive vaginal discharge or leucorrhoea. In postmenopausal women, the use of Ashoka bark is convincingly helpful in the prevention of breast cancer and tumours.
Decoction of the bark when consumed along with water and taken after meals, help treat menstrual problems whereas the powdered formulation is beneficial for treating vaginal infections.
Combats Respiratory Issues
Powered with powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, and anti-asthmatic properties, Ashoka is considered to be a well-known traditional remedy for all sorts of respiratory troubles. It is significant in treating the common cold, sore throat, cough and flu symptoms. Being a Kapha pacifier and having scraping quality, Ashoka actively thins and loosens deposition of phlegm matter within the chest and nasal cavities and hence eases breathing and helps the body to get rid of mucus. It is also helpful in treating asthma and other bronchial conditions.
Relieves Liver Anomalies
Sanctified with potent hepatoprotective and hepato-stimulative properties, Ashoka makes for a magical remedy for most liver anomalies especially jaundice, from which the liver suffers. Ashoka not only fortifies liver functioning by secreting bile but also helps the liver enzymes to tune down to normal levels. It also cleanses and detoxifies the liver and improves overall liver functioning.
Augments Skin And Hair Health
An aggravation of the Pitta doshas within the body may lead to different types of skin infections, eczema, acne and poor complexion. Blessed with antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, Ayurveda acknowledges Ashoka as a well-known one-step remedy for various skin conditions. Owing to its detoxifying properties which help in purifying the blood, it helps in treating a host of skin infections as well. Ashoka does a pretty effective job in not only shielding the skin from oxidative radical damage due to the harmful UVA and UVB rays, but also reverts the various signs of ageing like spots, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, blemishes, and dark circles. It is also pivotal for treating allergic conditions like acne, pimples, zits, psoriasis, scabies, eczema and many more.
Additionally, it also promotes blood circulation in the scalp, and maintains scalp pH, thereby increasing hair growth and preventing different sorts of scalp infections. It also arrests the early greying of hair and sudden breakage.
For the Skin:
Make a paste of 1 tbsp aloe vera gel, 1 tsp Ashoka bark powder, and a pinch of turmeric and rose water. Apply this paste all over the face and neck for a radiant, blemish-free dewy complexion.
For the Hair:
Mix ½ - 1 tsp of Ashoka leaf or flower paste to 2tbsp coconut oil and massage it all over the scalp. Rinse with shampoo and afterwards for improving hair growth and preventing dandruff.
Thanks to the potent hypoglycemic property of the phytochemical constituents, Ashoka holds high significance in alleviating the blood sugar levels in the body and managing diabetes. The production of insulin from the pancreatic β-cells triggers taking the bark powder. It also helps to reduce the breakdown of starch into glucose which in turn leads to low blood sugar levels.
Promotes Cardiac Functioning
The powerful cardio-tonic properties of Ashoka play a quintessential role in treating a host of heart anomalies. Being a calcium channel blocker, it manages irregular cardiac rhythm. It inhibits lipid peroxidation and accumulation in the blood vessels which in turn minimizes the risk of atherosclerosis, heart blocks, heart attacks, blood clots, etc. It also lessens platelet aggregation, and thus facilitates smooth flowing of blood throughout the body. The powerful vasodilatory action of the herb manages high blood pressure as well.
Reduces Risk Of Cancer
Although it is not the ultimate remedy, several research studies suggest the use of Ashoka bark powder as a beneficial component in managing benign as well as malignant cancers and tumours, especially breast, ovarian and uterine cancers. Thanks to the abundance of quinones and cyclic hexapeptides, Ashoka actively helps in fighting the cancer cells in the colon, breast, and liver; and even manages histiocytic lymphoma, myeloid leukaemia, and other types of cancerous conditions.
Relieves Arthritic Pain And Inflammation
Ashoka is blessed with anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties which makes it the ultimate choice for providing relief from pain, swelling and inflammation due to arthritis. Being a natural vasodilator and Vata pacifying herb, it is also used to treat painful muscle spasms, sore muscles, arthritic conditions, and other inflammatory situations. Application of a powdered paste of its bark is extremely effective against Rheumatoid arthritis which is known as Amavata in Ayurveda, a painful ailment that stems due to the abnormal Vata doshas and proliferation the joints. Additionally, it is also effective for treating Shandhivata or osteoarthritis, the occurs due to build-up of Ama in the bones.
Being a powerful laxative, this humble herb is extensively used for preventing and treating piles, also known as Arsha in Ayurveda. It plays a key role in softening the stool and facilitating the easy passage of it from the intestines. Owing to its Shita quality, it reduces burning sensation and discomfort due to piles. It also provides relief from the strain on the lower portion of the intestines and thereby preventing anal fissure, bleeding or protrusion of a mass from the anus. It also boosts the resilience of the intestines and assists in cleaning the colon.
Take ¼ - ½ tsp of Ashoka powder with water after meals to treat piles.
Prevents Urinary Anomalies
Ashoka plays a key role in preventing and treating urinary distension, urinary incontinence, renal stones and painful urination. The potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of the herb prevent bacterial infections in the urinary tract and thereby reducing inflammation and pain while urinating.
Effect On Doshas
This sacred detoxifying plant showcases Kashaya (i.e., astringent), Tikta ( i.e., bitter) and Madhura (i.e., sweet) Rasa. It is blessed with Guru (i.e., heavy) gunas. It has Ushna Virya (i.e., hot potency) and Katu Vipaka (i.e., pungent metabolic property). Owing to the heavy qualities, the herb may aggravate the Vata doshas if taken in excess. The herb is classified as a Kaphapittashamapaka as it chiefly helps in reducing the Pitta and Kapha Doshas throughout the body. Additionally, being a Pitta pacifier, it purifies the kidney, liver and blood from toxins, while simultaneously fortifying the vital organ and enhancing cellular growth and tissue regeneration. In accordance with the intrinsic properties and doshas, Ashoka portrays a positive effect on the various Dhatus (i.e., body tissues) which are Rasa (i.e. Plasma), Rakta (i.e., Blood), Mamsa (i.e., Muscles), Majja (i.e., cartilage) Asthi (i.e., Bones) and Shukra (i.e., Reproductive Fluids).
The ayurvedic properties that help in portraying the following main prabhabs on the body are Varnya (improves skin quality and complexion), Raktastambhan (controls bleeding), Vrana ropana (treats ulcers and wounds), Grabhashaya srava-nashak (prevents uterus discharge), Sothagna (reduces swelling) and Kushtaghna (alleviates skin diseases).
Ashoka is widely available in the form of churnas, kwath, gutika and even dried stem bark. Since Ashoka has a pungent-bitter flavor, one can consume it alongside honey to mask the taste.
The precise therapeutic dosage of Ashoka may vary from person to person depending upon the age, severity, and condition of the patient.
Churna (Powder): ¼ - ½ tsp along with plain water or honey after meals
Water decoction (Kwath): 8-10 tsp, diluted with an equal quantity of water preferably after meals
Tablet/ Capsule (Gutika): 1-2, swallow it with water after meals
However, one must consult an Ayurvedic doctor or practitioner, as he or she will thoroughly examine the indications and prescribe the effective dosage for a specific period.
Ashoka Side Effects
Imbued with potent bioactive components, this traditional herb exhibits no recorded side effects when used in the correct proportion. It should also not be consumed on an empty stomach as it chiefly results in constipation, abdominal heaviness, and nausea in individuals with gastrointestinal discomforts. Ashoka must be avoided in case menstrual problems like heavy bleeding and menstrual pain have not shown any improvement in the prescribed dosage. Additionally, people with cardiac problems should avoid taking it without medical approval since it has a cardiotonic action (contraction of the heart muscle to improve blood flow).
Since there is no reliable information on the effects of Ashoka during pregnancy or lactation period, it is strictly suggested that pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should avoid using this humble herb without medical supervision.