Once when comparing relative merits of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine with an Ayurvedic doctor in India, the good doctor acknowledged both systems as having merit but said: “Ayurvedic tonics taste better!”
Flavor is considered part of the therapeutic properties of an herb in both herbal systems, but it is much more emphasized in Ayurvedic herbalism, which assigns dual flavors to herbs (as opposed to Chinese description of one flavor). The first flavor is that actual taste. For example, in Ayurveda, licorice is sweet but its second flavor is bitter, which describes its “post-digestive” anti-inflammatory properties.
Pharmacologically speaking, I think Ayurveda is superior to other herbal systems. Over the course of millennia, Ayurveda has developed such ingenious pharmacological preparations as to be able to render otherwise toxic heavy metals such as gold, lead, mercury and iron safe for internal use, something that Western pharmacology disputes and evidently does not understand.
Ayurveda takes into account not only the complex flavors represented by about 45 herbs, but also other gunas or qualities that best render a formulation to its intended purpose. The intended purpose of the famed tonic preparation Chyawanprash is as a nutritive builder and strengthener of the body. Nutritive tonic herbs are best taken with food. When someone is weak in TCM, herbs like ginseng, astragalus, and dang gui are prepared in a meat broth or stew which might be beef, chicken or some other animal protein such as pork for those who have Kidney Deficiency. Historically, Ayurveda also recommended the use of herbs with animal protein, however with the influence of Buddhism in India, Hindus have adopted a lacto-vegetarian diet over the course of the last 1500 years. Thus a rasayana (Ayurvedic tonic) such as Chyawanprash is recommended to be taken with fresh warm cow’s milk; presumably, this would include goat’s milk as well.
One of the gunas of Chyawanprash is its thick, sweet, jam-like consistency. This quality, along with the flavors and herbs, is the best for making a nutritive tonic (colloquially – something that ‘sticks to the bones’). This kind of preparation is made through long cooking, the addition of ghee, sesame oil, honey and unrefined raw sugar.
Perceived “Problems” with Chyawanprash
It is the sugar in Chyawanprash that poses a problem marketing this, one of the greatest of all herbal tonics, to the health-conscious Western market. TCM, recognizing that the sweet flavor tonifies the Spleen (meaning digestive metabolism), uses honey-treated licorice and jujube dates to add the requisite sweet flavor to their tonics. Ayurveda uses honey, unrefined cane sugar and clarified butter (ghee). These are the ingredients necessary to make some not just excellent but delicious. In the case of Chyawanprash, “sweet delicious” is an essential part of its therapeutic tonic properties.
People forget that it’s refined white sugar that’s so harmful, because it has all of the precious mineral content of the sugarcane removed. When we consume white sugar, it leaches valuable minerals from our body’s reserves, which is severely depleting. This is not the case with unrefined cane sugar which is a mineral-rich food especially good for anemia because of its iron-rich molasses content.
After sugar, “health nuts” would count as a second strike against Chyawanprash the fact that it is traditionally taken with milk. The Western health market entertains some phobias: fear of sugar, milk, and wheat. We used to count salt phobia as one of the four deadly sins, but recent studies are tending to exonerate salt as a primary cause of cardiovascular disease.
Just as I think the problem with each of these substances is not innate but rather due to their present purity and quality, this is particularly true of dairy. I’m old enough to remember the weekly delivery of milk from pastures in L.A. to the doorstep by the milkman. Carnation milk company had as its motto, “the milk from contented cows.” Nowadays pasteurization no longer necessitates that milk is fresh and heck, who cares if the cows are contented or not. Well, I think this is a big issue because when stressed, as cows kept in stalls and overcrowded environs are likely to be, just like a stressed mother, they will secrete stress hormones into their milk and the result for babies is colic. Humans drinking milk from stressed cows suffer gastrointestinal problems which may not rise to an acute level of indigestion but nevertheless takes its toll on our immune system, resulting in excess mucus and other symptoms that can slowly lead to more severe diseases.
By contrast, in rural India where refrigeration is not readily available, it is customary for people to drink cow’s milk practically warm and fresh from the cow. Notice also the reverence for the cow as a symbol of supreme divinity and the extent that people and cars will go not to upset a cow who decides to stroll across heavily trafficked roads slowly. These cows are almost certainly content!
Chyawanprash is famed as the premier Ayurvedic rasayana. As stated, each Ayurvedic pharmacy tends towards its own slightly different formulation. Because the health-nut side of me says that organic is always best, Chyawanprash manufactured by Organic India or Banyan Botanicals are my favorites. Unfortunately, Organic India discontinued their fine product because of lack of sales. However, it is well worth the extra cost and the effort to find online sources who are selling surplus stock. You will be happy to know that Chyawanprash keeps practically forever and does not need to be refrigerated. Visit any of these sites to check out the common ingredients for this wonderful tonic.
Benefits of Chyawanprash
Chyawanprash is a health promoter, immunomodulator, adaptogenic and rejuvenator. It:
- protects the body from common cold, cough, and flu and strengthens the immune system of the body. It also enhances the natural capability of the body to produce white blood cells and hemoglobin.
- helps in the efficient functioning of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems and is especially beneficial for the lungs as it maintains a balance in the moisture in the lungs and keeps the passages of the respiratory system clear.
- aids in the digestive process and regulates bowel movements. It also provides relief in the case of diarrhea and nausea.
- reduces premenstrual syndrome, normalizes the menstrual cycle, and relieves pain in the chest and in the lower part of the abdomen.
- improves sexual activity, increases the libido and helps to build sexual strength on the whole.
- detoxifies the body by purifying the intestines, liver and blood.
- invigorates the liver and purifies the blood, thereby eliminating toxins from the body without overburdening and straining the urinary system.
- lowers the level of bad cholesterol and normalizes blood pressure.
- is an anti-aging tonic and promotes longevity, prevents wrinkles and promotes healthy hair.
The effect of Chyawanprash is on all systems of the body including the lungs, digestion, liver, kidneys, reproductive organs and the adrenals.
By Michael Tierra
Sources for Chyawanprash
Banyan Botanicals, North America’s North America’s number one source for organic Ayurvedic products makes a fine organic Chyawanprash.
The Way of Ayurveda by Michael Tierra and K.P. Khalsa, Lotus Press
Chyawanprash from Vedic to Genomic Era by Prof. J.K. Ojha, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, Delhi
Ayurvedic Medicine by Sebastian Pole, Elsevier
Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life by Todd Caldecott, Mosby/Elsevier