We all want to live long and healthy lives. Most of us recognize the importance of embracing a healthy diet and lifestyle, but there are additional ways we can boost longevity. In particular, more and more people are recognizing the importance of ancient herbs for longevity.
Ayurveda, in particular, has much to offer in terms of wisdom and insight into harnessing the powers of ancient herbs. (To clarify, when we say “ancient herbs” we don’t mean that the actual herb is ancient. But rather, these herbs and practices have been in place within the Ayurvedic system for millennia.)
In fact, within Ayurveda is a branch of medicine known as rasayana. Rasayana herbs and practices are rejuvenating protocols that support longevity and vitality. These deeply nourishing herbs enter the rasa (plasma, fluid) that bathes all bodily tissues. Rasayanas support healthy tissues development as well as the production of ojas—the vital essence (1) .
Rasayana herbs specifically support this rejuvenation process. Some herbs for longevity, such as ashwagandha (Withania somninfera) root have become well known. This article will discuss some of the well known rasayanas, as well as the lesser known.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root
Translated as, “smell of a horse” fresh ashwagandha root’s odor has been likened to horse urine. However, this versatile, nourishing herb tastes perfectly fine as a dried powder or tincture. Furthermore, it is also said to bestow the energy and strength of a horse (1), making it appealing to anyone who wants to counteract stress and boost longevity.
Ashwagandha’s usages are many. It is well known as a nervous system tonic and adaptogen, meaning that it helps steady and strengthen the nervous system, and supports a healthy stress response. Ashwagandha is also used as muscle tonic—take ashwagandha to support an active lifestyle and healthy muscle development. Furthermore, ashwagandha supports sexual health and hormone balance, and is an immune system regulator (1).
This strength-giving root is fortunately fairly easy to get your hands on of these days. You can purchase it as a dried powder or in capsule or tincture form.
Ashwagandha is the premier herb for a number of Vata imbalances, such as nervousness, general weakness and debility, and disrupted sleep cycles. It is safe for most people. However, since ashwagandha is a nightshade, those with nightshade sensitivity should use with caution.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) root
Shatavari may be viewed as the feminine counterpart to ashwagandha. Whereas ashwagandha is often used specifically to support male sexual health, shatavari is commonly used to assist in women’s health. However, both of these roots are vastly nourishing for folks of all genders.
Translated as “she who possesses a hundred husbands,” shatavari’s Sanskrit name points to its traditional usages (1). Shatavari is used to nourish ovo-uterine health, and its hormone-like properties render this cooling root useful in balancing the menstrual cycle. It is also used to soothe menopausal symptoms and to encourage the healthy flow of breast milk (1).
Aloe (Aloe spp.) leaf
Aloe, known as Kumari in Sanskrit, has both topical and internal usages. It is quite cooling with a bitter, astringent, sweet and pungent initial taste and an overall nourishing effect (1). Externally, aloe gel can be applied to cuts, scrapes, and sunburns. However, it has a rejuvenating effect internally as well.
Aloe is especially beneficial to the blood, liver, spleen, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive tissues (1). Pure aloe gel or juice can be taken internally to soothe skin and digestive irritation, as well as to ease PMS and irregular menses. If taking internally, look for an organic product and best to opt for the inner filet as the outer leaf has a natural latex that can cause digestive irritation.
Amla (Emblica officinalis) berry
Amla, or amalaki, is a super berry with a sour taste and cooling energy. Amla is an incredibly rich source of vitamin C; it nourishes all the bodily tissues, especially the bones, blood, and liver (1).
In addition to being the foundational ingredient in many medicinal formulas, amalaki is one of the triad of herbs that comprise Triphala. Triphala, meaning “three fruits,” is a simple classical Ayurvedic formula that can be taken internally to regulate bowel movements. Also, Triphala can be used as a mouth gargle when infused in water. Or, amalaki can stand alone as a mouth gargle to promote health gums (1).
Shilajit (Asphaltum punjabianum) mineral pitch
Shilajit is a actually a mineral pitch rather than an herb. This rejuvenating pitch exudes and is gathered from certain rocks in the Himalayas. Its taste is pungent, bitter, salty, and astringent. Its energy is warm, and it has both a rejuvenating and purifying effect (1). Shilajit is different than most other rasayanas in that it is not heavy or sweet. It has a scraping, reducing action and is known for rejuvenating the kidneys, urinary tract, reproductive and immune systems (1).
Live Long and Prosper
Ayurveda offers a wealth of knowledge when it comes to herbs for longevity. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but this article hopefully got you thinking about plant allies that can help rejuvenate and boost your vitality. Depending on your constitution, you can choose an herb or two and observe how your body and mind respond.
Or, consider trying a classical herbal formula specifically designed to rejuvenate health and boost longevity such as Chyawanprash. Chyawanprash is a 5,000 year old herbal formula that contains a number of superfoods and ancient herbs for longevity, such as ashwagandha, shatavari, and amla. Taken once a day, it can help nourish all tissues in the body for healthier aging.
(1) Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology: East & West: A practical guide to ayurvedic herbal medicine. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.