There is plenty of truth to the saying, “We ain’t gettin’ no younger.” It’s true. Aging is a fact of life. Perhaps you can’t freeze time. However, you do have some choice in how the aging process looks and feels for you. Lifestyle factors, genetics, diet, and mental outlook can all impact how gracefully we age. This article will specifically explore anti-aging herbs.
How can our plant allies smooth out the aging process and support lifelong vitality? Let’s find out!
Herbs for the Winter Years
One angle to consider when it comes to anti-aging herbs is the ayurvedic perspective on the life cycle. Ayurveda, an ancient holistic healing system, teaches that each stage of life is characterized by one of the three doshas. The doshas are constitutional types, and are composed of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Vata dosha is made of air and ether. The qualities of Vata dosha are light, cool, dry, mobile, and subtle.
The end of the life cycle is considered to be the Vata time of life. So, the later years (approximately menopause and beyond for women) is the time of life in which Vata dosha most predominates. You can read more about managing Vata dosha in this article, How to Keep Vata Balanced with a Vata Diet. In addition, let’s take a look at a few herbs that balance Vata dosha. By reducing and balancing Vata, you can also buffer the aging process. This is because Vata dosha naturally increases with age.
Ashwagandha is one of the premier Vata-pacifying herbs in Ayurveda. This starchy root supports vigor and vitality. It is warming and nourishing. Said to bestow sexual vitality, ashwagandha supports the health of the muscles, bones, nerves, and reproductive systems (1). Therefore, ashwagandha definitely makes the short-list of anti-aging herbs!
Rejuvenating Anti-Aging Herbs
There is a special category of herbs in Ayurveda known as rasayanas. These highly rejuvenating herbs protect and build ojas, the essential life sap of the immune system (2). Ashwagandha is one such herb. Other herbs in this category include shatavari, guduchi, and brahmi—all great choices when it comes to anti-aging herbs and all included in the classic Ayurvedic anti-aging formula: Chyawanprash.
An Anti-Aging Powerhouse: Amla Berry
Amla berry, also known as amalaki, is the foundational herb in the ayurvedic food Chyawanprash. Amla is incredibly rich in vitamin C and a wonderful rejuvenating anti-aging herb. It supports the digestive, circulatory, excretory, and nervous systems (1). Furthermore, this potent little berry nourishes the bones, hair, nails, and teeth. In addition, amla is rich in iron which also makes it a great blood tonic (1).
Need another reason to try amla? Scientific research indicates that it may play a role in supporting cellular integrity, and thus slows the aging process (3).
Taking amla in Chyawanprash enhances its rejuvenating qualities. Alternately, it can be taken in capsule form, powdered form, or as a mouth gargle.
Herbs for Aging Skin
You may notice that your skin becomes drier and less elastic with age. Remember, that dryness is a characteristic of Vata dosha, which is predominant in one’s later years. Counteract dry skin by drinking plenty of hydrating fluids and by eating moist foods with healthy fats, like ghee or ghruta.
Also, demulcent herbs such as licorice, marshmallow, and shatavari may be helpful. These herbs help the body retain moisture. Consider licorice and marshmallow tea. Plus, shatavari is a rasayana (deeply rejuvenating herb) that supports healthy sexual function—especially in women. So, there’s one more good reason to add shatavari to your anti-aging herb tool kit!
Get Spicy: Kitchen Herbs for Longevity
You may notice some changes in digestive function with aging. Constipation, gas, bloating, and a weakened appetite are not uncommon markers of the aging process. However, you can offset these imbalances with a whole foods diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Also, spices are incredible for offering nutrient-dense digestive support.
Ginger in particular is an excellent culinary staple and can be taken in higher doses as a supplement. (This pungent rhizome does have blood-thinning properties so check with your doctor if you are on any blood-thinning medications.) In addition to boosting digestive function and moving food more effectively through the GI tract, ginger is anti-inflammatory. So, if you suffer from aches and pains or digestive woes, make ginger a kitchen staple.
Speaking of anti-inflammatories, turmeric is another excellent anti-inflammatory herb/spice. Turmeric not only blocks a number of anti-inflammatory compounds; it is also rich in anti-oxidants. Antioxidants are important because they counteract and slow down oxidative stress—a major player in the aging process (4).
In addition, turmeric improves circulation, fights cancer, benefits the gut microbiome, supports liver detoxification, and is linked to lower rates of Alzheimer’s (4). This lovely yellow-orange spices is a cornerstone in curry dishes. Also, try golden milk as another way to get your turmeric.
If you favor an Italian flavor profile in your cooking, you are in luck! Italian spices such as basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, and thyme double as tasty seasoning and great anti-aging herbs. These spices are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds (4). Furthermore, oregano and thyme are effective anti-microbials. Oregano specifically fights bacterial, yeast, and viral invaders in the gut. Whereas thyme benefits the respiratory system (4).
Furthermore, rosemary is noteworthy for its ability to support memory. Consider diffusing rosemary essential oil in the air if you are trying to get important information to stick. Or, cook with rosemary. Roasted brussels sprouts, potatoes, or root veggies with fresh rosemary and olive oil are delish! Alternately, simmer some fresh rosemary in a pot of water on the stove to diffuse its delightful aroma.
Playing the Long Game
Integrating anti-aging herbs into your life and daily routine is about playing the long game. There are many herbs and spices to choose from. You can turn to deeply rejuvenating herbs such as ashwagandha or shatavari, warming spices like turmeric, and aromatic herbs such as rosemary and thyme. Many of these herbs can be integrated seamlessly into everyday recipes. So, choose the herbs that most appeal to you and best target your specific needs. And here’s to your health!
(1) Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology East & West: A practical guide to ayurvedic herbal medicine. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
(2) Tirtha, S.S. (2012). The Ayurveda encyclopedia: Natural secrets to healing, prevention, & longevity. Unadilla, NY: Ayurveda Holistic Center Press.
(3) Guruprasad, K., Dash, S., Shivakumar, M., Shetty, P., Raghu, K., Shamprasad, B.R., …Udupi, V. (2017). Influence of Amalaki Rasayana on telomerase activity and telomere length in human blood mononuclear cells. Journal of Ayurveda Integral Medicine, 8(2): 105–112. doi:10.1016/j.jaim.2017.01.007
(4) Groves, M.N. (2016). Body into balance: An herbal guide to holistic self-care. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
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.