Herbal supplements can be dangerous if taken without consulting a skilled practitioner. Here’s how to wisely work with Ayurvedic herbs while honoring Ayurvedic wisdom.
A client recently complained that her husband doesn’t listen to her “Ayurvedic advice.” I asked what her source was for these healing suggestions, and she said she received her information from consultations with me, Google, and YouTube. I jokingly said to her that her husband was a smart man for not following unsubstantiated advice.
I have heard my female friends and family roll their eyes at their partners for not acknowledging their holistic wisdom acquired through 30 minutes of an internet search. I have heard women share home remedies with their kids based on something they read on WhatsApp.
A friend recently reached out to confirm if she could take Ashwagandha. When I asked her why, she said, “It’s marketed as the best stress buster. I have anxiety.” She didn’t think to address the root cause of her anxiety; instead, she wanted to pop a pill or add an herb to her morning smoothie.
The Dangers of Self-Medicating With Ayurvedic Herbs
In an interview in Business Insider, California-based cardiologist Dr. Danielle Belardo suggested that the most common cause of arrhythmia in her 20-something patients was misuse of herbal supplements.
What the interview doesn’t tell us is how many of these people seek the expertise of an Ayurvedic practitioner, Ayurvedic doctor, or herbalist before taking these herbs, and how many of them are “Google doctors” who think it’s safe to self-medicate based on online searches or circulated content.
According to Ayurveda, spices and herbs are considered extremely potent and powerful plant medicines. Some herbs can interfere with your medication or have side effects that you may not be aware of. In the Ayurvedic tradition, plants carry the wisdom of cosmic intelligence. Ayurveda reminds us that these herbs have a multitude of benefits on our mind, body, and spirit. It’s important to respect the intelligence of medicinal plants instead of treating them like candy or pills to pop them when we feel like it.
Examples of Powerful Herbs in Ayurveda
Let’s look at a beautiful herb often used in Ayurvedic pharmacopeia: Manjistha. If you have ever bought Ayurvedic skincare products, you have heard the name Manjistha (Rubia cordifolia).
I am a high Pitta individual who tends to get “heated” up if my diet, lifestyle, and environment imbalance my Pitta dosha. A vitiated Pitta dosha impairs the blood and its normal functioning. Manjistha helps me remove excess heat from my blood and has immense regenerative properties.
In fact, Manjistha is one of the most popular herbs used to manage all types of skin disorders, as it helps remove natural toxins and supports a clear complexion and healthy skin. But if you have gastritis or hyperacidity, Manjistha might create a little problem for you.
Also, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you will want to check with a practitioner if it’s safe for you to use. Excess intake of Manjistha can aggravate Vata dosha. Would you know any of this if you bought the herb straight off the shelf or online?
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb that everyone from neighborhood health food stores to giant retailers like Walmart sell. It’s one of the most highly regarded and commonly used herbs in the world of Ayurvedic healing. It’s positioned as the one that reduces anxiety and revitalizes energy levels.
Yes, it’s a powerful adaptogen for combating stress. It promotes restful sleep. It is considered one of the best herbs for calming Vata dosha and for energizing the male reproductive system. But did you know people with high Pitta should avoid Ashwagandha or at least beware that excess use may aggravate Pitta dosha?
Pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as people with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, may need to avoid it. Some people see diarrhea, gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, and nausea as side effects of taking Ashwangandha.
How to Take Ayurvedic Herbs Skillfully
Just because a particular herbal treatment is going viral or circulating on WhatsApp doesn’t make it a legitimate treatment for you. Just because a celebrity endorses an herb doesn’t mean it’s applicable to you. Just because health food stores sell an Ayurvedic herb as a “stress buster” or “weight-loss buddy” doesn’t mean you need to pop that capsule. Taking a workshop or attending a webinar doesn’t qualify people to “treat” others.
Depending on the type of herb and one’s personal health issues and doshic imbalances, there is an appropriate time of the day assigned for herbal intake. The Ayurvedic doctor might recommend taking Ayurvedic medicines with specific anupanas, or a carrier substance, such as milk, ghee, honey, herbal teas, aloe vera juice, or bone broth, among others. Then there are specific carriers that work best for each dosha.
When anyone shares incomplete and unqualified knowledge, they increase the chances of hurting themselves and others and de-legitimizing the work that Ayurvedic practitioners, herbalists, and Ayurvedic doctors perform in the world of complementary medicine.
The word Ayurveda literally translates to “ science of life,” a science which some of us spend our lives learning and practicing. It’s the world’s oldest holistic healing system that’s over 5,000 years old. It’s all about customized healing for an individual—and one herb doesn’t fit all. It’s good to be inquisitive, but don’t implement that curiosity without consulting an herbalist or Ayurveda practitioner first… for your own safety.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your health care practitioner prior to the use of any of these herbs. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and Ayurvedic coach, contact Sweta here.