Memories from Ayurveda in Nepal

Memories from Ayurveda in Nepal

I’ve been back at home now for a little over a week, and after several days of jet lag, getting the garden ready for spring, and seeing a few patients, I feel like I am finally back! It’s taking a little bit to get used to the rainy, wet weather of Vancouver, but somehow it also feels very familiar. It has certainly been nice to reconnect with my family and my dogs – and even the cat seemed mildly interested in reconnecting with me!

I’ve been going through some of the photos I accumulated during the 2017 Ayurveda in Nepal program, and thought that many of you might be interested to see them. I have separated them into three categories: herbs, places, and people. To see the photos, please click on these links:

And please be patient if the page takes awhile to load – there’s a lot of data!

Overall, the program in Nepal was a great success, and I look forward to our next journey. I also have a ton of video footage, and over time I will be releasing these as videos, mostly for students and members of the Dogwood School of Botanical Medicine. These include videos on how to make many traditional remedies in Ayurveda, including Chyavanprash, Narayana taila, Kaishora guggulu, and Nimbadi vati, as well the purification of gandhaka (sulfur) and guggulu resin, and the preparation of Godanti bhasma. Please stay in touch and check back often for more!

Some of our teachers in Nepal

Some of our teachers in Nepal

Hi Everyone! I’ve just finished compiling a short video introducing some of the many lovely teachers and people we met during our time in Nepal. I still have so much footage to go through, including the preparation of traditional medicines such as Chyavanprash, Narayana taila, and Godanti bhasma, as well as the purification of Guggulu resin and Gandhaka (sulfur) – so please check back soon!

Dr. Mana’s watercolors

Dr. Mana’s watercolors

The late Vaidya Mana Bajra Bajracharya was not only a prolific author, writing over 40 books on the subject of Ayurveda, he was also a talented artist as well. When he was seventeen years old, he finished his formal study of Sanskrit and began to learn the classical texts of Ayurveda, as well as the Mahayana Buddhist texts that necessary as part of his hereditary role as a Vajracharya priest. After this he began to practice Ayurveda, but after some time realized on his own that he needed to see the plants he had begun to work with, and in 1955, headed off on a two year journey, traveling on foot throughout Nepal and India, collecting almost all the plants that are mentioned in the classical texts of Ayurveda, and made water color paintings of them. Here are a few of these remarkable water-colors, and a brief excerpt of each herb and its medicinal uses, written by Vaidya Mana:


Amalaki or Amalakam fruit (Indian gooseberry / amla / Phyllanthus emblica)
Amalaki is a tropical and sub-tropical middle sized tree that grows in dry areas. The fruit is sour, sweet and astringent in taste, and cooling in action. It is a heart restorative, and a Rasayana when used over a long period of time. It is used in bronchitis, cough, fever, alcoholism, and hemorrhage. It reduces Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. It is also used for anemia, asthma, burning sensation, lung disease, and cancer. It is part of Triphala, where it is mildly laxative. It is tridoshaghna, an agent that stimulates the brain to subdue the increased body systems.


Brahmi leaf/root (gotu kola / Centella asiatica)
Brahmi is an annual (perennial) small spreading plant that grows near rivers and ponds. All parts of the plant are bitter in taste and cooling in action (Virya). It is used in epilepsy, to improve memory and concentration and to prevent miscarriage. It is also an anti-poison and good for throat hoarseness.


Dadima rind/fruit (pomegranate / Punica granatum)
Dadima is a small cultivated tree. Pomegranates come in two varieties: sweet-astringent, and sour-astringent. The rind is astringent in taste, and cool in action (Virya). It is used as a rejuvenative for anemia. It increases mother’s milk production. The fruit is easy to digest, carminative, nourishing to the heart and is helpful to digestion. The sweet-astringent variety has medicinal value in treating diarrhea, alcoholism, indigestion and heart problems. The sour-astringent variety is more effective in treating indigestion and alcoholism.


Guduchi stem (Tinospora cordifolia)
Guduchi is a long creeper that grows in temperate and sub-tropical forests. The stem is bitter in taste and warming in action. It is a Rasayana, for good health and longevity, as well as being an anti-toxin. It reduces Vata and Pitta. It is used for fever due to cold, including malaria fever, as well as to remove toxins in hepatitis, gout, toxemia, and urinary diseases. It is diuretic and aphrodisiac, useful in impotence. It has the prabhava (special power) called samanam, meaning it restores balance, but never causes increase.


Kanchanara bark (mountain ebony / Bauhinia variegata)
Kanchanara is a sub-tropical, medium-sized tree. Its bark is astringent in taste and cold in action. It is sansodhanum, a body and blood purifying agent that excretes defective bile, mucus and gas. It is used in diarrhea, leprosy, glandular swelling and ulcers.


Kuchila seed (purified nux vomica / Strychnos nux vomica)
Kuchila is a perennial large tree that grows in the tropical and sub-tropical climate. The seed is bitter in taste, hot in action, and poisonous. Purified seed is rejuvenative and used for indigestion, menorrhagia, back pain, rabies, twitching, lumbago and paralysis (oil form). Purify by first soaking in vinegar and cow urine for three days, then boil until red.


Pippali fruit/root (long pepper / Piper longum)
Pippali is a sub-tropical and tropical creeper that grows in the forest, and is also cultivated. It is grouped with Pippali, Gajapippali and Chavyam, all of which share similar effects. The fruit is pungent in taste, appetizing, and digestive. It reduces Vata and Kapha. It is used in bronchitis, asthma, cough and fever. It stimulates the medicinal effects of other herbs, has restorative qualities and is good for long life. The root is pungent in taste, light in quality and aids in food digestion. It is good for stomach diseases, liver and spleen diseases, and tuberculosis.


Rohitaka stem (rhododendron / Rhododendron arboreum)
Rohitaka is an alpine and sub-alpine small tree with red flowers. The stem is pungent in taste, and is used in enlargement of liver and spleen. It reduces Pitta. The root is pungent in taste, and used in leucorrhea. It is mildly poisonous.

Visit to Ajaya’s

Visit to Ajaya’s

It’s been so incredibly busy here in Nepal that I have had little to do anything else besides dealing with all the different components of the program. But today I took a little time off to visit with Ajaya, a herbal pharmacist that lives and works in Kathmandu with his family, and prepares many of the remedies that Vaidya Madhu uses in his clinical practices – and by extension, many of the remedies I also use in my practice in Canada. Here’s a brief essay of my visit to Ajaya’s.

This is a little video of some of Ajaya’s staff rolling out some pills of Kanchanara guggulu vati (pills), something our students learned to do during this program, but performed with a lot more speed and skill! Kanchanara guggulu is used in the treatment of glandular disorders, cancer, and hypothyroidism, and is a very important medicine in my practice. Also included in the video is a decoction (kwatha) used to prepare Yogaraja guggulu vati, another medicine that will eventually be used to make pills. Yogaraja guggulu is a specific medicine to reduce vata and ama in the joints and muscles, used long term in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism.


This is a chunk of raw shilajit, a curious exudate obtained from certain rocks in the Himalayan mountains, that must be rigorously processed and purified before use. But once prepared, shilajit is an amazing health tonic – it’s name literally meaning ‘to become like stone’ – used to promote long life and good health, and a specific remedy in the treatment of diabetes and deficiency conditions. If you’re interested to learn more, please check out a previous article I wrote on the subject. What you see behind my hand in the bottles is the processed and purified result, a special form of shilajit called “surya tapi shilajit” that is prepared by dissolving the crude shilajit in a mixture of hot water and a herbal decoction, and exposing it to the rays of the sun for over a year, causing the purified shilajit to rise to the top like cream from milk. Most shilajit in the marketplace these days isn’t even shilajit, but another type of exudate called mumiyo that is obtained mostly from Siberia. It is not the same thing as shiljait at all. Likewise, all of the authentic shilajit I have seen in the marketplace is processed by much faster methods than the “surya tapi” method, and is not as pure. Ajaya prepares large amounts of shilajit for the export market, but produces only small amounts of the surya tapi shilajit as a hobby.


One of my students asked Ajaya about sauviranjana (sow-vir-an-jana), or purified antimony, that is used as a collyrium for the eyes in Ayurveda. Ajaya didn’t have any ready but showed us these chunks of raw antimony that are used to make it. Sauviranjana is the original inspiration for eyeliner, and when properly purified, is thought to benefit the eyes and improve eyesight and prevent cataract formation – unlike the stuff used by women today. Prepared as a bhasma, sauvira is a powerful hemostatic, used in bleeding disorders such as hemorrhage and menorrhagia, as well as vomiting.


Above is a photo of conch shell (Turbinella pyrum), which is processed as a calcinated white ash to make Shanka bhasma. In its purified form it is used in diarrhea, duodenal ulcer, and acidity, and can be applied externally as a plaster for acne. It’s a cooling, antinflammatory remedy, that is an important constituent of a traditional Nepali Ayurveda medicine called Shambhukadi vati, which I have used as part of a protocol to treat inflammatory bowel disease. It’s one of the simpler bhasmas to make, much like Godanti bhasma (purified gypsum), which our Ayurveda in Nepal students learned to make during this program.


This is a photo of raw, unprocessed sulfur. In its purified form, sulfur – gandhaka bhasma – can be used in the treatment of digestive complaints, and disorders of the liver, blood, and skin. Although called a “bhasma”, gandhaka bhasma technically isn’t a bhasma because it doesn’t under calcination, but instead is purified in ghee. Nonetheless, gandhaka bhasma is very important in the preparation of other bhasmas, such as mercury, and is used as an antidote in heavy metal poisoning. This is isn’t surprising if we consider the importance of sulfur in hepatic detoxification (i.e. sulfation) and in quenching inflammation (e.g. glutathione). The purification and preparation of sulfur is something else our students learned to do during the Ayurveda in Nepal program.


Hanging out at Ajaya’s was like being a kid in a candy store: so many useful remedies to think about taking home with me! One thing I asked about was if he had any hing resin, derived from Ferula assa-foetida, and sure enough, his staff pulled out a massive container of the stuff. Pure hing is exceptionally hard to find in the West, and is usually adulterated with wheat flour, gum arabic, and yellow dye. Hing is a potent medicine in the treatment of gastrointestinal parasites and colic, but must be purified in ghee before use. When I got home – and against my better judgment – I decided to unwrap the giant chunk of Hing I got from Ajaya to take a photo of it. It’s so incredibly pungent and stinky, that even after I held it in my hand for just a couple seconds, it penetrated my skin, entered my blood, and I could still taste it in my mouth and nose several hours later! The smell was so powerful it even woke me up in the middle of the night, and I had to put it outside my room and burn some incense. Over these past couple weeks, I taught one of our students how to make a famous Ayurveda remedy called Hingwastak churna, that I frequently use to treat traveler’s diarrhea. A handy remedy in Nepal!


And then lastly, a group photo of me, Ajaya, some of his family and his staff – as well as one of my students on the left.

Godawari Botanical Gardens

Godawari Botanical Gardens

Today we visited Godawari Botanical Gardens just outside Kathmandu with hereditary physician and herbalist Vaidya Manjib Shakya. It was such a pleasant respite from the chaos of the city, to be surrounded by trees, plants, and birdsong. See the photos below for highlights and some of the herbs we reviewed on our walk. Tomorrow, we’re off to do a little trekking and herb walk!


Rhododendron arboreum (Rohitaka) used in the treatment of liver disorders. We have a very similar species too in British Columbia, but it isn’t much used

 


Mahonia nepalensis (Daruharidra) also used in liver disorders, as well as disorders of the blood, skin, and eyes. The root bark is harvested and boiled to make a solid extract called Rasanjana that is a highly effect anti-inflammatory agent.

 


Cyperus rotundus (Musta), used in fever, deem, digestive problems such as diarrhea, and gynaecological complaints such as menorrhagia.

 


Bergenia ligulata (Pashanabheda) is used as a “stone-breaker” in the treatment of kidney and bladder stones.

 


This is Jasminum humile (Masino jaee) or Yellow Jasmine, the leaves of which are used as a cooling medication to treat fever and inflammation. The flower can also be used in tea as a pleasant flavouring agent.

 


This is a species of Acmella (Spilanthes) that was growing wild. Known as “toothache plant”, one of the students suffering from a sore throat found immediate relief by chewing on the flowers.

 


One of the flowers of Bombax ceiba (Simal) which had fallen to the ground. Used in the treatment of all three doshas, in male sexual disorders, menorrhagia, and gastrointestinal disorders such as dysentery and diarrhea.

 


The leaf of Bauhinia variegata (Koiralo, Kanchanara). The bark is a very important herb used in the treatment of cancer, as well as lymphatic issues such as cervical adenitis, and hypothyroidism. Most commonly used as Kanchanara guggulu, which I often use in my practice.

 


Here is Vaidya Manjib Shakya and students.

 


This tree is Cedrus deodara or Devadaru – “wood of the gods.” The inner bark is used for fever, gas/bloating, constipation, and urinary issues.

 


Valeriana wallachii (Tagara) is used very similar to Valerian in the West, as an important sedative and mental restorative.

 


This is Asparagus racemosa, or Shatavari, but the wild variety with thorns. For the uninitiated, Shatavari means “100 husbands.” Say no more, say no more, wink wink, nudge nudge.