A selection of Ayurvedic herbs that make your body stronger and help it fight diseases better. By Satarupa Paul
The second wave of the pandemic has brought a crucial aspect of our well-being into focus—immunity, or the ability of the body to defend itself. While it was always a matter of significance, in a raging pandemic it has acquired urgency. A balanced diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise help for sure, and vitamin supplements are said to aid the immune system. But the traditional system of medicine in India, Ayurveda, is also under the spotlight. An increasing number of people are turning to Ayurveda and its immense library of immunity-boosting herbs to strengthen their natural defences. And the best part: this health route is all-natural, with hardly any potential side effects. We’ve compiled a list of six easily found herbs that proponents of Ayurveda swear by. Incorporate them into your diet to build up your immunity.
Neem – Ayurvedic Herbs
You may pucker your nose at the thought of this bitter herb, but it is believed to be a powerhouse of medicinal properties. Loaded with over 130 biologically active compounds, neem is often referred to as the ‘panacea for all diseases’ in Ayurveda. A powerful immuno-stimulant, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral, it works wonders in curing infections, stimulating the immune system and encouraging rapid healing. Neem trees are commonly found in any Indian neighbourhood, and the extract or powder of the leaves is known to trigger the immune system, while its strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties flush harmful toxins and impurities from the blood. The flavonoids, triterpenoid, and glycosides in neem leaves regulate blood sugar level; it is also anti-inflammatory and promotes gut health.
The best way to incorporate neem in your diet is to sun-dry fresh leaves for a couple of days until they are crispy, grind them into a fine powder, mix a spoonful in warm water with lemon and honey, and drink the concoction first thing in the morning.
Ginger is most commonly used as a spice to enhance the flavour and aroma of dishes. In Ayurveda, though, it’s considered a potent medicinal herb with a host of benefits, including immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperglycaemic, and antiemetic functions. Many of these are attributed to its main bioactive compound—gingerol, natural oil that lends ginger its unique flavour and fragrance. It can inhibit the growth of different types of bacteria, thus reducing the risk of infections. Ginger is also known to awaken the taste buds, promote digestion, settle an upset stomach, as well as relieve nausea. Traditionally, ginger has been used to soothe cold and cough, while its anti-inflammatory properties make it an excellent remedy for flu, headache, and joint pain.
When used as a herb, ginger can be had raw; cut into strips, soaked in lime juice and salt, and dried in the sun to turn into a churan or digestive; boiled in water on low heat to make ginger tea; or incorporated in various juices as an extract.
Tulsi – Ayurvedic Herbs
Holy Basil, or tulsi, is commonly grown in most Indian households and is regarded highly for its many medicinal properties. Rich in Vitamin C and zinc, the extract of tulsi leaves increases the activity of T Helper cells and natural killer cells, thus boosting immunity. The herb also has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal qualities that keep infections at bay and help in bringing down fever. The eugenol in tulsi alleviates pain, while camphene and cineole aid in soothing cough, cold, and respiratory diseases. Tulsi also contains Ocimumosides A and B that reduce stress and balance neurotransmitters in the brain. It is also said to help in reducing inflammation and blood pressure.
Tulsi can be consumed as an extract or juice mixed with a pinch of black pepper and some honey, or as a herbal tea with powdered cardamom and other herbs. You can also add it to your salads.
Once a humble spice in Indian kitchens, and now a superfood around the world, turmeric or the ‘golden spice’ has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years. Extensive research has shown that its key bioactive component, curcumin, is a key antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin fights inflammation at the molecular level, thus helping your body ward off foreign invaders, repair damage, and maintain a healthy immune system. It’s so powerful in this regard that it reportedly matches the effectiveness of strong anti-inflammatory drugs, sans the side effects. The list of its health benefits is long, including antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anticarcinogenic, and antiseptic functions.
Turmeric is best consumed in powdered form—mixed with warm milk or whipped into trendy turmeric lattes. It can also be consumed raw, with some jaggery for taste.
Asafoetida – Ayurvedic Herbs
Often referred to as ‘food of the gods’ or ‘devil’s dung’, asafoetida or hing is dried latex derived from the taproot, rhizome, or stem of the plant ferula asafoetida—a perennial herb widely cultivated in the Indian subcontinent. The presence of sulphur compounds lends it a distinct pungent odour, a quality that’s most commonly exploited for tempering curries. But hing is also rich in diuretic, antispasmodic, and analgesic properties, helping relieve symptoms of asthma, whooping cough, and even pneumonia. Its antibiotic and antiviral components are so potent that it was used in the fight against the Spanish flu in 1918. Scientists claim that its extract can be used to prevent and treat the swine flu virus as well. Also, when applied topically, hing can relieve abdominal pain, headaches, and nose and chest congestion.
The best way to incorporate hing into your daily life is to use it in cooking, but it can also be added to fresh lime juice along with cumin
Giloy – Ayurvedic Herbs
Used in traditional medicine for centuries, giloy is often referred to as the ‘root of immortality’. This herbaceous vine is a powerhouse of antioxidants that fight free radicals, keep cells healthy, and protect against diseases. The herb removes toxins, purifies blood, and combats infections, thus boosting the immune system. The antipyretic nature of giloy is used to treat recurrent fevers in conditions like dengue, malaria, and swine flu, while its anti-inflammatory properties relieve respiratory issues like cold, cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, etc. Giloy is easily available as bundles of barks or stems in most supermarkets. The best way to consume it is in juice form—take a finger-long stem, wash it, and boil in two glasses of water until the liquid reduces to half its volume, and drink it while it’s still lukewarm. Giloy can also be added to herbal teas along with some of the other aforementioned herbs.
Editor’s Note: Keeping the current situation of the pandemic in mind, T+L India recommends every reader to stay safe, and take all government-regulated precautions in case travel at this time is absolutely necessary. Please follow our stories on COVID-19 for all the latest travel guidelines.