The Living Centre - Eco-Spiritual Education Sanctuary

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine:Oldest System of Natural Healing in the World

by Walter Kacera, D.N., Ph.D., Herbalist & Ayurvedic Nutritionist
"Ayurvedic Herbalism is not of the east or the west, of ancient or modern time. it is a science of living that encompasses the whole of life, and which relates the life of the individual to that of the universe.
A knowledge that belongs to all living beings."
~ Dr. David Frawley & Dr. Vasant Lad, 'The Yoga of Herbs'
The name Ayurveda originates from two Indian words: ayur, meaning life, and Veda meaning knowledge or science. In a broad sense it means knowledge concerning the maintenance of life. The aim of Ayurvedic medicine is preventative, treating people before a disorder has a chance to manifest it self.

Ayurveda evolved from the ancient wisdom of healers, prophets & Rishis that lived deep in the Himalayas. Their wisdom was passed down orally from teacher to student, and eventually written down only in the last 5,000 years in Sanskrit and named the Vedas. Ayurvedic Herbal medicine has been refined by thousands of years of practical application and experience. In about 800 BC the first medical healing school was founded in India. A well-known scholar, healer and herbalist Charaka in his writings described 1,500 medicinal plants in his book the 'Charaka Samhita'. This valuable herbal book is still used as a major reference text and is still consulted by modern Ayurvedic herbal practitioners.

Other natural healing systems of medicine such as the Chinese, Tibetan, and Islamic (Unani Tibb) traditions have their roots in Ayurveda. Even the Buddha (born 550 BC) was a follower of Ayurveda. The spread of Buddhism into Tibet was also accompanied by the increase of Ayurveda. The knowledge of Ayurvedic herbal practices broadened to other ancient civilizations though the spice routes. Traders obtaining knowledge of the material medica of the healing plants of India passed this on to be studied by Arab physicians. This knowledge was further passed on to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and eventually became the common practice and basis of European medicine.

Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine is a practice that has withstood the test of time. It is as old as life itself and intimately tied to how life functions everywhere in the universe. As western society learns to embrace these ancient teachings we will discover their many gifts, and begin to use them as a complementary form of treatment.

In the following paragraphs we will explore five main points:
1. What is Ayurvedic herbal medicine?
2. Theory of the five elements and the Tridoshas.
3. Diagnosing & the importance of the constitution.
4. Herbal energetics though the six tastes.
5. Putting it all together in three case studies.

Ayurveda Herbal Medicine is based on the theory of Tridoshas. This theory explains how the five elements air, fire, water, earth and ether, which make up physical creation, dynamically combine to manage all processes within the human physiology. The five elements are the basic building blocks of all life and through them we can determine the fundamental nature, called, the constitution, of the individual. It is a comprehensive system of healthcare that works toward prescribing a way of life, rather than a treatment of specific diseases and disorders. The skill of the practitioner lies in identifying a persons unique constitution, (according to the tridosha system), diagnosis the cause of the imbalance and deciding on the herbal protocol.

The three doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They represent our genetic blueprint and fashion how we respond, both psychologically and physically to our environment. The constitutional type, Vata is a combination of Air and Ether. Pitta is the combination of Fire and Water; Kapha - Water and Earth. These elements are the foundation of all life.

An understanding of tridosha system helps us know a person's constitutional predisposition, assisting the herbalist in creating a therapeutic herbal program that integrates all aspects of that individual's life. The principles and qualities that follow are what an herbalists looks for in determining an individual's constitution.

Vata: governs all movement, respiration and the nervous system. Its qualities are described as being dry, cold, light, mobile, subtle, rough, hard, erratic, dispersing and clear.

In a deranged condition it will cause coldness, dryness, tremors, abdominal distention, constipation, weakness, insomnia and numerous other neurological complaints, and lack of stamina.

Herbs that reduce excess Vata are nutritive tonics, demulcent with a pleasant sweet, salty and sour taste and warming qualities. Herbs that aggravate Vata are bitter, astringent and pungent.

Pitta: governs all transforming processes, metabolism, all chemical reactions, digestion and circulation. Its qualities are described as hot, sharp, fluid, light, oily, soft, and mobile.

In a deranged condition it will cause a jaundiced appearance or a yellowish tone to the skin, eyes, urine and feces. This may be accompanied by increased hunger and dryness, burning symptom and inflammations.

Herbs that reduce excess Pitta are drying and cooling, with bitter, astringent and sweet flavors. Herbs that aggravate Pitta have a warm moist nature with pungent, sour or salty tastes.

Kapha: governs all cohesion, liquidation, growth, body stability and strength. Its attributes are cold, wet, heavy, slow, dull, smooth, and cloudy.

In a deranged condition it will cause a diminution of digestive function, excessive phlegm and mucus, heaviness of the body, coldness, and a great desire for sleep.

Herbs that reduce excess Kapha are drying, warm and eliminative with pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. Herbs that aggravate Kapha are sweet, salty and sour.

One of the unique aspects of Ayurveda Herbalism is that once you know the dosha-constitution of an individual you then know which herbs to prescribe.

One of the unique aspects of Ayurveda Herbalism is that once you know the dosha-constitution of an individual you then know which herbs to prescribe. For instance, herbs are classified according to which dosha they increase and decrease.

Everything in the universe is composed of the five elements. These combine into the three doshas or bioenergetic forces that govern our health and determine our physical constitution.

The Ayurvedic system recognizes that each human being is born with a unique arrangement of the three doshas, and this equilibrium is what is responsible for the distinctiveness among people. A particular dosha constitution indicates a heightened tendency to manifest imbalance or disease in a particular way as characterized by the dosha. Our constitutional balance influences how the body and mind will tend to react when experiencing a particular stimulus, such as food, herb, weather, or emotions. By recognizing and maintaining an individual's constitution, Ayurveda can teach each person how to achieve his or her own state of health. From this we can create a line of herbal treatment protocols unique to the individual's requirements. This personalizing aspect of Ayurveda can be integrated into any natural healing system.

"From the Earth came herbs and from the herbs came the seed that gave life to humans."
-Taittiriya Upanishad (11.1)
In offering the most beneficial form of treatment, the Ayurvedic Herbal Practitioner, not only draws on the knowledge derived from the science of the Tridoshas, but must also include the unique science of Herbal Energetics. This simple system classifies the basic properties of herbs according to their energies, tastes, the organs and channels affected, as well as their therapeutic properties and biochemical properties. The tastes, attributes and the elements are all part of the language of nature, a language of life. This system is similar to the Chinese herbal approach of tastes and energies. The knowledge of the energetic classification of herbs has largely been lost in the west. By understanding and applying the wisdom of Herbal Energetics, plant remedies can connect us all with what has been called "the vital roots of existence".

According to their energies or "energetics" each herb has its own therapeutic effects.
1. Initial taste;
2. Element;
3. Heating or cooling effect;
4. Post digestive effect;
5. Special properties

Practitioners of herbal Ayurvedic medicine prescribe remedies on the basis of their attributes or energy/quality. These are determined according to the twenty attributes such as slow/sharp, oily/dry, cold/hot, slimy/rough, dense/liquid, soft/hard, static/mobile, subtle/gross, cloudy/clear, and heavy/light. The other aspects of classify herbs is according to six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Taste is considered therapeutic for several reasons. The Sanskrit word for taste is Rasa. It means delight or essence, both of which are healing. Everyone needs some of each of the six tastes every day. Tastes of herbs are seldom single, though one usually predominates.

Sweet, sour, and salty tasting herbs increase water- urinary and fluidity.
Bitter, pungent, and astringent tasting herbs increase air- nerve system function.
Sour, salty, and pungent tasting herbs increase fire- digestion and liver activity.

In Ayurveda, herbalism and nutrition are a single science, and no healing can be truly successful that disregards one or the other. Particular foods are prescribed therapeutically as herbs, or in combination with herbs. Herbs give subtle nutrition and stimulation to the deeper tissues and organs; foods deal with the grosser nutrition. The actions of a herb is strongest when fresh.
In order to put all these principles together let us look at three case studies.

Brittany, a woman in her late 50's, full of joy and always the life of the party. Her body is thin with dry, rough, and dark skin and dark eyes. She did quite well in college and tended to get by on charm rather than academic competence and changed her major several times before deciding on a career in graphic design. Once in the work field she got bored easily and was always seeking something new and exciting. She has a tendency to be a workaholic. Her health was good till her early 40's then she started sleeping poorly, tossing and turning throughout the night. As the years have passed her digestion system has seemed to become quite delicate especially when she feeling rushed. In the last few years her energy has dropped considerably, her enthusiasm has faded. She's also developed a sense of underlying anxiety and depression especially during the late fall and winter which is her least favorite season. Her worst time of day is in the middle of the afternoon.

Brittany's constitution is Vata. The recommendations for a Vata/Air imbalance, from an herbal perspective, would be grounding herbs and foods that reconnect her vital source that would be the Earth. The tastes that would provide this are sweet, sour, and salty. The herbs with this taste are licorice root, aniseed, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginseng root, fennel, fo-ti root., fresh ginger root and catnip.

Peter has been a motivated man since childhood with a good strong physical build. He has soft, fair skin; reddish hair with greenish-yellow eyes. Now in his early 40's, having competed his training as a firefighter, he keeps his mind active by continuing studying and following his passions. It seems that his mind just never stops. He always feels the need to take on another challenge. In the last few years he has started experiencing throbbing headaches. Although usually able to plow his way through challenges, he found it increasingly difficult to regain his drive after these emotional and physical assaults of the migraine on his sense of invulnerability. When prescription medication failed to relieve his pain, he decided to take another approach to treatment. His worse time day is in the middle of the afternoon and his worse season is during the heat of the summer.

An Ayurvedic diagnosis would state that Peter was experiencing symptoms of imbalance in his inherently fiery constitution, in other words a Pitta/ Fire constitution. Peter must learn how to cool off the excessive heat in his mind and body with herbal relaxants, calming breath work, and soothing activities. The tastes and herbs that would be appropriate to relieve his symptoms and to get to the cause are the following: sweet, bitter, and astringent. The herbs that would assist in the healing process are: gotu kola, ginkgo leaf, wood betony, chamomile, passionflower, and sandalwood oil applied to the head.

Martha a woman in her late 30's, tends to carry a few extra pounds since her preteen years. She has pale, cool skin and her eyes are big and blue with thick, dark lashes. As an adult she married early and enjoys raising her own family. With age her weight increases. She is now over 185 pounds, with high blood pressure. She is experiencing a loss of vitality and stamina. Getting out of bed is a struggle. Her cravings and indulgences are sweet baked goods, and extra salt and butter with her meals. Her worse time of day is in the mornings. And her worst season is the middle of winter.

Martha has a predominance of the Kapha/Water element, which has become increasing imbalanced with age. To bring about more vital energy she needs to have more lightness and fire into her diet. Herbal recommendations would be herbs that are bitter, astringent and pungent. Examples of useful herbs: Calamus root, cinnamon bark, fenugreek seeds, yellow dock root. and burdock root. These herbs support the digestive processes, helping her both to lose weight and increase her energy level. The bitter tasting herbs awaken the taste buds enhancing ones desire for more variety of foods, thus balancing the addictive patterns.
"Just as flowers come from the Earth, so the remedy grows in the hands of the physician…the remedy is nothing but a seed which develops into that which it is destined to be".
- Paradd
Modern pharmaceutical drugs are poor substitutes for plants. They may be appropriate at times for short-term or acute conditions, but their long-term consequences will in all cases exhaust the primary life force due to their inorganic nature.

Green plants and herbs reestablish our connection with the natural world sustaining and bring us life. 'Life supporting life.' As we become proficient in our understanding of Ayurvedic Herbalism we deepen our relationship with ourselves, as well as with the natural world. Enhancing our relationship with the Earth, through the green healing plants is in itself a remarkable healing experience, dissolving the sense of separation with nature, is at the root of all dis-ease. Developing a respect for the abundance and generosity of this giving planet, we will perhaps, learn how to walk more softly upon the Earth. Our common sense says "you can't have healthy bodies on a sick planet.

The significance of Ayurvedic Herbal practices is proven in part by its timelessness. Having survived numerous obstacles, it continues to be practiced as an unbroken tradition. The greatest contribution that this ancient healing system gives us is a method of teaching prevention. How do you treat an individual before there are any signs or symptoms? How does a person use herbs in a preventative way and not just treat the disease? The aim of Ayurvedic herb doctors is to balance a patient's unique body/mind constitution. Ayurveda offers valuable practical guidelines for healthy living, applicable to every aspect of daily existence. It teaches simple ways to walk through life in accordance with the cycles of nature, and thus enhance the well-being, longevity and harmony of all who bring these practices into their life.
"Nature and wisdom always say the same thing."
-Roman Poet Juvenal
Walter Shantree Kacera, D.N., Ph.D. Therapeutic Herbalist & Ayurvedic Nutritionist with over 30 years experience in the Natural Healing Arts. He is the founder of SPIRIT of the EARTH 'The 'The Living Centre' Eco-Spiritual Educational Retreat Centre & Sanctuary. London, ON. CANADA. He teaches Certificate Courses in Conscious Living: The Sevenfold Path, Therapeutic & Practical Herbalism, Shamanic Herbal Energetics, Constitutional Ayurvedic Medicine, Living Nutrition, Clinical Iridology & Tongue Diagnosis. He has synthesized an unique and natural approach with working with his patients in understanding their constitution to achieve wellness. Presently Walter is teaching and writing a course textbook on Constitutional Ayurvedic Medicine. He continues to lead Cleansing Retreats in Costa Rica where he works both as a Health-Care practitioner and workshop facilitator. His main teaching is how to integrate holistic health into the field of Spiritual Ecology, meaning allowing nature to be both our Therapist and our Therapy.

SPIRIT of the EARTH, 'The Living Centre, 5871 Bells Rd., London, ON. N6P 1P3 519-652-0230
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Website:
Subscribe to our newsletter


Event Calendar

<<  December 2017  >>
 M  T  W  T  F  S  S 
      1  2  3
  4  5  6  7  8  910