Ayurvedic Herbalism
Lesson 17

Outline of Lesson

  1. The Roots of Ayurvedic Herbalism
  2. Ayurvedic Philosophy
  3. The Ayurvedic Body Types
  4. Ayurvedic Herbalism Today
  5. NSP's Ayurvedic Formulations
  6. Conclusion
  7. Word Review List

The Roots of Ayurvedic Herbalism

The Ayurvedic system of herbalism traces its roots to over five thousand years ago in the Himalayan Mountains of India. According to legend, a great meeting took place in a Himalayan cave in which the greatest wise men of India assembled to discuss their healing art. These men, some of whom had traveled for thousands of miles, possessed tribal knowledge of the medicinal herbs of India—knowledge that had been passed down orally since the beginning of history. At this meeting, these men combined their knowledge into one body which they called the Ayurveda, from two Sanskrit words; Ayus, or "life," and Veda, or "knowledge." "Ayurveda" has been translated as "the knowledge of life," and as "the science of life." It has been suggested by one modern writer that a more appropriate translation would be "the knowledge of life span."

The Ayurvedic system of knowledge was then passed orally from teacher to student for over a thousand years, continuously growing as each Ayurvedic physician added his insights and experiences. It was finally written down in the first century A.D. by the Ayurvedic physician, Charaka. By that time, and hundreds of years before the birth of European medicine, Ayurveda had specialists in psychiatry, pediatrics, gynecology, ear nose and throat, ophthalmology, surgery, toxicology, virility, and fertility.

Ayurvedic medicine probably predates any other healing tradition in existence today—even perhaps Chinese medicine. Even before the historic meeting, knowledge of the medicinal plants of India had spread to other continents. Seeds from plants indigenous to India have been found in the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. Travelers had carried information about Indian plants through Tibet into China. And Arabs had traded for Indian herbs before the birth of Islam. At the time of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba traded herbs and spices of India to the Israelites.

Ayurvedic herbalism was studied by Arab physicians and knowledge of the plants of India was passed from the Arabs to the Greeks and Romans. By the first century A.D., when Charaka was writing Ayurveda's first written records, Pliny was already describing the plants of India to the Roman Empire in his work, Natural History.

The Europeans greatly valued the herbs and spices of India, which they acquired through trade with the Arabs. It was while searching for a shorter trade route to acquire the herbs and spices of India that an Italian sailor by the name of Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Americas.

Ayurvedic Philosophy

According to Ayurvedic philosophy, health is dependent upon one's ability to live in harmony with one's self and with the external universe. Traditionally, as much attention was given to illnesses of the mind as to illnesses of the body. The Ayurvedic physician taught that in order to avoid illness and pain, the patient must control the destructive (and self-destructive) nature. Living in harmony with the environment was recognized as essential to one's mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Ayurvedic physicians taught that prevention was more desirable than a cure. Their ideal was to develop an individual's natural resistance to disease to the point where one's immune system could function as one's best medicine. Their goal was to maintain an individual in his or her optimal health throughout life, so that the ultimate goal of life—the awareness of his or her connection with the life principle—could be pursued without hindrance.


The Ayurvedic Body Types

Today's Ayurvedic physicians, like their predecessors, recognize three major body (or physiology) types which they refer to as the three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. One's body type is also referred to as one's Prakriti, and is determined by heredity. Most people are actually a combination of types; a Vata/Pitta type for example. Ayurvedic physicians evaluate their patients using techniques such as observation, interview, and pulse diagnosis to determine the patient's body (or physiology) type. They then determine the imbalances that are present in the body and make recommendations according to body type. Dietary and herbal recommendations make up a large part of their treatments; but many other techniques such as meditation, hatha yoga, aromatherapy, and music therapy are also employed.



Ayurvedic Herbalism Today

Thanks to the Ayurvedic tradition, many herbal combinations based on centuries of accumulated knowledge are available to today's eclectic herbalists. Ayurvedic herbal formulations, like those of the Chinese, are combinations of many different herbs that work synergistically. Single herbs are rarely if ever employed. There are competent Ayurvedic physicians in practice today, but one does not have to see an Ayurvedic physician to benefit from Ayurvedic herbal combinations. A few herb companies, such as Nature's Sunshine Products (NSP), have carefully followed the authentic recipes of the Ayurvedic masters and have produced formulations that can be used by anyone without a prescription.

NSP's Ayurvedic Formulations


In this lesson we briefly explored the roots of Ayurvedic herbalism, introduced Ayurvedic philosophy including the body types, and looked at Ayurvedic herbalism as it is practiced today.

Word Review List:

The following terms pertain to this lesson. If you are unsure of any, click on the word for a definition. (Use your browser's "back" button to return here.)

  1. aromatherapy
  2. dosha
  3. eclectic
  4. synergism

End of Lesson 17

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