Ayurvedic medicine is divided into eight basic sections. The Rasayana Tantra is the Ayurvedic section on rejuvenating medicines. Study in this section focused on two areas–the lives of sages, and the uses and benefits of the rejuvenating or divine plants (Bajracharya 1995).
An examination of the story behind the early historical use of these plants offers us valuable lessons concerning the destructive effects of human attitudes and actions on precious plants. According to Dr. Mana, “Among the six hundred Ayurvedic herbs that have been thoroughly tested and analyzed, Ayurvedic physicians used about fifty plants specifically for “immortal life” (longevity), and the rest for medicinal purposes.
Ancient scholars believed that, when used properly, these plants could extend survival for long periods of time. The Vedas (holy books), Puranas (mythological books) and Ayurvedic texts talk a lot about these plants, their extraordinary effects, and the proper ways to use them.
The general term for these plants was “Soma,” meaning divine lunar cycle plants. Knowledge of their identity and locations in the forest were kept very secret, known only to a limited group of people. Historically, Sudras (persons of low caste) were never allowed access to these plants. Only learned priests, warriors, and rich business people were permitted to use them, to increase their power and influence (sort of like today) .
The Sanskrit names of the most important Soma plants are Amshuman, Rajataprabha, Munjavan, Chandrama, Garudaharita, Swetaksha, Durvasoma, Kaniya, Kanakaprabha, Pratanavan, Talvrinta, Karavirya, Amshaman, Gayatrya, Traistubha, Panktya, Jagata, Tripadgayatrya, and Udupati.
The plants in this group were said to have had fifteen leaves, and the growing and falling of these leaves depended upon the cycles of the moon. To extend life and increase vitality, people drank the juice of the plant tubers.”
Unfortunately, we can no longer locate these plants. Dr. Mana states that the ancient monopoly of use was the most likely cause. We do have written descriptions, and a few of these plants that might possibly still be available, though they have not been seen for a long time. It is more likely that every last one of these powerful plants has been eradicated from the Himalayan areas where they used to flourish. This is one heartbreaking example of the disappearance of precious plants due to human greed.
Rasayana Plants Used Today
The primary Rasayana plants we use today include pueraria tuber (Pueraria lobata), shilajatu, licorice root, long pepper, gotu kola, guggul gum, amla fruit, vibhitaki fruit, ashwaghanda root, guduchi stem, bala, haritaki fruit, gokshura fruit, aguru wood, punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa), and hastikarnapalasa (Butea monosperma). These can be administerd by themselves or in formulas, and taken as often as desired. For the best results, however, it is best to have them formulated by a qualified Ayurvedic Vaidya (doctor).
There are many classical Ayurvedic tonic formulas in widespread use in India and Nepal. Some of the well-known tonics include Chayavanaprash (Chayavana rasyayna), Amalaka rasayana, Nagabala rasayana, Shilajatu rasayana and Guggul rasayana. Chayavanaprash is now available in many health food stores and Indian grocery stores in America. There are over 60 articles on its benefits on Medline, may related to cancer, liver function and immune function.
Over the years, researchers have studied the adaptogenic value and potential of Rasayana plants from all over the world. Scientists at the Ayurveda Research Centre at the University of Mumbai, India evaluated the adaptogenic potential of six of the above Ayurvedic Rasayana plants. They used the whole, aqueous, standardized extracts in animal experiments, testing the ability of these plants to exert a normalizing effect, irrespective of direction of pathological change. They discovered that the plants offered protection against a variety of biological, physical and chemical stressors, as indicated by markers of stress responses and objective parameters for stress manifestations (Rege et. al, 1999).