Ayurvedic herbs are a key component of Ayurveda, the traditional practice of medicine of India. Practitioners will generally use ayurvedic herbs to “cleanse” the body, boost defense against disease, and keep the mind, body, and spirit in balance.

The basic principle of Ayurvedic medicine is to prevent and treat illness—rather than respond to disease—by maintaining a balance between your body, mind, and environment. Ayurvedic herbs are rarely used on their own.

Based on the bulk of clinical research, here are four Ayurvedic herbs that warrant serious consideration:


Triphala is a botanical formula that contains three different Ayurvedic herbs (amla, myrobalan, and belleric myrobalan). Test tube studies have suggested that triphala may exert antioxidant effects, meaning that they can neutralize free radicals that cause long-term harm to cells. By doing so, triphala is believed to prevent or delay many aging-related diseases from heart disease to cancer.

Proponents also claim that triphala, classified as rasayana (“path of essence”) herbs, is able to restore digestive and constitutional health in people with obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

2012 study from Iran reported that a 12-week course of triphala was able to decrease body weight, body fat, total cholesteroltriglycerides, and “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in 62 adults with obesity.

Despite the promising results, many of the findings were not statistically different from adults provided a placebo. On average, people who took triphala achieved a weight loss of 4.47 kilograms (9.85 pounds) after 12 weeks compared to the placebo group who gained 1.46 kilograms (3.21 pounds).1

Further research will be needed to establish whether these results can be replicated and if triphala offers genuine benefit in treating or preventing obesity, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, or diabetes.


Guggul is an Ayurvedic herb traditionally used to cut cholesterol. It is made from the oily sap of the guggul tree native to India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Historic records have shown that guggul has been used to treat cardiovascular disease since as far back as the 7th century. The research to date has been mixed on whether the herb can actually deliver on this promise.

2009 study from Norway reported that 18 people provided a 12-week course of guggul had slight improvements in total cholesterol and “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol compared to those provided a placebo.

By contrast, there were no improvements in LDL or triglyceride levels. Other studies, meanwhile, have shown increases in LDL concentrations, placing into doubt the use of guggul in treating hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).2


Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense, is sourced from the resin of the boswellia tree. The extract is rich in boswellic acid, a compound known to potent anti-inflammatory effects in test tube studies. Practitioners believe that these properties can aid in the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, COPD, and ulcerative colitis.

Scientists believe that a chemical known as acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid is able to suppress certain inflammatory proteins. These are some of the proteins associated with chronic pain and swelling in people with osteoarthritis (“wear-and-tear arthritis”).3

A 2011 study from India reported that a 30-day course of Aflapin (a purified form of boswellia) was able to reduce pain in 30 adults with knee arthritis. Relief for many began as early as five days following the start of treatment.

Further studies will be needed to assess the long-term safety of Aflapin and whether the same results can be replicated in a larger group of people with arthritis.

Gotu Kola

Gotu kola, also known as Asiatic pennywort or Centella asiatica, is a perennial plant of the Apiaceae genus. It is usually prescribed as a tonic to ease anxiety, improve mood, and alleviate mental fatigue.

Gotu kola exerts a mild stimulant effect. Proponent believes that this can enhance memory and even help overcome cognitive problems in people with depression, Alzheimer’s disease, or stroke. The evidence to date remains mixed.

A 2016 study from Indonesia reported that 750 to 1,000 milligrams of gotu kola, taken as an oral extract for six weeks, was more effective in improving memory following a stroke than 3 milligrams of folic acid traditionally prescribed.4

With respect to all other cognitive measures (attention, concentration, executive function, language, conceptual thinking, calculations, and spatial orientation), gotu kola was no better or worse than folic acid. Despite the promising results, the conclusions were limited by the small size of the study as well as the uncertain benefit of folic acid in post-stroke patients.

Few other studies have reached such positive conclusions.

According to a 2017 review of studies published in Scientific Reports, there has yet to be any evidence that gotu kola can improve cognitive function compared to a placebo.

With that being said, the researchers acceded that gotu kola may improve mood by making the user feel more alert. The herb’s stimulant effect may also provide a temporary energy boost.5

Possible Side Effects

Certain Ayurvedic herbs may produce side effects or interact with conventional medications. To avoid these, inform your doctor if you are using or intend to use any Ayurvedic remedy.

Among some of the side effects you should watch out for:

  • Triphala: diarrhea and abdominal discomfort, especially in high doses
  • Guggul: stomach upset, headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, diarrhea, belching, and hiccups
  • Boswellia: stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and an allergic rash (when applied to the skin)
  • Gotu kola: stomach upset, nausea, sensitivity to light, and an allergic rash (when applied to the skin)

Due to the lack of quality research, Ayurvedic herbs should not be given to children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. It is unknown at what point you can overdose on an Ayurvedic drug or how it may impact a chronic medical condition.


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