Blog written by: Dr. Anju Balakrishnan
The wonder herb vasa – Adhathoda vasica, which is also known as Malabar nut, belongs to the Acanthaceae family and grows throughout India and is easily available in almost all seasons. Its trade name vasaka is based on the Sanskrit name. It is considered one of the wonder drugs because of its efficacy in most respiratory tract conditions, even though it has cold potency. It is a perennial undershrub with taproot with simple leaf arranged oppositely and a terminal spike inflorescence.
The properties and medicinal values of vasa are explained in almost all the important textbooks of Ayurveda. In classics, 2 varieties have been mentioned. i.e., Shweta (white) and Krishna ( black) varieties. Adhathoda vasica is the botanically accepted source, but in Kerala, Adhathoda beddomei is the source used.
It is also called Bhishagmatha, which means mother of medicine. About 2 varieties have been mentioned in the classics. i.e., white and black variety. The drug possesses Tiktha (bitter) taste, Laghu (light) and Ruksha (dryness) properties, sheetha (cold potency) and katu vipaka (pungent taste after digestion). Hence, it balances kapha and pitta.
Usually, the leaf, root, flower, bark and even the whole plant is used for treatment purpose. In Ayurvedic classics, the medicinal use of each part has been mentioned clearly. The flowers were used, especially in chronic respiratory tract infections, cough etc. It is also beneficial in urinary tract infections since it has cold potency. Other than this, the herb is beneficial in kushta (skin diseases), jwara (fever), shwasa (asthma), raktapitta (bleeding disorders), trishna (thirst), chardi (vomiting), meha (diabetes), kamala (jaundice and liver diseases) etc.
Vasa is the drug of choice for respiratory diseases in Ayurveda. It is one of the main ingredients in every proprietary medicine used for cough and cold. Principle constituents of vasa are several alkaloids. The main components of vasa are vasicine, vasicinone and adhatodic acid. It is proved that because of the presence of these components, the drug has remarkable bronchodilatory activity. Vasa possess antitussive ( relieves cough), expectorant (helps in expectoration), and bronchodilator (dilates bronchi) action. The essential oil derived from the leaves of vasa contains ketones and terpene, which have antioxidant and anti-tumour effects. This is also the drug of choice for sinusitis, sore throat, common cold etc. In the acute stage of bronchitis, when the sputum is thick and sticky, the drug vasa will help in the easy evacuation by liquefying it. Leaves can be applied over wounds, inflamed joints, etc. since it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory action. Leaf decoction is also beneficial for skin diseases.
Several kinds of research have been carried out to prove the efficacy of vasa in respiratory disorders, especially asthma. It has a tremendous effect on rakthapitta (haemoptysis), jwara ( fever), kusta (skin diseases), meha (diabetes mellitus), etc. Studies also proved that the drug has a potent anti-microbial, anti-ulcer and antioxidant action. Since the drug is having bitter taste many dosage forms have been formulated for easy administration and palatability and to enhance shelf life.
Ethnobotanically, the root paste is applied on the abdomen and vagina minutes before childbirth to facilitate an easy delivery.
The juice from its leaves should be given at a dose of 2 to 4 ml for treating diarrhoea and dysentery.
For getting relief from asthma, the dried leaves can be smoked.
For treating cold and cough, the decoction of root and bark can be given at a dose of 10 to 30 ml. Even the fresh juice prepared from the leaves can be used at a 5 ml dose. 1 tablespoon of leaf juice can be given with honey, which enhances the expectorant action.
In case of bleeding piles, the decoction of the whole plant is taken along with sugar.
In Ayurveda, a preparation called gulkand, made of vasa flowers is used to treat tuberculosis.
The decoction of leaves and root bark is given at a dose of 10-30 ml to remove intestinal worms.
Since the drug is having anti-inflammatory and analgesic action, the paste can be applied locally for arthritis and nerve disorders.
Various formulations containing vasa have been found to be more useful in various conditions like bronchitis, asthma, chronic cough and bleeding piles since they have long-lasting benefits and fewer side effects.