Traditional Ayurvedic preparations make use of various pharmaceutical processes. Let’s see the different kinds of Ayurvedic remedies and how they are made.
Juices are extracted from leaves, flowers, fruits and the tender stems of plants. These are thoroughly washed and then cold-pressed for juicing. In some cases, the plant parts are mashed into a paste and water is added to the pulp. The juice is then extracted by applying pressure and straining it through a cloth.
Kumari (Aloe barbadensis) has very deep therapeutic benefits for women as it helps balance hormones. Its juice is also consumed in cases of liver disorders. The juice of aloe is extracted using a special method as its fleshy stems pose a challenge to use regular techniques. The leaves are either steam-boiled or roasted first and then juiced by squeezing through cloth.
Bilva (Aegle marmelos) is beneficial for diabetics and for treating stomach problems. To extract the juice of this plant, the leaves are coated with mud and made into a bolus. The bolus is heated and the bolus is then broken to extract the juice.
Powders are made from the leaves, stems, barks and roots of a plant. These parts are dried in shade and then crushed into powder form. Some plants may be dried in the sun as well. It is ensured that plant parts are dried completely before they are powdered; otherwise the remaining moisture will cause them to become infested by fungal growth.
Powders are always stored in dry, dark-colored, airtight glass bottles. Churnas retain their therapeutic benefits for one year after which they lose their efficacy. Usually, Ayurvedic preparations are a mix of different powders. For example, triphala churna is a mix of the powders of amla (Emblica officinalis), bibhitaki (Terminalia belerica) and haritaki (Terminalia chebula).
Woody and fibrous plants are ground using machines. An example of such a fibrous plant would be Madhuyasti (Glycyrrhiza glabra) which is a churna consumed for its laxative properties. It is also a rejuvenator for those suffering from rheumatism.
A decoction is prepared by boiling the plants in water. According to how potent the drug is, the plant part is boiled and the water reduced to 1/4, 1/6 or 1/8 of the original. This decoction is filtered to obtain the medicine. In certain cases, kwathas are made by adding butter, honey, jaggery or oils to the filtrate.
While a churna is a dry powder, kalka is the paste of the fresh plant material.
This is the hot infusion of the herb in water. For example, classic herbal teas are made by steeping the herbs in hot water for a few minutes. The infusion is then strained and the liquid consumed for medical benefits.
Cold Infusion (sheeta/hima/sita kasaya)
The powders of any heat sensitive herbs are soaked in water overnight. The following morning, the powder is strained and consumed after adding a sweetener like honey, jaggery, etc.
Milk Preparation (ksheer paka)
These are Ayurvedic preparations made by boiling the herbs in 15 parts of milk and 15 parts of water. When reduced to half the original amount, the liquid is filtered. The filtrate is consumed as medicine, usually along with a sweetener.
Linctus or Jam (avaleha, lehya, paka, prasa or khanda)
To make this classic Ayurvedic preparation, the powder or paste of the principle medicine (1 part), sugar (4 parts), jaggery (2 parts) and liquid, such as the decoction or the juice of the principle medicine (4 parts) are mixed and heated over a flame. When it becomes thread-like thick in consistency (tantuvat), a test is conducted by pressing the thickened mixture between the thumb and index finger or when it sinks into a glass of water without getting dissolved, it is removed from the fire. The fine powders (churnas) of the herbs are then added as prakshepa in small quantities and the mixture is stirred well continuously. If the recipe calls for ghrita (ghee) or taila (oil), they are added while the mixture is still hot and then mixed thoroughly. Similarly, if madhu (honey) is to be added, it is added in last when the mixture has cooled down as honey is never to be heated. This linctus or jam is usually stored in a glass or ceramic vessel coated with ghee.
Chyawanprasha is perhaps the most well-known example of a linctus. It is an excellent immunity-booster and overall tonic.
Medicated Oil and Ghee (siddha taila and siddha ghrita)
These are made by cooking the ghee or oil with the juice or decoction and paste of the principle medicine. Medicated ghee or medicated oil is made using three ingredients: sneha (ghee or oil), dravya (liquid) which may be decoctions, expressed juice, etc., and kalka (the fine paste of the ingredients).
Unless specified otherwise, the ratios in the recipe are such that the paste of drugs are 1/4 the amount of ghee or oil and the liquid is four times the amount of ghee or oil. If the recipe does not contain a liquid, then the standard is water. If the number of liquids if four or less than that, then they should be used in four times the amount of ghee or oil. In cases where there are more than four liquids, each are used in the formulation in equal quantities to that of oil or ghee.
The medicated oil or medicated ghee is made by mixing the paste, liquid and oil or ghee and cooking them together. The mixture should be continuously stirred so that the paste at the bottom does not burn. The liquid components of the recipe are added one after another – only after the previous one has evaporated. After all the liquids have evaporated, the paste will start to become drier and thicker, it must be stirred continuously to avoid it from sticking to the bottom of the vessel and getting burnt.
When a medicated taila or oil is correctly prepared, a lot of froth bubbles over on the surface of the oil. Likewise, when a medicated ghrita or ghee is correctly cooked, the foam on the top of its surface tends to subside. Then, the oil/ghee should be strained out. If the recipe calls for a salt or alkali preparation, it should only be added after the oil is strained. Then it is to be mixed thoroughly.
Medicated ghritas and tailas should only be cooked over a medium flame as excessive heat could destroy their therapeutic properties. They are effective only for about one and a half years, if stored correctly in glass or polythene containers.
Alcoholic Preparations (asava and arista)
These are essentially herbal wines made by fermentation process using yeast. The maximum amount of alcohol in these medicines is 15%. Aristas are made by boiling the herbs and making a decoction. An asava is made by simply adding the herbs without boiling. These are then fermented in a suitable container. In classical times, an earthen vessel was used. The insides of the pot were smeared with a dash of turmeric powder and ghee to prevent the formulation from turning sour. This vessel was then sealed and stored in an underground cellar completed buried in barley.
Pills or Tablets (gutika, vati and modaka)
Pills or tablets are made by cleansing the individual ingredients like metals, minerals and vegetable or animal products of external impurities and internal toxicity. Vegetable products are created by drying the plant source and finely powdering. Then, the powder is triturated with a specific liquid until a fine paste forms. Multiple liquids, if needed, are added one after another. If no liquid is specified, then water is used. Pills are formed by rolling this mixture. They are the dried in the shade or out in the sun as mentioned in the texts. Sugandha dravya (fragrant drugs) like karpura (camphor), kasturi (musk), etc. are added at the end and triturated again. If sweeteners are mentioned in the recipe, then paka (syrup) is created over a low flame and then mixed with the powder of drugs. If parada (mercury) and gandhaka (sulfur) are to be used, then kajjali (collyrium-like black fine powder) should be made first and only then should other drugs be added.
In modern times, pills are replaced by tablets made using tablet-making machines. A binding agent like gum Arabica is added. If guggulu is an ingredient in the recipe, it works as a binder without needing anything else.
Pills can be kept in clean and dry glass bottles. Their expiry date is approximately two years. Pills made with minerals have an indefinite period of expiry.
Scale Preparations (parpati)
These are usually prepared by pouring a molten substance over a leaf. Kajjali (collyrium-like fine black powder) of parada (mercury) and gandhaka (sulfur) and other powdered substances are placed in an iron vessel and heated. This molten mixture is then poured over a banana leaf or eranda (Ricinus communis) leaf which is spread over fresh cow dung. The mixture is covered with another leaf and more cow dung is poured on top to gently press. After cooling the scale-like preparation is peeled and powdered.
Medicines Prepared by Sublimation (kupipakva rasayana)
Very literally, the name means ‘rejuvenating agent prepared in a glass bottle’. In making these medicines, the minerals or metals are mixed together in fine powder form, then kept in a glass bottle (kaach kupi), filling it to a third of its capacity. The bottle is wrapped in seven layers of mud-smeared cloth. The bottle is then heated after placing in a valukayantra or sand bath. The mouth of the bottle is kept open at first, then it is closed later. This is how the sulfur is sublimated. A red-hot iron rod in inserted into the bottle so that the opening of the bottle is not choked by the subliming sulfur. When the bottle cools down, it is removed from the bath and broken. The sindura deposited at the neck is carefully collected. These preparations are usually red, yellow or dark brown in color. They retain their therapeutic properties for an indefinite period of time.
Pishti is made by triturating the medicinal substance with the specified liquids. After purification, it is generally re-triturated by adding rose water, unless otherwise stated in the texts. Afterwards, it is dried in sun or moonlight by keeping in glass bottles. They contain their therapeutic effects indefinitely.
These are special Ayurvedic remedies used to treat eye disorders. In order to create these formulations, the fine powder of the herbs are triturated well in a specified liquid to obtain a soft creamy medicine. It is then fashioned into thin sticks for easy application.
1. Chemistry, Biochemistry and Ayurveda of Indian Medicinal Plants edited by Prof. I.P. Tripathi