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Basics Of Ayurvedic Pharmacology (Dravya

Guna Vignana)
 In this section we will briefly review about 140 of the most commonly used Ayurvedic medicines.  To
understand the descriptions of the herbs, it is important first to review the basics of Ayurvedic
understanding of how drugs are classified and grouped.  These concepts are reflected in the descriptions
given for each individual medicine.

The analysis of medicines and their activities is the subject of Ayurvedic pharmacology.  Ayurvedic
medicines are analyzed on the basis of their stable tastes, efficacy, physical properties, unstable tastes and
unique powers.  In Ayurvedic thinking, these qualities are the active components of the medicine.  That is,
there is no separation from the medicines actions and its components.  If a medicine has a warming action
or is greasy in property or is poisonous, then it is “composed “ of warmth or grease or poison.  Therefore
the analysis of the above subjects is what allows the physician to understand the medical value of the
medicine.

Analysis of Stable Tastes (Rasa Pariksha)

The expected actions of a medicine can be analyzed based upon taste.  Taste is
divided into two categories, stable and unstable.  A medicine is said to have a stable taste if that taste and
its related properties persist after digestion.  This statement is of course a generalization, and actions can
vary in the case of specific medicinal agents.

Sweet-tasting medicines in most cases have the physical properties of greasiness and heaviness and so
nourish the serum, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow and semen.  They also strengthen physical energy,
increase weight and lifespan, counteract toxins and help to heal injuries.  They are good for diseases where
the pathogenic agents have altered the physical properties of bile (Pitta) and gas (Vata).  They are bad for
diseases where pathogenic agents are present and active in altering the properties of the mucus (Kapha).

Sour-tasting medicines tend to be greasy and heating.  Because of this they stimulate digestive power,
increase weight and peristaltic movement, regulate heart function, and moisten the body.  Sour medicines
are good for diseases where the pathogenic agents are active in the properties of gas (Vata) and bad for
diseases where the pathogenic agents are active in the properties of mucus (Kapha) and bile (Pitta).

Salty-tasting medicines increase both fluid and heat, and so stimulate appetite, promote digestive power,
moisten the body, open blockages, stimulate the glands and promote blood circulation.  Salty medicines are
good for diseases where the pathogenic agents are active in the properties of gas (Vata) and bad for
diseases where the pathogenic agents are active in the properties of mucus (Kapha) and bile (Pitta).

Pungent medicines are hot in nature and so stimulate the sense organs, promote appetite, and purify the
blood (burn away toxins).  Pungent medicines are good for diseases where the pathogenic agents are
active in the properties of mucus (Kapha) and bad for diseases where the pathogenic agents are active in
the properties of gas (Vata) and bile (Pitta).

Bitter-tasting medicines tend to be dry and light in property, and so promote appetite and digestion,
decrease weight, mucus secretions and perspiration, counteract toxins, kill worms, purify milk and
strengthen the skin and muscles.  Bitter medicines are good for diseases where the pathogenic agents are
active in the properties of mucus (Kapha) and bile (Pitta), and bad for diseases where the pathogenic
agents are active in the properties of gas (Vata).

Astringent medicines tend to be dry and heavy to digest, and so promote healing of injuries, supress stool
and urine, and constrict the capillaries.  Astringent medicines are good for diseases where the pathogenic
agents are active in the properties of mucus (Kapha) and bile (Pitta), and bad for diseases where the
pathogenic agents are active in the properties of gas (Vata).

Analysis of Medicine Efficacy (Virya Pariksha)

The efficacy or action of a medicine depends upon its dilating and constricting
effects.  Medicines are classified according to those which dilate generate heat, and those which constrict
and cause a cooling sensation.  In general, sour, salty and pungent medicines generate heat, and sweet,
bitter and astringent medicines have cooling effects.  An important point to grasp is that any medicine
whose heating or cooling action does not follow its taste as just described will be more medicinally
powerful.

Medicines that are warming help counteract the pathogenic agents present in the properties of mucus
(Kapha dosha) and gas (Vata dosha).  Medicines that are cooling help counteract the pathogenic agents
present in the properties of bile (Pitta dosha).

Analysis of Physical Properties


Ayurveda defines twenty physical properties.  These are:

1. Heavy (Guru) and Light (Laghu)


2. Mild (Manda) and Strong (Tiksna)
3. Cold (Shita) and Hot (Ushna)
4. Greasy (Snigdha) and Dry (Ruksha)
5. Smooth (Slakshan) and Rough (Khara)
6. Solid (Sandra) and Liquid (Drava)
7. Soft (Mridu) and Hard (Kathina)
8. Stable (Sthira) and Unstable/Mobile (Sara)
9. Microfine (Suksma) and Dense/Bulky (Sthula)
10. Non-Sticky (Visada) and Sticky (Picchila)

The physical properties are related to their effects on the body.  Physical properties are normally related to
specific tastes (sweet medicines tend to be heavy etc.), and medicines that “follow the rules” work in
concert with the effects of the related taste.  For example, to say a medicine is sweet and heavy means
both that it is heavy to digest, as well as making the body heavier if ingested over time.  The nutrients that
normally accompany the sweet taste support this general “heaviness” effect on the body.  In simple terms,
people who eat too much sweet food will become heavy.

However, if the physical properties of a medicine are different than predicted by the taste, then that
medicine becomes more powerful in counteracting the physical properties of toxic gas, bile or mucus.  For
example, if a sweet medicine is also warming in property, it has a more powerful effect in controlling
neurological (Vata) problems.

Analysis of Unstable Tastes (Vipaka Pariksha)

The tastes of some foods and medicines change after digestion, and this affects
its action on the body, and the bowel in particular.  Such changes make the medicine more powerful in
effect than predicted by taste alone.  Medicines that become sweet after digestion help moisten to bowel
(increase mucus), clear stool and urine, and increase semen (general vital force).  Medicines that become
sour after digestion helps stimulate stool and urine and increases bile secretion.  Medicines that become
pungent after digestion dry the stool (cause constipation) and increase gas.

Analysis of Unique Power (Prabhava Pariksha)


Unique and powerful components of a medicine can create extraordinary effects specific to that medicine. 
Such effects do not follow the rules of stable or unstable tastes, heating or cooling effects or physical
properties.  Special properties include such things as laxatives, emetics, intoxicants, rasayanas (longevity
promotion), and benefits for particular organs.  Knowledge of them is the result of the experience of
different Ayurvedic physicians over long periods of time.