Ayurvedic herbs and spices play an important part in a holistic approach to health and wellness. Ayurveda is a traditional medicine system from India that focuses on promoting wellness of body, mind, and spirit. The holistic approach combines lifestyle changes, diet, and exercise.

Ayurvedic herbs and spices play an important role in the overall system of Ayurvedic medicine. Followers of Ayurveda state that the medications offer protection from disease, help with mental health, and aid digestion.

This article explores some Ayurvedic herbs and spices that help make up the system and the research behind their health benefits.

The herbs and spices have some scientific backing for their purported benefits, but a person should still talk with a doctor before making any significant changes to their diet.

A selection of Ayurvedic herbs.Share on Pinterest
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Ayurveda is a traditional, holistic approach to medicine that originated in India. The system promotes mental, physical, and spiritual wellness through exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes.

People who practice Ayurveda report that the traditional approach to medicine has several proven benefits. Results from an older 2014 study proposed that researchers should do more to incorporate the knowledge from Ayurveda with clinically proven, modern medicines.

Certain herbs and spices play a major role in Ayurveda. The nonprofit Art of Living organization claims they can provide benefits such as:

  • improving vitality
  • purifying and detoxifying the body and blood
  • boosting mental health
  • improving digestion
  • aiding weight loss
  • improving skin tone
  • helping to reduce the side effects of cancer

People may use Ayurvedic herbs internally or externally, depending on the specific herb and its intended purpose.

The following Ayurvedic herbs and spices have some supporting evidence that suggests they may help with certain aspects of a person’s health.

Cumin has a smoky, earthy flavor. People often use this spice in Indian recipes and recipes from the Southwestern United States.

Some evidence suggests that cumin shows significant antioxidant activities in some test procedures.

The effect cumin has on free radicals is suggested as the underlying reason for many of its pharmacological effects, which are:

  • antimicrobial
  • anticarcinogenic
  • antimutagenic
  • antidiabetic
  • diuretic
  • immunomodulatory (changes the body’s immune system)
  • estrogenic and anti-osteoporotic
  • gastrointestinal

Manjistha is also known as Rubia cordifolia or common madder. This plant may help to positively alter the gut microbiome. However, to feel these effects, a person may need to take it in higher concentrations than those typically available through manjistha. For this reason, someone may wish to take a manjistha supplement or as part of a gut healing regimen.

Additionally, a 2020 study of a compound extracted from the R. cordifolia root suggests a possible phytomedicine in treating bone diseases.

Also known as olibanum or Indian frankincense, Boswellia has a woody, spicy aroma when people cook with it.

Several studies suggest it may have positive health benefits:

  • A 2016 study showed Boswellia may help with reducing pain and swelling associated with osteoarthritis.
  • Another 2016 study showed that the herb may help prevent the growth of leukemia tumors.
  • According to a 2018 study, an herbal composition containing Boswellia helped improve asthma symptoms.

Licorice root may have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, making it helpful in fighting infections when people use it regularly. It also has other uses, such as in dental treatment and neuroprotective pharmacology.

Ashwagandha is a woody plant native to India and northern Africa. People have used it in Ayurvedic remedies for at least 3,000 years.

Some evidence suggests that ashwagandha can help with stress and anxiety. An older study from 2012 showed that high concentrations of ashwagandha root extract positively reduced stress and improved quality of life.

A study from 2016 found that taking an ashwagandha supplement may help improve muscle strength. The researchers recommended using ashwagandha in conjunction with a resistance training program.

According to a 2018 placebo-controlled clinical trial, evidence suggests ashwagandha may benefit those with hypothyroidism.

Finally, a more recent 2021 systematic review of ashwagandha and its pharmacological use noted scientific evidence to support its effects on health and healing.

People often use brahmi, or Bacopa monnieri, when making Ayurvedic medications.

Some evidence suggests brahmi may help with improving concentration, cognitive ability, and attention, with a 2019 study investigating its efficacy in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Ajwain grows in several countries around the world, including India and Iran. Though it may help with several areas of health, a 2019 trial found ajwain to have the ability to reduce blood sugar levels, meaning it could help people living with diabetes.

According to an older 2014 study, the benefits and uses of ajwain over the years have included helping with:

  • bloating
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain
  • abdominal tumors
  • diarrhea
  • respiratory distress

In addition, the herb may have the following effects:

  • antifungal
  • antibacterial
  • antioxidant
  • hypolipidemic
  • antiparasitic

Turmeric has a distinctive yellow color and people often use it in curry recipes.

Some evidence suggests turmeric may have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effect. This may make it helpful for certain inflammatory conditions, such as some forms of arthritis.

Additionally, early evidence suggests that turmeric may exhibit skin health benefits when taken orally or applied topically. However, further scientific evidence is crucial to support this claim.

Neem is an herb that may have antioxidant effects and help with several of the body’s functions.

Studies have indicated neem may also help with preventing or treating cancer. It is generally well-tolerated with minimal side effects.

Cardamom is another herb used in Ayurvedic medicine dating back thousands of years.

Some evidence suggests that using cardamom as an essential oil may help improve air intake during exercise and reduce blood pressure.

Bitter melon is a type of tropical vine related to squash and zucchini.

Some research suggests bitter melon has a positive effect on the secretion of insulin and the control of blood sugar.

People who take insulin and would like to add this herb to their diet should discuss this with their doctor to prevent any concerning dip in their blood sugar levels.

Gotu kola adds no aroma or flavor to food, but studies indicate that it may help improve memory.

According to a 2016 study, researchers found that 750–1,000 milligrams (mg) of gotu kola is more effective than folic acid in improving the memory of people who have had a stroke.

Triphala consists of three small fruits: amla, bibhitaki, and haritaki.

Evidence suggests triphala has anti-inflammatory effects, which could make it effective in treating arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

However, doctors and healthcare professionals often use triphala for digestive conditions, where it has several clinical uses, including as a laxative, an appetite stimulant, and an antioxidant.

Before starting any new diet or rubbing an herb or spice on their skin, a person should consider talking with their doctor.

Some experts warn that certain Ayurvedic medicine preparations can contain toxic levels of arsenic, mercury, or lead.

People should talk with a doctor before using any herbal or spice mixtures if they:

  • take medications
  • are living with a chronic health condition
  • are pregnant or nursing

Ayurvedic herbs and spices may provide some health benefits.

However, a person should use caution and talk with their doctor when considering whether to use them as supplements or lotions.

A person may tolerate adding herbs and spices to their food, but there is limited evidence about the amount necessary to have a positive impact on health.