herbalist

Creation of Ayurveda Formulas (Bhashajya Kalpana)

By Dr. Mithun Baliga
(Ayurveda Practitioner Student)

Bhaishaja Kalpana, Creation of Ayurveda Formulas is the art of processing of different therapeutic compounds together as a formulations. It is one of the most important aspects of Ayurveda. Ayurvedic dravya and “herb” as in western herbology are very different things although the general public think the word herb encompasses all non-allopathic/ CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) compounds.

Dravya includes not just plant-derived herbs but also animal derived substances like honey, milk, horn etc and inanimate products like metal ashes, mineral products like Shilajit etc. Not just the source as seen above but the journey that the dravya undergoes from its source until it enters the client’s body is very different in ayurvedic terms compared to western herbology.

Let’s look at the western perspective first. The focus is on extracting the active compound from a herb. This was mainly a way to preserve the degradable flowers and leaves. Either alcohol or oils were used for this as needed. This progressed on to specifically extracting the compound responsible for the therapeutic action, from the herb. The extracted ingredient could then be standardized and marketed and made accessible easily (due to standardization). Eg: turmeric. The active compound cucurmin can be extracted and purified, and standardized and sold. On the surface, this makes perfect sense. If cucurmin is the ingredient that gives turmeric its demonstrable benefit, then let us take that ingredient, concentrate it and ingest it for maximum benefit.

In contrast, Ayurveda takes a very different view. Ayurveda believes that the effects of a herb does not come from any one single ingredient that it contains but rather from the many different substances that are present in the herb. Some cause the main effects, some others potentiate it, others help in its absorption, yet others work synergistically with the body by helping in related conditions etc etc. So, Ayurveda will try to transform the entire turmeric root (the whole herb) into a product that can be consumed. This is the fundamental difference between Ayurveda and western herbology and all further differences stem from this in one way or another.

One of the results of this difference is that it is extremely difficult to prove the effectiveness of Ayurvedic herbs/preparation in clinical trials and studies. The inability to accurately list and quantify all the active ingredients and their individual and interactive actions (both good and bad) has been and still is a stumbling block when it comes to publishing studies. This lack of robust studies in Ayurveda will always be a problem when we try to compare it to western herbology. It is far easier to study/prove/publish about a single extract in in vitro, in vivo and human studies than it is to study/prove/publish about a whole herb product that might have many known and as yet unknown ingredients responsible for the herb’s overall effect.

Another big difference is that Ayurvedic herbs and kalpanas do not stand alone by themselves like a “one size fits all” solution. The very science of Ayurveda takes into account the individual’s dosha, state of agni, dhatus and srotas and the gunas and karmas of the dravya before picking the right dravya for the client. The concept of the 5 mahabhuta makeup of all things, the 10 opposing gunas of things play a very important role in matching dravya to client. Along the same lines, the delivery of the dravya using what is called an anupana is another key aspect of therapy. This again is not included in western herbology. Eg: Turmeric capsule has no specific instruction on how to take it whereas the turmeric recommended by an Ayurvedic practitioner will include instructions to take it in milk or to add it in the hot oil while cooking.

Bhaishaja Kalpana can be used as extensively as one’s practice allows. We should start by from the very first step. Proper sourcing of the dravyas, which is again an aspect of Bhaishaja Kalpana should be used by us all. Even though we are not personally collecting the herbs, checking and making sure that the companies we recommend do their sourcing according to recommendations of the scriptures is our first step. The production of the individual kalpanas have to be according to the “recipes” recommended in the appropriate texts. This is our job as the practitioner to check. We can extend the use of Bhaishaja Kalpana in our practice by making for ourselves some of the simpler products according to the proper guidelines. With enough knowledge and experience, by using Bhaishaja Kalpana, we can recommend the right anupanas and combinations to match our individual client’s prakruti and needs

History of Herbalism

It appears to me that in the early sixties and seventies, Western Herbalism was viewed as somewhat bizarre and like mysticism or voodoo. I believe much of this was due to the lack of tolerance for all of the varying ethnic groups, religious groups and the overall pride of "The West".

It was at this time when Western medicinal philosophies seemed to be routed in "scientific" data and analysis. In a 2006 article penned by current Western Herbalist Matthew Wood, Registered Herbalist (AHG) cites the following quote: "Widespread persecution of folk healers and unconventional physicians was initiated in the United States including imprisonment and book burning, physicians were not allowed to practice homeopathy or herbalism without losing their licenses, and unlicensed practice by others was considered illegal in all but a few states (Milton, 1996)".

This quote appeared an article entitled "An Exploration of the Conceptual Foundations of Western Herbalism and Biomedicine". Wood holds a Masters of Science degree in Herbal Medicine from the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine from the University of Wales. I think this is truly an acknowledgement for the vast intricacies which were already known from Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and many Native American healing systems. Wood states that initially when Western eyes viewed medicinal purposes of a plant, they viewed it solely on the chemical properties; once extracted the specific essence of what they found useful, the rest of the plant was thrown out.

Ayurveda is a way of life. The Herbalism in Ayurveda is truly its own science brought forth from Divinity through Vedic writings. While the Western world was busy extracting molecules and cells from possibly useful and beneficial plants; and finding the value in such it became yet another money making industry. Now, seeing the inherent benefits to be obtained from Mother Nature and seeing that aside from a plant's "chemical composition" there was so much more to understand. The dynamic of the plant from seedling to growth, maturity, reproduction and how the plant interacted within the human body was something Ayurveda has been doing - forever.

Now in the Western world, our ever increasing litigious society, our lack of respect for the environment - our lack of respect for each other! we are depleting and destroying much of what Mother Nature has provided us. I think now many Western Herbalists have developed level of standardization in which they can be better recognized and valued. Many Western herbalists who see the value beyond the laboratory or the pharmacy and how much a prescription can make them money have turned to those previously thought of as "witchy concoctions" to see how they have been healing for so long.

I think now many Western Herbalists are looking to the expertise and refinement that say an Ayurvedic Herbalist can offer while keeping dignity, sourcing and society as a whole in mind. It comes down to ethics and understanding why we are doing things. Once we separate out big business and begin to remember what matters, we look to the humbleness of that which has worked for centuries upon centuries.

Lori Black is a student of Ayurveda Counselor Program

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