Herb of the Season: Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna)

Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) is a huge tree native to India and Sri Lanka whose bark comprises Ayurveda’s pre-eminent cardiotonic and cardioprotective herb (hridaya). Interestingly, Arjuna is also the name of the legendary hero figure of the Mahabharata. He brings strength, fortitude and protection to his family just as Arjuna brings these qualities to the body.

Arjuna means ‘white’ or ‘shining’ named after its bark that literally reflects light wherever this huge tree grows. The pale white bark of the Arjuna tree ‘moults’ off naturally once a year, its new skin bringing new life to the tree. It is harvested when the tree is mature, thus attesting to its ability to prolong life, protect the elderly and strengthen the heart.

With a strong tropism for the heart and circulatory system, Arjuna is used widely in the treatment of an array of cardiovascular disorders, including angina pectoris, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, myocardial infarction (acute heart attack), coronary artery disease and hypertension and in all of these the plant has demonstrated its efficacy in human clinical trials. It has also been shown to reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as to reduce inflammation (P) and congestion (K) that can damage the heart. It strengthens the muscles of the heart as well as tones the vessels of the circulatory system and improves blood vessel elasticity which helps to prevent and control high blood pressure. It helps to balance the movement of vyana vayu in the heart and thus regulate heart rate and circulation. Although originally classified in Rishi Charaka as a raktastambhana (hemostatic) herb, used for staunching hemorrhage, it was only later writers (Vaghabata, Chakradatta) who classified it as hridaya - beneficial for the heart.

Energetically, the plant is mainly astringent and to some degree bitter in rasa (taste), of cooling virya, and with a pungent vipaka. It pacifies kapha and pitta, and balances vata dosha, and is lit and dry in quality. Regarded as a very safe herb, there are no known drug-herb interactions and the only contraindications are pregnancy and constipation. Pharmacologically, it is an alternative, cardioprotective, cardiotonic, diuretic, hepatoprotective, hypolipidemic, and vulnerary.

Adult dosage is from 1– to 6 grams/day of the dried bark.

Provided by William Courson, BVSA, Dpl. Ayur., C.H. an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.

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