Herb of the Season: Punarnava (Spreading hogweed, Boerhaavia diffusa)

Punarnava (Boerhaavia diffusa, or Indian spreading hogweed) means ‘one that renews the old body’ and it aids in promoting overall health and wellness, its rejuvenative action working via its channel-opening and cleansing activity to allow effective nourishment to reach the tissues. This water-loving, creeping, perennial flowers during the monsoon and grows all over India and Sri Lanka.

Three varieties are discussed in the Ayurvedic literature; red (Boerhaavia diffusa), white (Boerhaavia verticillata), and blue. It can be adulterated with Trianthema species. It is the main ingredient in punarnavadi guggulu, the famous Ayurvedic formula for reducing water retention, congestive heart conditions, and treating edematous inflammatory joint diseases. All parts of the herb carry some medicinal value, with the stem, root, leaves, seeds and flowers being used in different forms to treat differing ailments. It is rich in anti-oxidants and helps in fighting against free radicals, combat the degeneration of cells and delays the effects of aging. It is a superb diuretic and it benefits the heart.

Punarnava contains anti-toxic properties and flushes out xenobiotic, waste substances and toxins from the body. Traditionally the herb is also used to cure the bites of poisonous snakes and insects.
Energetically, its rasa is bitter, its virya, cooling (although some texts cite it as heating) and it has a pungent vipaka, with qualities of lightness and dryness. Under ordinary circumstances it is VPK- (diminishing all the doshas) but in excess can provoke vata.

Its breadth of therapeutic applications is vast, and has been used in the treatment of disorders of the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular and male and female reproductive systems, but it is best known as Ayurveda’s premier therapy for Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) and edema associated with CHF and impaired kidney and urinary function associated with kapha accumulations.

It is generally contraindicated when there is diarrhea present and if the client is using ACE inhibitors, and should be used with caution with sedative, anti-depressive and anti-epileptic medication.

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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