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Bala is a nourishing tonic, especially for nervous conditions


Sida cordifolia Malvaceae

Bala means ‘strength’. Its stem and roots are tough and this is literally what they impart: inner strength.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Nourishing tonic
  • Nervous conditions
  • Urinary problems
  • How does it feel?

    This small shrubby perennial is renowned for its tough stem and root and grows all over India and Sri Lanka. Bala is an erect perennial that reaches 50 to 200cm tall, with the entire plant covered with soft white felt-like hair that is responsible for one of its common names, “flannel weed”.

    The stems are yellow-green, hairy, long, and slender. The yellow-green leaves are oblong-ovate, covered with hairs, and 3.5 to 7.5 cm long by 2.5 to 6 cm wide. The flowers are dark yellow, sometimes with a darker orange centres, with a hairy 5-lobed calyx and 5-lobed corolla.

  • What can I use it for?

    Bala is a nourishing tonic, especially to the nervous system strengthening and energising it. The rejuvenating action of this herb extends to the circulatory and urinary systems.

    It has a diuretic effect and is useful in urinary problems, including cystitis or infections.

    The leaves contain small quantities of ephedrine, an alkaloid known to stimulate the central nervous system helping to bronchodilate constriction and prevent restricted breathing. The ephedrine content of the root is 1/15 of that found in Ephedra with the seeds containing a quarter of the amount per gram usually found in Ephedra.

  • Into the heart of bala

    Bala is an excellent energy tonic for nervous conditions as it can stimulate the adrenergic receptors. It has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity, helping to reduce pain, neuralgia and sciatica in nervous conditions where mobility is affected. It possesses both anti-stress and adaptogenic activity, reducing plasma cortisol and blood glucose levels. Soft, sweet and demulcent Bala is a rejuvenative for vata disorders; it is a superb tonic for the nervous system. These nourishing properties of Bala offset the potentially vata aggravating nervous system stimulating properties of ephedrine. The seeds are even considered as aphrodiasic enhancing sexual potency and increasing fertility.

    Bala also has nourishing and tonifying effects within the urinary and respiratory systems. Bala has diuretic, tonic and antispasmodic action helping to support the urinary system in case of infections and cystitis. It can also be used as nasal decongestant, bronchodilators supporting the health of the lungs and the upper airways. It is useful in bronchitis, rhinitis as well as common colds and flu. Presence of ephedrine has highlighted the utility of this plant in respiratory conditions.

    Indicated in cystitis, stones, infection, haematuria, polyuria, urgency; high pitta and vata in mutravahasrotas.

    Indicated in pain, neuralgia, sciatica, paralysis and neurosis; all structural and nervous disorders with high vata. It is an excellent energy tonic when there is exhaustion due to an aggravated nervous system. An external oil massage using warm Bala siddha tailais commonly used for these conditions along with internal treatment.

    Indicated in infertility, leucorrhoea and apanaksetra congestion along with reproductive weakness (shukrakshaya). Bala is a renowned energy tonic that enhances sexual potency and ojas. Used to aid the growth of the foetus and keep the mother strong.

    Indicated in dry cough, asthma, tuberculosis and haemoptysis; vata-pitta disorders of the lungs. The low levels of ephedrine help to bronchodilate constriction and prevent wheezing and restricted breathing.

    Indicated in high temperature from an underlying deficiency and weakness.

    Bala is a great heart tonic used for treating arrhythmia, tachycardia, irregular pulse and palpitations. As it benefits both mamsa dhatu and mamsavahasrotas it can be used to strengthen the heart muscle.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • Did you know?

    Bala is used as a primary ingredient in massage oils for treating arthritis, nervous system disorders and paralysis. It is often taken with milk and almonds to enhance its calming and tonifying effects.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Due to its ephedrine content it may interact with caffeine and MAO inhibitors exacerbating effects and elevating blood pressure, Beta blockers by reducing drug efficacy due to opposing activity, Ephedrine by additive sympathomimetic effects inducing further toxicity and arrhythmia and Steroids (dextamethasone) by enhancing clearance levels and thus reducing effectiveness of the drug.

  • Dosage

    Tincture: 3–15ml of a 1:3 @ 25%

    Dried: 500mg–5g/day

An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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