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Ayurvedic herbal classifications glossary

Ayurvedic herbal classifications glossary

Ayurveda is literally translated as “science of life” but it can also be described as “the way of living with awareness and promoting longevity”. Broadly speaking, Ayurveda is understood to be the generic term for traditional Indian medicine. But as well as being a medical system it includes aspects of philosophy, mythology, diet and yoga as well as mental and spiritual refinement as part of its teachings. 

Ayurveda’s medical branch uses herbal medicines, minerals, animal products, food, massage, air, water, heat, earth, surgery, detoxification and tonification to bring about health. Ayurveda focuses on preventing disease and optimising vitality as much as on removing illness. Thus, it has a holistic approach to health that includes every aspect of life in a philosophy where mind, body and spirit are considered to be an integrated whole.

For the correct diacritics of these terms please see this Sanskrit glossary

Traditional Ayurvedic terms

Agni The digestive fire with the function of regulating digestion, absorption and assimilation.

Ahara rasa The food essence created after agni transforms food into an absorbable form. It nourishes all the tissues.

Alochaka pitta The aspect of pitta residing in the eyes. It assimilates visual impressions.

Ama Undigested food, herbs or experiences that create disease-forming toxins.

Amashya The stomach

Apana vayu The aspect of vata responsible for moving downwards and elimination of stool, flatus, urine, menses and the foetus.

Arthava The menstrual channel, tissue and ova.

Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita The Eight-Limbed Heart Sutra written by Vagbhatta c600 CE. A collated work on the essence of Ayurveda.

Asthi dhatu Bone tissue giving support to the body.

Astringent A tannin-rich herb that dries discharges and reduces leakage.

Avalambaka kapha The aspect of kapha that resides in the heart and lungs, supports ojas and is connected with immunity.

Ayurveda The traditional medical system of India meaning the ‘science of life’.

Bhashma An alchemical tonic compound usually made from metal or gems.

Bhavaprakasha Written by Bhavamishra around 1596CE. The most important Ayurvedic materia medica treatise listing the energetics of herbs and foods.

Bhrajaka pitta The aspect of pitta that resides in the skin and gives awareness of touch, skin colour and lustre.

Bhuta agni The aspect of agni that resides in the liver and is responsible for transforming the elements of earth, water, fire, air and space.

Bodhaka kapha An aspect of kapha that resides in the tongue and mouth that facilitates taste and digestion.

Chakra An energy centre linking the physical and astral realms. Also related with the plexuses from where nerve fibres spread throughout the body.

Charaka The author is considered to have expounded the Charaka Samhita, the oldest extant Ayurvedic text written between 150BCE-100CE.

Dhanvantri The Lord of Ayurveda.

Dhatu One of the seven tissues that gives structure and support to the whole body.

Dhatu-agni (also written correctly as dhatvagni) The digestive fire that exists in the tissue membranes and is responsible for digesting the unstable portion of the dhatu into the stable portion. It also separates the waste products, secondary tissue and unstable portion of the next tissue from the stable portion.

Dosha One of the three humours called vata, pitta and kapha. When balanced they are responsible for good health, but when imbalanced they act as ‘faults’ and can cause illness.

Guna The three subtle qualities of nature; sattva, rajas and tamas. Also the twenty attributes that Ayurveda uses to describe the different qualities of matter.

Hridaya The heart

Jatar agni The digestive fire that lives in the stomach and duodenum. It transforms food to food essence (ahara rasa).

Kalaa The membrane which houses the dhatu agni of each tissue.

Kapha One of the three dosha with qualities of earth and water. It is heavy, wet and cold, lives in the stomach and is responsible for nourishing the mucus membranes, bones, joints, heart and memory. It lubricates the organs and joints and binds the whole body together. When healthy it creates love and compassion, when destabilised it creates phlegm, excess weight, lung problems, greed and attachment.

Kledaka kapha The form of kapha that resides in the stomach and nourishes the mucus membranes throughout the body. It is responsible for liquefying food and protecting the stomach wall from corrosive digestive acid.

Kshaya A deficient state of the dosha or dhatu.

Majja dhatu  Nervous tissue and bone marrow giving nourishment to the nervous system and unctuousness to the nerves.

Manda agni A slow and deficient digestive fire, characteristic of kapha disorders.

Mamsa dhatu Muscle tissue giving strength and binding the body together.

Manas prakriti The mental constitution regulated by sattwa, rajas and tamas.

Materia medica The materials of medicine. The study of the drugs or substances that are used to treat disease. Commonly used to refer to books that are collections of herbal materials.

Medas-dhatu (written correctly as medodhatuFat tissue protects the organs and other tissues and it lubricates the body.

Ojas The essence of all digestion that maintains the inherent immunity and strength of the body. The ultimate result of perfectly digesting kapha foods and experiences.

Pachaka pitta The aspect of pitta that resides in the small intestine, acting from the stomach to the ileo-caecal valve, and facilitates in the digestion of food.

Panch karma The five cleansing techniques of therapeutic emesis, purgation, enemas, nasal cleansing and blood-letting.

Panchmahabhuta The five great elements of space, air, fire, water and earth that make up the material universe. Created from a division of purusha and prakriti.

Pitta dosha The humour comprised of water and fire. It is hot, wet and light and its main site is the small intestines. It is responsible for the metabolic processes of the body. When healthy it adds zest, clarity and energy to life but when aggravated it creates burning, inflammation and anger.

Prabhava The unique action of a plant above and beyond its energetic qualities.

Prajnaparadha A crime against wisdom that is a formative factor in disease. Acting against your inner knowledge.

Prakopa The second stage of the disease process that irritates and aggravates organs in the body. The term dosha prakopa is commonly used to indicate an imbalance in the humours.

Prakriti The manifest aspect of reality that is expressed in matter, nature and creation. Also used to describe the individual constitution and inherent nature of every person.

Prana The subtle essence of the life force. It travels on the breath and is absorbed from the air, food and nature. It is responsible for vitality and cellular communication. It is the link between the body and the mind. The ultimate result of perfectly digesting vata foods and experiences.

Prana vayu One of the five aspects of vata that is responsible for inspiration and drawing things into the body. Its main seat is the brain and it operates between the navel and throat. It regulates mental functions and respiration.

Pranayama The yogic practice of breathing with awareness. The focus is on extending the length of breath and balancing the rhythm.

Purusha The subtle aspect of consciousness that is ever still and watchful. This is the witness to all of creation, detached yet ever conscious.

Rajas The quality of nature responsible for movement, passion and energy.

Rakta dhatu The blood tissue responsible for giving life and colour to the tissues.

Ranjaka pitta The aspect of pitta that lives in the liver and spleen and affects the quality of blood.

Rasa The taste of a substance. The six tastes of sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent are used in Ayurveda to classify the quality of foods and herbs. It also means the essence of something.

Rasa dhatu The plasma tissue nourishes the other tissues in the body and has a direct effect on the skin and the menstrual cycle.

Rasayana A substance that tonifies and nourishes the whole system. Literally something that extends the quality and quantity of life.

Rejuvenative  A substance that tonifies and nourishes the whole system.

Roga Disease

Sadhaka pitta The aspect of pitta that lives in the heart and is responsible for awareness and intelligence.

Samana vayu One of the aspects of vata responsible for regulating the flow of prana in the middle of the abdomen. This helps to support the digestive process.

Samprapti The pathology of a disease.

Sankhya The philosophical system that Ayurveda draws the cosmological understanding of matter and evolution from.

Sara Denotes tissues of a high quality.

Sattva The quality of nature reflected in compassion, light and intelligence.

Sedative A substance that tranquillises the function of the nervous system.

Shakti Meaning ‘energy’ and represents the dynamic feminine vitality throughout the universe. The natural and balancing opposite to Shiva.

Shiva Meaning the ‘auspicious one’, Shiva is one of the main Hindu deities and represents the energy of destruction and transformation.

Sleshaka kapha The aspect of kapha that lubricates and protects the joints.

Shukra dhatu The reproductive system relating to sexual function; sperm in men, ova in women.

Srotamsi The channels that carry nutrients, prana, tissues and wastes around the body. They interlink the body as a network of tubes. Srotamsi is plural ‘channels’ and srotas is singular ‘channel’.

Stanya Janana Galactagogue to encourage the flow of breast milk.

Sushruta Samhita A detailed surgical text written around c100-500 CE by the great Sushruta.

Swastha Health

Tamas The quality of nature that reflects dullness, inertia and darkness.

Tantra A spiritual path utilising all of the senses for deifying the body. Successfully practising this results in being carried across to the other side of existence, the shores of liberation.

Tarpaka kapha The aspect of kapha that lubricates and nourishes the brain. Responsible for memory retention.

Tejas The essence of the fire element. The result of the perfect digestion of all pitta natured foods that gives consciousness and clarity to the mind.

Tikshna The quality of sharpness that can penetrate deeply into the tissues.

Tikshna agni The nature of the digestive system when it is overactive. This can lead to rapid digestion, hunger, hypoglycaemia and over metabolism. The tendency of pitta aggravation is to have a tikshna agni.

Udana vayu The quality of vata that resides in the throat and upward movements, regulates speech and exhalation.

Vata The humour made from space and air elements. It is light, dry and cold and resides in the large intestine. It is responsible for all movement in the nervous system, muscles, heart and mind. When out of balance it creates bloating, erratic digestion, constipation and anxiety, when in balance it creates inspirational creativity and flexibility.

Vikruti The current state of someone’s health or the present state of imbalance, as opposed to the prakriti that is the life-long constitution.

Vipaka The post-digestive energetic effect of the tastes.

Virya The energetics of a herb: hot or cold.

Visham agni The nature of the digestive fire when it is erratic; sometimes digesting well and at other not digesting efficiently. Common in vata disorders.

Vitiate When the function or structure of a dosha, dhatu or mala is disturbed.

Vriddhi A condition of excess in the humours, tissues or wastes.

Vyana vaya The quality of vata that is responsible for spreading outwards. It regulates the circulation, nervous system and all joint movements.

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