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 medodhatu) Fat 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.
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.
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.
Traditional Ayurvedic medicinal herbal actions
Medicinal substances are classified according to groups that have different physiological actions. The Charaka Samhita lists 50 groups of ten herbs and the Bhavaprakasha Samhita has 24 such categories. These Ayurvedic pharmacological concepts offer deep insight into how herbs work to balance the doshas, dhatus, and malas. They tie together the concepts of taste (rasa), energetics (virya) and post-digestive effect (vipaka) as well as incorporating prabhava so that we can have a clear understanding of the primary action of the herb. The list below contains some of the most popular categories listed throughout the Ayurvedic literature.
Abhishyandi These substances block the channels and cause heaviness. The flow of rasa is hindered and stagnation occurs when too much of these substances are used. They are mainly unctuous and heavy in nature; e.g. yoghurt obstructs the flow in the channels.
Anuloma These herbs help vayu to move in its appropriate direction. They are often mild aperients and help with flatulence and constipation. They are usually aromatic and carminative herbs, commonly from the umbelifer Apiaceae family, such as fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare) or ajmoda (Apium graveolens).
Arsoghna There are anti-haemorrhoidal remedies such as chitrak (Plumbago zeylanicum) or ginger (Zingiber officinale).
Artava janana Herbs promoting the menstrual flow such as myrrh (Commiphora myrrha).
Bhedaniya These are purgative herbs that forcibly expel the solid and liquid parts of faeces. Kutki (Picorrhiza kurroa) has this effect at a high dose.
Brmhaniya These are nourishing herbs that are full of the water element; e.g. Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus).
Chaksushya These herbs improve eyesight; e.g. Amalaki (Phyllanthus officinalis).
Chedana These herbs actively draw out toxins by scratching them from the tissues; guggul (Commiphora mukul), shilajit (Asphaltum) and black pepper (Piper nigrum) all help to detoxify the deeper tissues.
Daha prasamana These herbs alleviate burning sensations in the body, such as sandalwood (Santalum album) or coriander (Coriandrum sativum).
Dipaniya These herbs enkindle the digestive fire. They indirectly digest ama. They are usually pungent, hot and dry; for example long pepper (Piper longum), black pepper (Piper nigrum) and chitraka (Plumbago zeylanicum).
Garbashaya These herbs have an affinity for the uterus, such as ashoka (Saraca indica) and roses (Rosa centifolia).
Grahi These herbs dry the moisture of the body and of the wastes; ginger (Zingiber officinale), cumin (Cuminum cyminum).
Hikka nigrahana These herbs are anti-hiccough such as Clove (Syzygium aromaticum).
Jeevaniya These herbs are life-giving and rejuvenative herbs, such as amalaki (Phyllanthus officinalis).
Jwarahara These are anti-pyretic herbs for stopping fevers including Musta (Cyperus rotundus) and Kalmegh (Andrographis paniculata).
Kanthya These herbs are renowned for their affinity for the throat; for example licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), long pepper (Piper longum).
Kasahara These are anti-tussive herbs such as vasaka (Adhatoda vasaka) or long pepper (Piper longum).
Kushtaghna These are herbs that treat skin diseases such as neem (Azadiracta indica) or manjishta (Rubia cordifolia).
Lekhaniya These herbs ‘scrape’ the waste residues out of the body by a drying action. They are usually bitter and pungent in flavour; for example guggul (Commiphora mukul), myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), vacha (Acorus calamus), turmeric (Curcuma longa), triphala, barley and honey.
Madakari These are substances that cause intoxication, such as alcohol.
Mutra sangrahaniya These herbs reduce the flow of urine, such as bhallataka (Semecarpus anarcadium)
Mutravirechana These herbs are diuretics that increase the flow of urine, such as gokshura (Tribulus terrestris) and coriander (Coriandrum sativum).
Nidrajnana These herbs promote sound sleep; e.g. tagarah (Valeriana wallichi), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Pachana These herbs directly ‘digest’ ama. They do not necessarily stimulate digestion as well; e.g. triphala.
Praja sthapana These herbs prevent miscarriage such as ashoka (Saraca indica).
Pramathi These herbs remove the accumulated doshas from the dhatus and cells; e.g. vacha (Acorus calamus) and black pepper (Piper nigrum).
Purisha sangrahaniya These are intestinal astringents that stop diarrhoea such as bilva (Aegle marmelos).
Rakta shodhana (rakta prasadana) These herbs specifically clean the blood and ‘alter’ its chemistry so that it does not cause inflammatory problems; for example manjishta (Rubia cordifolia).
Rechana These herbs are cathartics. They forcibly expel faeces as semi-solid diarrhoea; e.g. castor oil (Ricinis communis) or Rhubarb root (Rheum palmatum).
Rasayani These herbs rejuvenate the cells and extend life. They are anti-oxidants and also remove diseases; e.g. guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), amalaki (Phyllanthus officinalis) and haritaki (Terminalia chebula).
Samjanasthapana These herbs are used to restore consciousness; e.g. vacha (Acorus calamus).
Sandhaniya These herbs heal broken bones and hasten the repair of broken bone tissue. Guggul (Commiphora mukul) is famous for this. Resins have a significant role here because resins in general are considered to relate to the blood part of plants just as the bark of trees is said to relate to bone tissue. The analogy is that just as resin heals the bark so it heals the bone. They also encourage circulation to flow to the wounded part of the body and hasten healing.
Shamana These are herbs that reduce the pathogenic level of a dosha to a more healthful level. The dosha is not expelled from the body, it is calmed. These are ‘palliative’ herbs; e.g. guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia).
Shirovirechan These are herbs that clear the orifices of the head, also known as errhines. Such herbs are vacha (Acorus calamus) or Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum).
Shodhana These herbs actually clear the excess doshas out of the body; e.g. triphala, castor oil (Ricinus communis) or manjishta (Rubia cordifolia).
Shonita sthapana These are haemostatic herbs such as manjishta (Rubia cordifolia).
Shramshana Herbs that are laxatives and clear faeces before complete digestion is complete; e.g. trivrut (Operculina turpethum).
Shula prasamana These are anti-colic herbs that prevent intestinal spasms; for example hingu (Ferula asafoetida) or cumin (Cuminum cyminum).
Shukrala Herbs that increase semen and/or give force to its ejaculation; e.g. amalaki (Phyllanthus officinalis), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and shatavari (Asparagus racemosus).
Shukra janana These are sperm increasing herbs; for example ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and safed musali (Asparagus adcendens).
Shukra shodhana These herbs purify the sperm such as gokshura (Tribulus terrestris).
Snehopaga These are moistening herbs such as castor oil (Ricinis communis) or Tila/Sesame (Sesamum indicum).
Stambhana These are astringent herbs that are constipating, stop bleeding and are drying. They have the properties of vata and so increase it. Manjishta (Rubia cordifolia) is a renowned astringent that stops bleeding diseases.
Stanyavardhana These herbs can increase lactation; for example fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and shatavari (Asparagus racemosus).
Stanya shodhana These herbs purify the breast milk, such as fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and musta (Cyperus rotundus).
Sukshma These herbs are penetrating herbs that can travel through the minutest channels, such as salt, neem oil (Azadiracta indica) and gotu kola (Hydrocotyle asiatica).
Swasahara These herbs prevent breathing difficulties, such as somalata (Ephedra vulgaris) and vasaka (Adhatoda vasaka).
Swedopaga Herbs that induce sweating, such as vasaka (Adhatoda vasaka).
Triptighna These herbs are thirst quenching, such as amalaki (Phyllanthus officinalis).
Udara prasamana These are allergy treating herbs, such as pit shirish (Albizzia lebbek).
Vajikarana These are aphrodisiacs that increase sexual desire, strengthen the reproductive system and nourish shukra dhatu; for example, kapikacchu (Mucuna pruriens), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).
Vamana These are emetic herbs. They work specifically on pitta and kapha that have accumulated in the stomach. They move upwards and outwards. High doses of licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) are emetic as is madanphala (Randia dumentorium).
Vedana sthapana These are analgesic herbs such as cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) or ashoka (Saraca indica).
Vikasi These herbs destroy the tone of the joints by loosening the ligaments; e.g. Betel nut (Areca catechu).
Virechana These herbs are purgatives that move downwards. They dissolve undigested foods and expel them; e.g. haritaki (Terminalia chebula).
Vishaghna These are anti-toxin herbs that destroy ‘poison’ in the system; e.g. neem (Azadiracta indica), kutki (Picrorrhiza kurroa) and sariva (Hemidismus indica).
Vyavayi These herbs spread everywhere in the body and are then digested; e.g. ganja (Cannabis sativum) and opium (Papaver somniferum).
Yogavahi These are catalyst herbs. When they are mixed with another herb they enhance its action; e.g. ginger (Zingiber officinale), Honey and Ghee.
Traditional Ayurvedic treatment methods
- Treat the doṣa
- Treat the agni
- Treat the dhātu
- Treat the disease (Vyādhi)
- Detoxify the whole system and clear āma with pañcakarma
- Pacify the disease and clear āma with samana
- Treat the gunas by increasing sattva and reducing rajas and tamas
- Rejuvenate with tonics and aphrodisiacs
Traditional Ayurvedic energetics
Ayurveda uses herbs, foods and minerals according to their energetic qualities. Below is a simple introduction to the theory of the pharmacology of Ayurveda.
Tastes have certain functions and effects:
- Temperature: Each specific taste effects the thermo-regulatory qualities within the body; hot (ushna) and cold (shita). They heat it up or cool it down. For example, Cinnamon is pungent and hot which raises temperature whilst Grapes are sweet and cooling which can help to cool a fever.
- Quality: The taste also defines whether a herb is light (laghu) or heavy (guru) to digest and wet (snighda) or dry (ruksha) on the mucus membranes. An example is Black Pepper that is pungent and also hot, light and dry; it is easy to digest and dries the mucus membranes.
- Tropism: The taste also implies an affinity for certain tissues and organs. A herb will influence the function of an organ, tissue or channel by tonifying or reducing, stimulating or pacifying, drying or moistening. For example hot and dry herbs clear wet mucus from the lungs, whilst cool and bitter herbs drain heat from the blood and liver.
- Doshic: The taste of each medicinal also influences the quantity and quality of each dosha. For example, sweet builds kapha, reduces vata and pitta and increases all the tissues
- Direction: The taste has an effect on the movement of vata dosha by influencing the direction the five vayu move in: For example, the pungent taste ascends and spreads vyana vayu outward causing sweating whilst bitter descends causing apana vayu to move downwards with a laxative effect.
Virya: The thermal action of herbs and foods
Hot (ushna): Heat warms, dries, invigorates and stimulates the tissues. Just as the sun on a hot day causes the blood to come to the surface of the body, so energetically hot herbs cause our metabolism to expand upwards and outwards causing the pores of the skin to open. Heat increases the metabolism, encourages circulation, causes sweating, light headedness and thirst. Hot substances are usually used to treat cold, contracted and hypo or sluggish conditions. Beneficial to kapha and vata, it dries damp, phlegm and warms cold. As ‘like increases like’ pungent herbs encourage agni and digestion to function at optimum level. Herbs that are heating usually contain volatile oils or mustard glycosides that stimulate gastric secretions as well as assimilation of nutrients. Ushna substances have a particular affinity for the heart, head, liver and lungs and are commonly used when they are imbalanced but may damage them if used unjudiciously. Pungent, sour and salty herbs tend to be heating.
Cold (shita): Cold natured herbs cool, moisten and sedate the tissues and metabolism. Rather like the cold of a winter’s day causes you to shiver energetically cold herbs contract the muscles and narrow the channels of circulation. Cold substances are usually used to treat ‘hot’, inflamed and hyper conditions. Cold benefits pitta whilst aggravating kapha and vata; cold natured herbs soothe painful and inflammatory heat conditions. Digestion is easily damaged by cold natured herbs and should be used cautiously when there is diarrhoea and sluggish digestion from cold. Cold herbs have an affinity for the stomach, the kidneys and the bladder and can weaken them if used excessively. Bitter, astringent and sweet herbs tend to be cooling.
Vipaka: Post-digestive effect
This is a unique energetic category peculiar to Ayurveda. Vipaka refers to the post-digestive effect of tastes; it is the effect a certain flavour has on the tissues having been digested or after cooking. It is the long-term effect of a food or herb. Vipaka results from the mixing of the digestive fire with the particular flavour:
Sweet and salty flavours: Digest into sweet: sweet is nourishing and moistening to the tissues and also has a mildly laxative effect. The cooling and anti-inflammatory nature of sweet make it beneficial to pitta and its wet and building properties will increase kapha.
Sour: Digests into sour: this will encourage digestion, benefit the liver, increase heat and moisture in the body whilst also calming the nervous system. Its long-tem effect is to aggravate pitta and calm vata.
Pungent, bitter, astringent: Digest into pungent: its nature is to increase dryness, constipation and gas. This can help kapha and aggravate vata.
To give an example of how the vipaka varies according to the specific energetics of each herb we will look at the Peppers. Both Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) and Long Pepper (Piper longum) are pungent and heating. Whilst Black Pepper is pungent after digestion and therefore constipating, drying and damaging to the production of reproductive fluids, Long Pepper is sweet post digestively and therefore helps elimination, is moistening and is a beneficial rejuvenative tonic to kapha and as an aphrodisiac to the reproductive system. Onions and Ginger are other examples of herbs that are hot and irritating in the raw state but become less hot and sweeter and nourishing after cooking; both also have respected anti-inflammatory effects and promote the reproductive system.
Guna: The qualities of the herbs
The specific ‘quality’ of a herb indicates its potential therapeutic activity.
There are twenty qualities listed in Sushruta but these five listed below are the main ones used in Ayurvedic herbal energetics:
Plants, foods and minerals that are light have a quality that moves upwards, are easily digested and also remove sluggishness and kapha. Aromatic and warming herbs often have a light quality. The bitter and astringent flavoured herbs are usually light in nature. Leaves, seeds and fruits are mainly light. The aromatic Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) seeds are light.
Substances that are heavy sink downwards, are difficult to digest, increase kapha and nourish the whole system. They benefit vata by opposing its light, dry qualities. Heavy natured herbs are often sweet, salty or sour. Roots, resins, nuts and barks are often heavy. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is heavy.
These medicinals are soft, demulcent and oily. They are strengthening, increase virility, fertility and kapha. They are usually sweet, heavy and contain a high content of volatile oils, mucilage or essential fatty acids. Sesame (Sesamum indicum) seeds and oil are unctuous.
Any plant with a dry quality is naturally astringent, absorbs moisture and therefore reduces kapha and increases vata. They are usually high in tannins and may also be heating as well (as heat dries fluids). Most plants have tannins in but certain barks and fruits are especially astringent. Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) is dry.
Penetrating or Sharp (tikshna)
Herbs with a penetrating or sharp quality are usually pungent, acrid and aromatic. They spread deeply into the tissues, open the channels and by their intense nature increase pitta and calm kapha and vata. Vacha (Acorus calamus) has penetrating properties.
Prabhava: The unique action of a plant
Ayurveda includes the descriptive category of prabhava or specific action. This term implies the individual action of a substance regardless of its taste, energy or post-digestive effect. It includes these concepts but is not dependent upon them. It is the specific action of a plant above and beyond its energetic classification.
For example, tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is classified as heating but it therapeutically helps to clear heat and reduce fever through diaphoresis. This means that whatever the causes of the fever, tulsi is indicated and this is its prabhava.
Sesame seeds (Sesamum indica) and Madanphala (Randia dumentorium) are both sweet, astringent and bitter in flavour but Sesame is a tonic whilst Madanphala is an emetic and reduces any excess of the doshas. Whilst they have similar flavours, their actions are different. Each has their own unique and individual prabhava.
Pole, S. (2013) Ayurvedic medicine: The principles of traditional practice. London: Singing Dragon.