A Respected Ayurvedic Tradition
Chyawanprash is one of the oldest and most respected Ayurvedic formulations. It is commonly referred to as a concoction, tonic, or jam, and is made from a mixture of ghee, amalaki (Indian gooseberry), oils, berries, herbs, and spices. Depending on the preparation, it can have a color that is brown or purple, and a consistency of a thick paste or light honey. Interestingly, very few preparations of chyawanprash are the same because some recipes call for more than 80 ingredients. All of these different flavors give chyawanprash a complex taste that is sometimes sweet, sour, or spicy, and sometimes all at the same time.
People use chyawanprash as a condiment at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or in smaller doses as a dietary supplement. Thanks to the many plant ingredients found in chyawanprash, each serving can include nutrients like vitamins, minerals, volatile oils, adaptogens, antioxidants, and other natural plant and herbal compounds that may provide potentially beneficial medicinal properties.
History of Chyawanprash
Tales about the origins of chyawanprash vary, but most accounts center around a great sage named Chyawan, and a princess named Sukanya. (1) (2) In the story, Chyawan has spent many years meditating in a forest. According to some, he has been alive for centuries thanks to his yogic powers, but he is physically old and had lost much of his vigor and strength. Having sat for so long in the forest, Chyawan is eventually covered by leaves and branches, and when searched for he is never found.
One day, Sukanya is playing in the forest where Chyawan is meditating. Believing herself alone, she dances feely and accidentally bumps into the cover that hides Chyawan. The incident is revealed to the king, who abiding by the customs of the kingdom (which demands a woman can only touch one man during her lifetime), requests that Chyawan marry the princess. Old in age and without vitality or strength, Chyawan reluctantly agrees to the marriage, but only if he is given time to prepare for the wedding.
Wanting to give the princess a happy marriage, Chyawan seeks out the Ayurvedic practitioner named Ashwini Kumar to make a tonic to help him attain youth. Finding this to be a noble cause, Ashwini creates a rejuvenating tonic. Once complete, Ashwini brings the concoction to Chyawan, who consumes it until the vigor of his youth returns. Again young and strong, Chyawan marries Sukanya, and they live a happy life together.
The tonic that Ashwini creates is known in Ayurvedic medicine as a rasayana, which is a term that means “path of essence.” This describes the science of helping someone attain longevity, health, and rejuvenation. (3) For Ayurvedic practitioners, creating an herbal preparation that instills these qualities is one of the highest pursuits. Today, herbal tonics that are inspired by the concoction that restored Chyawan to youth are known as chyawanprash.
Potential Benefits of Chyawanprash
The potential benefits of Chyawanprash are believed to be the result of natural chemical compounds found in the herbs, spices, and fruit used in each recipe. (4) These include flavonoids, alkaloids, saponins, piperine, and phenolic compounds, all of which support free radical scavenging antioxidants, cellular development, the structure and integrity of cells, the function of molecules, and the many biological systems found in the body. (5) (6)
Chyawanprash May Support: (7)
- Immune system
- The brain
- Memory, learning, and focus
- Respiratory system
- Normal aging
- Healthy-looking skin
- The eyes
- The gastrointestinal tract
- The reproductive system and libido
- Cholesterol and blood pressure already within the normal range
- Temporary relief from occasional symptoms associated with a cold or the flu
In a study from the Guru Jambheshwar University of Science & Technology in India, researchers studied the effect of chyawanprash on cognition. (8) Two concentrations of chyawanprash were administered for 15 successive day to 17 groups with ages ranging from young to old. Standard memory assessment challenges were conducted and found that the brain function "significantly improved" in the older group when compared to the young group. The results are attributed to "the antioxidant effect of chyawanprash, pro-cholinergic action, improved learning ability, and increased retention capacity."
Flavonoids, like those found in some preparations of chyawanprash, are plant pigments found in fruit, vegetables, grains, bark, roots, stems, flowers, tea, and wine. (9) These pigments are created by plants in response to growing conditions where insects, environmental toxins, ultraviolet light from the sun, and other challenges may disrupt the normal function of cells. When ingested by humans, flavonoids are believed to support a range of functions in the body, including support for a healthy cardiovascular system, the development of DNA, and the normal function of arteries and vessels.
To determine the potential of chyawanprash for the support of the immune system, researchers from four institutes in India examined the treatment response of 99 patients that were taking anti-tubercular drugs (ATD). (10) Blood tests were taken prior to the start of the study, and 28 days later when the treatment ended. Each blood sample underwent testing for "hematological profile, sputum bacterial load count, immunoglobulin IgA and IgM, blood sugar, liver function test, serum creatinine." Researchers conclude that "the symptoms abated, body weight showed improvement, ESR values were normal, there was an appreciable change in IgA and IgM patterns and significantly increased the bioavailability of isoniazid and pyrazinamide were recorded."
Researchers note that the goal of the study was to identify possible therapeutic alternatives to counteract resistant strains of bacteria that can lead to pulmonary tuberculosis. The results do not indicate that existing drugs should be replaced with chyawanprash, but that research into nurturing formulas that may support existing treatments may be essential for public health initiatives.
Ingredients in Chyawanprash
Each chyawanprash recipe is meant to begin with the same six essential ingredients, as shown below. (11) After creating this base, there are more than 80 additional herbs, fruits, and spices that can be added to taste and for specific medicinal benefit. Using more or less of any ingredient may change the consistency, from a thick herbal paste to a light jam that spreads easily on crackers, breads, or can be mixed with water, warm milk, or tea.
Essential Chyawanprash Ingredients:
- Amalaki (Amla, Indian gooseberry), agaru
- Clarified Butter (ghee)
- Sesame Oil
Optional Chyawanprash Ingredients:
- Agnimantha, ashwagandha, asparagus
- Bamboo manna, bark of bael tree blue Egyptian water lily, brahmi, brihati
- Cardamom, chandan (white sandalwood), chebulic myrobalan, Chinese cinnamon, cinnamon bark, clove, chestnut, coomb teak, country mallow
- Draksha (dry grapes)
- Galls, gambhari, giloy, guduchi, ginger lily, glory bower, gold extract, gokshura (caltrops), guduchi (heartleaf moonseed)
- Hogweed (punarnava)
- Jatamansi, Jeevanti, jeevaka
- Indian kudzu, Irish root, licorice
- Kamal gatta (lotus beads), kakanasika, karkatakashringi (crab’s claw) kakoli, karchoor, karkatsringi, kesar, kshir kakoli, kantakari (thorny nightshade)
- Lal chandan (red sandalwood)
- Maha medha (tendril leaf solomon’s seal), malabar nut, mashaparni (blue wiss), meda, mudgaparni (wild gram), mustak
- Nagkesar, nut grass
- Patala (rose flower fragrant), pippali (long pepper), prishnaparni (Indian uraria), pushkarmool
- Raisin, riddhi, round zedoary
- Saffron, sandalwood, shatavari, shalaparni, shyonaka (broken bones plant), silver extract
- Tejpata (Indian bay leaf), tiger’s claw, triphala, trumpet flower, tulsi
- Utpala (blue star water lily)
- Vidar (alligator yam, milky tam, giant potato), vidarikand, vrishabha
- ... and more!
Chyawanprash is unique in several ways. First, it combines a wide variety of ingredients into one formula. For some, this results in a taste that is ideal, while some may find the resulting flavors to be overpowering. Second, according to ayurvedic teachings, chyawanprash is hot, and therefore can help to balance vata and kapha; however, it can increase pitta, which can result in negative physical and behavioral traits. To help balance pitta, take chyawanprash with a drink that has cooling properties, such as milk. Finally, there is no right or wrong way to make chyawanprash. Whether the recipe calls for a handful of ingredients or the more than the 50 that are available, each serving of chyawanprash offers a unique flavor and numerous potential benefits.
Chyawanprash can be taken with food or as a dietary supplement. There are no restrictions on how to eat chyawanprash, besides personal health. Taking too much chyawanprash without first acclimating the body to the variety of herbs and spices found in each batch has been shown to result in abdominal discomfort, gas, and other challenges in the digestive system. When eating chyawanprash for the first time, start with a smaller dose to see how the body reacts. Over time, increase the amount of the recommended dosage as shown below.
- Newborns - Only recommended for breastfeeding mothers
- Toddlers - 1/4 teaspoon or less
- 3 to 5 years - 1/2 teaspoon or less
- 6 to 12 years - 1 teaspoon or less
- 13 to 19 years - 1 to 2 teaspoons
- 19 to 60 years - 1-1/2 to 3 teaspoons
- Above 60 years - 1 to 2 teaspoons
- Pregnant women - 1/2 to 1 teaspoon, once or twice daily
- Lactation - 1 to 2 teaspoons
- Maximum dosage - 20 to 40 grams divided throughout the day
These dosage recommendations may or may not be right for every person. Depending on whether it is taken as a condiment or supplement may mean eating more or less. Also be aware that a teaspoon of chyawanprash should be level with the edges of the spoon to prevent ingesting too much. It is suggested that the right time to take each dose is on an empty stomach in the morning, 30 minutes before dinner, or 2 hours after dinner. Adults may consider multiple doses, but children should not exceed 1. For optimal potency, take with goat, cow, or almond milk; however, this is not required.
Side Effects and Warning
Chyawanprash may only have a negative effect on the body as a result of certain conditions. (12) Chyawanprash contains sugar, so monitoring blood sugar levels may be important for some users. Discomfort, such as burning in the stomach has been reported and may be a result of the herbs and spices. Discomfort may also result from a thicker paste-like consistency that is causing it to rest inside the stomach; warm milk can help to help loosen the paste or promote abdominal comfort. If watery stools occur, stop taking chyawanprash or decrease the dose. Additionally, some ingredients found in chyawanprash has been known to cause allergic reactions in some people. Before taking starting a regular dosage, or increasing the amount taken, consult a primary care provider first.
An Indian Tradition
Chyawanprash is widely used in India and has many traditional uses. From support for the immune system to a condiment that pairs well with a variety of foods, each batch of chyawanprash has unique properties and flavors that have helped it to remain popular over many centuries. While perhaps less familiar to Westerners, researchers and Ayurvedic practitioners are looking for new ways to spread knowledge of chyawanprash, and its many potential benefits.