Shatavari has been used throughout history in ancient systems of medicine that originated on the subcontinent of India and parts of China. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, shatavari is known as a woman’s herb. Among the potential benefits of shatavari, the natural chemicals that develop in the root structure of the plant may produce an aphrodisiac-like effect, may promote reproductive health, and may support lactation in new or expecting mothers.
But shatavari is not only for women. Modern research is continually identifying new uses for this herb. While evidence of this herb’s effect on human and animal health has been written about in many ancient texts, the Western world is starting to take notice.
What Is Shatavari?
Shatavari is an herb that belongs to the asparagus family of plants, but shares many visual features with young pine trees. From a thin trunk to narrow branches that sprout green pine needles, the few defining characteristics of shatavari include small white flowers, and during some periods of the year, small darkly colored berries. While its outward appearance is familiar to pine, its root system is relatively unique among the plant world.
The shatavari plant produces around a hundred tuberous roots that when fully grown measure a little more than 3 feet in length. At this stage of development, the roots have taken on the appearance of bleached or pale sweet potatoes. Over its lifetime, the roots grow thicker and reach deeper into the soil where more nutrients can be absorbed. These nutrients are then converted into natural chemical compounds that have been identified as having potentially beneficial medicinal properties. While the entire plant structure can be used (just like asparagus), the root structure is believed to be the most nutrient dense.
Potential Benefits of Shatavari
Modern analysis of the root structure has found that shatavari contains a range of phytochemicals. These phytochemicals include steroidal saponins, flavones, sterols, trace minerals, and more. (1) When taken as a supplement, these natural chemical compounds are believed to support many biological functions in a healthy body.
Shatavari Root May Support
- Female reproduction
- Aging women and monthly challenges
- Abdominal comfort
- Male and female reproductive tissue
- Milk production in women
- Estrogen and hormone production
- A normal mood and behavior
- A healthy immune system
- Bowel regularity
- A healthy urinary tract
- Cognition, learning, and memory
In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, shatavari was commonly identified as a female tonic. Practitioners would administer the herb to women to encourage procreation or to “rejuvenate” female reproductive organs. In fact, the word shatavari means “she who possesses 100 husbands,” and is labeled the “queen of herbs.”
In the book, Female Reproductive System & Herbal Healing vs. Prescription Drugs and Their Side Effects, Chela Ram Bathika, MH, RH, writes about shatavari in Ayurvedic medicine as a female tonic.“Shatavari plays a big role in female fertility and is the best-known female rejuvenator. It intensifies fertility by nourishing the ovum and organizes the womb for fertilization. The softening action of the herb decreases dryness of the vaginal wall. Shatavari helps ease premenstrual syndrome symptoms, controls blood loss during the menstrual cycle, and controls ovulation. According to Ayurveda, shatavari is the best female reproductive system herb; it is often used for infertility, endangered miscarriage, leucorrhea, and menopausal problems. (2)”
Ayurvedic systems of medicine may hold some of these claims as valuable when administering herbal dosages, but it is important to consult modern scientific research before reaching a conclusion on whether or not shatavari will provide these desired feelings of health and wellness.
What Modern Science Says About Shatavari
A study examining the effects of shatavari on lactation found that steroidal saponins extracted from the roots helped to elevate levels of the prolactin hormone found in the blood. (3) Production of this hormone occurs in the pituitary gland and is essential for the production of milk in mammals.
To achieve these results, researchers studied 60 lactating mothers. Each mother was given extract of shatavari in capsule form, with milk, for 30 days. Blood was then drawn, and levels of prolactin were compared to blood drawn prior to the start of the experiment. Additionally, researchers evaluated the weight of the babies and compared the results against a control group of breastfeeding women that did not take a shatavari supplement.
The study concludes that “the oral administration of the research [supplement] had a definite positive impact on the primary parameter, the prolactin hormone level in the lactating mothers.” For secondary parameters, researchers note that there was overall satisfaction in both the weight of mothers and babies, including “subjective satisfaction of mothers regarding the state of lactation and the well-being and happiness of babies.”
In a study that examines the claims of shatavari as a female tonic, researchers found that this herb may provide support for a healthy reproductive system. (4) The study notes that chemical compounds found in this herb may provide temporary relief from occasional pain, may promote comfort during ovulation, may support the healthy mucosal lining found on tissue of sexual organs, and may promote the normal function of hormones in the uterus during normal aging.
Shatavia is also believed to have properties associated with aphrodisiac activity. (5) During lab testing, sexual responses were evaluated after administering shatavari. Notably, researchers identified “an improvement in sexual behavior” when compared to test subjects not given the extract of shatavari. The observed effects were attributed to “the testosterone-like effects of the extracts.” Additionally, the researchers note that results suggest that folklore claims about shatavari as an aphrodisiac may have some scientific basis of fact.
Shatavari contains steroidal saponins, known as shatvarin I, II, III, IV, V, and VI. Saponins are structural molecules that can join with other compounds to support various functions in the body, including support for antioxidant activity.
Antioxidants provide support for the normal removal of metabolic waste, metals, or other substances from the body. Antioxidants also support the healthy development of cells, and support the structure and integrity of cellular membranes in response to environmental challenges, such as microbes, toxins, and ultraviolet light from the sun.
In a study looking at the effect of shatavari on cholesterol metabolism and antioxidant status, researchers found that the natural chemical compounds in this herb are believed to promote bile acid production in a healthy liver. (6) This bile is made by the liver while filtering blood as it circulates through the cardiovascular system. This bile then passes into the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys where it is later passes as waste. According to this study, the detoxification process is also believed to support the removal of cholesterol from the body, which may help to maintain “good” cholesterol in a healthy cardiovascular system.
Shatavari also contains immunomodulating properties. Immunomodulation is the adjustment of the immune response to a desired level. This may involve the alteration of antibodies, cytokines, glucocorticoids, immunoglobulins, or similar agents that are part of a healthy immune system. (7) Immunomodulation may also provide support for the regulation of cytokine production, which is a component of the immune system that responds to disruptions in the body. This regulation may provide temporary relief from occasional pain, may help to maintain skin thickness and tissue weight during cellular responses to challenges, and may provide support for healthy-looking skin.
Brain And Mood Support
Shatavari is known as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are herbs that provide support for a healthy stress and frustration response; and support for the adrenal glands and the normal regulation of hormones in the brain, including serotonin. Serotonin is believed to help regulate feelings of anxiousness, restlessness, happiness, and may help to maintain normal emotions, feeling of motivation, and clarity of the mind. (8)
Studies show that when saponins from shatavari were given to test subjects, it helped the subjects to maintain their mobility and avoidance responses in forced swim tests and learned helplessness tests. These tests seek to push the body and mind to the point of confusion or panic. However, results from these studies suggest that the extracts in shatavari might have positive results for mood and behavior during frustrating or difficult situations. Additionally, extracts from shatavari were found to promote the interaction of compounds in the brain, which may indicate optimal communication for support of learning and memory functions. In all cases, these effects were attributed to, in part, the antioxidant properties found in shatavari.
Gastrointestinal Tract and Digestive System Support
The extent of support that shatavari offers a healthy immune system is not entirely known, but one potential benefit may include support for a healthy stomach and abdominal comfort. In the evaluation of 32 patients with ulcers, each patient was given shatavari root powder. The results of the study point to “strengthening mucosal resistance, prolonging the lifespan of mucosal cells, increasing secretion and viscosity of mucous, and reducing H+ ion back diffusion.” Shatavari did not disrupt the normal production of stomach acid, but the additional support for the mucosal lining was believed to have a cytoprotective action, meaning shatavari is believed to help protect cells from foreign agents that may cause ulcers in the stomach.
Shatavari may also provide support in a healthy digestive system. One study involved the use of the root powder to promote bowel regularity and the emptying of the gastrointestinal tract. Fresh root juice is also believed to support the smooth lining in the first part of the gastrointestinal tract, known as the duodenum; additionally, the root juice did not disrupt movement in the GI tract, which is essential to the movement of nutrients further along the digestive system.
Support for the Pitta Dosha
One aspect of Ayurvedic medicine is the recognition of the body’s interconnectedness (mind, body, and spirit,) the body’s prakriti (constitution,) the life forces known as the three doshas: pitta, vata, and kapha; and the 6 tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. (9)
In Ayurveda, all living things contain space (ether), air, fire, water, and earth. (10) These building blocks of life correspond to the three doshas. The doshas influence the individual's unique traits from moment to moment and during the course of life. However, the doshas fluctuate in response to the weather, an person’s current state of emotion, and stress. When out of balance, shatavari may be ideal to help bring pitta back into balance.
In Ayurveda, shatavari is considered sweet, which means that it contains water and earth; and bitter, which means that it consists of air and space. It also has cooling properties, which may be ideal for abdominal comfort, healthy-looking skin, and temporary relief from elevated temperatures. Shatavari may also provide support for a healthy digestive system, metabolism, and energy production.
Note, too much shatavari is believed to result in a greater kapha dosha. Kapha has properties such as weight gain, fluid retention or bloating, breathing challenges, excessive sleep, stress and frustration, and a bad mood. Controlling the intake of all herbs, along with meditation and other physical and mental practices may provide a desirable balance.
How To Use Shatavari
Shatavari grows throughout Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, and the Himalayas, typically in rocky soils at higher elevations. If access to the whole plant is not available, the herb can be found as a powder, tablet, dried root pieces, or as a liquid extract. (11) While tablets and capsules do offer convenience, the root powder and root pieces are versatile. Try some of the following mixtures to enjoy the many potential medicinal benefits of shatavari.
- Breastfeeding Mothers: Add the dry root to a cup of milk and heat for up to 10 minutes, or until a desirable temperature is reached. Filter out the root, and drink early in the morning to promote lactation. Start with 1 or 2 small roots, then add additional roots over time until you reach a desired result.
- Energy, Vitality, and Libido:Follow your favorite homemade candy recipe, but add 3-5 grams of root powder per candy. This formula may help to promote energy levels, vitality, and a healthy libido.
- Urinary Tract Health:Mix 5 grams of the powder with a spoonful of honey each night before bed. This combination is believed to provide temporary relief from occasional pain, and may support a healthy urinary tract.
- Male Reproductive Health:Mix equal parts shatavari, ashwagandha, and kapikacchu in a cup of milk, let stand for 5 minutes, then filter and drink. This formula may support a healthy libido and reproductive function.
- All Purpose Ghee:Bring 32 ounces of water to a boil, add 6 tablespoons of shatavari powder and 8 ounces of ghee. (12) Reduce heat and boil until water is reduced to 8 ounces. Use cheesecloth to strain out the shatavari. Add the ghee to a pan and cook on low until all the water is evaporated. Cool and transfer the shatavari ghee to a glass jar and seal. Take 1 teaspoon daily in warm water for general support of health and wellness.
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that means life-knowledge. A guiding practice of Ayurvedic medicine is looking for ways to balance a person’s life force, and to recognize the link between mind and body. In Ayurveda, shatavari is one part of this equation. Along with with other herbs, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and expanding the mind with knowledge, shatavari may provide optimal feelings of health and wellness during every stage of life.