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Ashoka (Saraca asoca, Saraca indica)

James Odell, OMD, ND, L.Ac

An ashoka tree with its deense leaves and scarlet flowers.

Ashoka is one of the most ancient sacred and medicinal trees of India. Known by many names in different languages, it is commonly called “Ashok briksh”, or simply “Ashoka”, which means “without sorrow”, or “that which gives no grief.” 1 It belongs to the family Caesalpiniaceae subfamily of the legume. 2 The medicinal parts used are the bark, seeds, and flowers. Thus, all parts of this tree are considered pharmacologically important and have especially been used to manage various disorders. It is used as spasmogenic, oxytocic, uterotonic, anti-bacterial, anti-implantation, anti-tumor, anti- pregestational, antiestrogenic activity against menorrhagia, and anti-cancer. 3


History


The Ashoka tree has been mentioned in some of the oldest Indian texts and has been

regarded as a panacea. Ayurvedic texts from the medieval period till recent times have

described the numerous beneficial uses of Ashoka. The classical Ayurvedic treatise

Charaka Samhita (1000 BC) describes its effectiveness as an analgesic and astringent as

well as in skin diseases, including leprosy. 4 The treatise of Susruta Samhita (500 BC)

describes its uses in female reproductive disorders, as well as in fever, neurological

disorders, snake bites, and eye diseases. The renowned Ayurvedic author and doctor

Vāgbhata (6th century AD) described the use of its seeds in cough. The Ayurvedic

text Dhanvantari Nighantu (9th century AD) recorded the use of Ashoka as a cooling

agent, aromatic and cardiac tonic with curing effects for wounds, ulcers, hemorrhoids,

and bone fractures. In the Chakradatta, a text from the 11th century, the bark of Ashoka is prescribed for severe bleeding. It also mentions the ingestion of seeds in the case of urine flow obstruction due to kidney stones. The legendary Indian text, Ramayana also mentions the medicinal virtues of the Ashoka tree. 5


Ashoka is especially sacred to the Hindu god of Love, Kamadeva, for whom it is worshipped every year on December 27 th . Historically, married women in India are known to eat Ashoka flower buds as a ritual to invoke deities for child protection as well as treat gynecological problems. Natives in India wear root pieces of Ashoka as herbal rosary for mental tranquility. 6, 7, 8


Habitat

The Ashoka tree grows throughout India up to an altitude of 750 meters, particularly

in the Central and Eastern Himalayas and the Khasi, Garo, and Lushai hills. It is also

found in the Andaman Islands. 9 As a wild tree, the Ashoka is a vulnerable species. It is

becoming rarer in its natural habitat, but isolated wild Ashoka trees are still to be found in the foothills of the central and eastern Himalayas, in scattered locations of the northern plains of India as well as on the west coast of the subcontinent near Mumbai. It is also cultivated in gardens throughout India for its beautiful flowers. 10, 11


Morphology


Reaching a final height of 7–10 meters, this evergreen and deciduous tree displays a

profuse branching pattern with paripinnate leaves and orange to scarlet fragrant

flowers arranged in dense lateral corymbs. 12


Constituents


Its bark is bitter, astringent, and sweet in taste. The bark contains catechol, sterol, tannins, flavonoids, glycosides, leucopetargonidin and leucocyanidin, (-) epicatechin, procyanidin p2, 11'deoxyprocyanidin B, leucoperalgonidin and leucocyanidin. 13

Additionally, its dried bark contains five lignin glycosides, lyoniside, nudiposide, 5-

methoxy-9βxylopyranosyl-(–) isolariciresinol, icariside E3 and schizandriside and three

flavonoids epicatechin, epiafzelechin-(4β→8)-epicatechin and procyanidin B2,

together with βsitosterolglucoside. 14 Its flower contains oleic, linoleic, palmitic, and

stearic acids, P-sitosterol, quercetin, kaempferol-3-O-P-D-glucoside,apigenin-7-O-p-

D-glucoside,Pelargonidin 3,5diglucoside, cyanidin-3, leucocyanidin, and gallic acid.

Four anthrocyanin pigments have been isolated from flowers; beta and alpha sitosterol

are isolated from the oil of flowers. Seeds and pods contain oleic, linoleic, palmitic,

and stearic acids catechol, (-) epicatechol, and leucocyanidin. 15, 16, 17


Medicinal Uses


Gynecological Conditions


The bark is rich in flavonoids, tannins, and glycosides that work as a uterine sedative

that has a direct impact on the fibers present in the muscles of the uterus. It has a

stimulating effect on endometrial and ovarian tissue. The bark also contains natural

phytoestrogens which help to regulate the menstrual cycle, stimulating the uterus to

normalize menstrual flow. 18


Bark extracts are useful in internal bleeding, hemorrhoids, ulcers, uterine affections,

and menorrhagia especially due to uterine fibroids, leucorrhea, ovarian cysts, and

certain skin eruptions -acne. Women of Chhattisgarh boil the bark of Ashoka in cow's

milk, add sugar, and consume it once a day for three days and repeat the course after

three months to prevent gynecological disorders. It is also traditionally used to

encourage urine flow and thus helps in treating conditions that cause painful

urination, such as urinary tract infections. 20


In general, Ashoka can be effectively used to aid several uncomfortable menstrual

disorders such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), amenorrhea (absent periods),

dysmenorrhea (painful periods), and menorrhagia (heavy and prolonged menstrual

bleeding).


Menopause


The presence of quercetin, beta-sitosterol, and luteolin, phytoestrogens support

healthy hormonal function during the transition into menopause. Furthermore, it can

aid the healthy production of estrogen and progesterone when it is needed. Thus, the

hormonal balance that is promoted by this tree makes it effective against many

menopause symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, mood

swings, and weight gain. 19


Infertility


Ashoka is considered particularly effective for female infertility and endometriosis.

Ashoka is one of the key herbal remedies used by traditional healers of India to treat

“reproductive disorders”. 20 The success of Ashoka in the treatment of infertility in

women may be linked to the herb’s ability to successfully treat endometriosis - one of

the leading causes of infertility in women.


Other Benefits


Whilst Ashoka primarily is used to support female health throughout each stage of

their reproductive lives, other benefits include: 21


Anti-inflammatory – especially effective for the heart, Ashoka has been shown to

protect cardiac tissues from infiltration by inflammatory cells.


Sleep Aid - The bark and seeds of Ashoka help to relax an overactive central nervous

system, helping to reduce the time it takes to drop off to sleep. The quality and

duration of sleep can be improved due to the presence of certain flavonoids,

glycosides, and tannins.


Skin Health - The root, bark, and seeds of Ashoka are useful in the treatment of skin

conditions including eczema, acne, dermatitis, herpes scabies, and psoriasis. It is also

widely used to rejuvenate the complexion.


Ashoka Dosage


The following are traditional dosages of Ashoka. It is highly recommended to consult a health care practitioner familiar with Ashoka usage before consumption. Dosage should be individually tailored.


Ashoka Powder


Take ¼ -½ teaspoon of Ashoka bark powder. Add honey or water to it and take it

preferably after meals for a better result.


Ashoka Capsule


Take 1-2 capsules of Ashoka extract daily; swallow it with water preferably after meals.

Ashoka Tablet

Take 1-2 tablets of Ashoka extract daily; swallow it with water preferably after meals.


The Mythical Ashoka Tree Story


The Ashoka tree plays an important role in the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic from

ancient India. It is the tree under which Sita spends her days after being

abducted by Ravana. Sita – the wife of Rama (the prince of Ayodhya and an avatar

of the god Vishnu) is seized by the evil Ravana (King of the Demons) and imprisoned

in Lanka, until she is rescued by Rama, who slays her captor. It is under the tree

where she meets Hanuman (the monkey), that brings her news of Rama’s

rescue.


A woman dressed in a yellow dress with a head scarf sits under a tree looking up at a monkey

Here is an ancient Ramayana legend behind the Ashoka tree.


Sashoka was a feared cannibal. He would roam the jungles every day and

attack any travelers he found and eat them. One day, he spotted a hut near

the edge of the forest. Outside it, there was a sage meditating. Surprised by

how still the sage sat, Sashoka went up to him and asked, “You are at such

peace!” “Why am I not like you?”


“Who are you son?” asked the sage, opening his eyes. “What do you want?”

“I am Sashoka, a cannibal” he replied. “I kill people and roast them for food. People

fear me and I derive pleasure from that. But you…you are at such peace with the

world. I want to be like you.


The sage replied, “Live out your life in penance and prayer,” “Your time will come

and in your next life you will be born as a tree in Lanka where Sita, the abducted wife

of Rama will take refuge under your shade.”


Sashoka’s eyes lit up as he wiped his tears. “One day,” the sage continued, “Hanuman,

the monkey, will come in search of Sita. He will sit upon your branches as he conveys

Rama’s message to his wife. Upon hearing his words, Sita’s suffering and sorrow will

cease. At that moment, your sins will be washed away too, and your grief will forever

disappear. You will be known as Asoka, the tree that takes away grief!” Hence it is that

the Ashoka tree, under whose deep green foliage and lovely scarlet flowers, Sita took

refuge, is associated with the absence of sorrow.


References:

1. Kashyapa K, Chand R, The Useful Plants of India, National Institute of Science

Communication and Information Resources, CSIR, New Delhi, 2006.

2. Anonymous, Indian Medicinal Plants-A Compendium of 500 Species, vol 5, Orient

Longman Pvt Ltd, Chennai, 2006.

3. Kashyapa K, Chand R, The Useful Plants of India, National Institute of Science

Communication and information Resources, CSIR, New Delhi, 2006.

4. Bhav mishra, Gangasahay Pande. (editor), Krushnachandra Chunekar.

Bhavprakash Nighantu (Hindi Translation). 7th edition, Varanasi; Chaukhamba

Bharati Academy.1986, Reprint-2015, p.487-488.

5. Nadkarni AK, Dr. K.M. Nadkarni’s, Indian Materia Medica, vol 1., Bombay Popular

Prakashan, Mumbai, 2005.

6. M. Ali. Pharmacognocy. CBS Publishers and Distributors. New Delhi. 2008; p.668-

669.

7. http://www.herbalcureindia.com/herbs/asoka.htm

8. http://ayurveda-foryou.com/ayurveda_herb/ashok.html

9. PK Warrier, VPK Nambier, PM Ganpathy. Some important medicinal plants of the

western ghats, India - A Profile. International Development Research Centre, New

Delhi. 2000; 343-360.

10. Sharma PC, Yelne MB, Dennis TJ, Database on medicinal Plants used in

Ayurveda, Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Siddha, Department of

ISM&H, Ministry of Health, and Family Welfare (Govt. of India), New Delhi, 2005, p.

3, 76-78.

11. The Wealth of India. Vol-4. National Institute of Science Communication. New

delhi. 1972; reprinted 1999. P 232-234

12. Warrier PK, Nambier VPK, Ganpathy PM, Some important medicinal plants of

the western ghats, India : A Profile, International Development Research Centre, New

Delhi, 2000, 343-360.

13. Yadav G, Kumar V, Thakur N, Khare P. Locomotor activity of methanolic extract

of Saraca indica bark. Advances in Biological Research, 2013; 7(1): 01-03.

14. Pradhan et al., Saraca asoca (Ashoka): A Review, Journal of chemical and

pharmaceutical research, 2009, vol.1, pp. 62- 71.

15. VD Rastogi. Pharmacognosy & Phytochemistry, Career Publication, Nashik, 2003;

269270.

16. SK Jain. Medicinal Plants. National Book Trust, New Delhi, 1968; 124.

17. Yadav G, Kumar V, Thakur N, Khare P. Locomotor activity of methanolic extract

of Saraca indica bark. Advances in Biological Research, 2013; 7(1): 01-03.

18. http://www.saracaindica.com/Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India. 2001. Vol. I;

Part-I: 17-18.

19. http://ayurvedaforyou.com/ayurveda_herb/ashok.html

20. http://herbalsatt.blogspot.com/2011/01/20-ashoka.html

21. Dhawan BN, Patnaik GK, Rastogi RP, Singh KK, Tandon JS, Screening of Indian

plants for biological activity: part VI, Indian J Exp Biol, 1977, 15, 208-219.

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