Long before there were vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant supplements, there was chyavanprash, one of Ayurveda's most respected anti-aging foods. Chyavanprash is in the Ayurvedic category of rasayana- a super-concentrated mixture of vitamin-rich herbs and minerals designed to restore spent reserves of vital energy (ojas) and revitalize normal body function. For centuries it's been used to maintain youth and optimal health, and its adaptogenic properties make it an excellent anti-aging and anti-stress tonic.
Its rather unusual name is derived from the legend of Chyavana Rishi, a forest sage who practiced austerities. He kept his body covered with clay and grass so his eyes would shine through like jewels. One day a king by the name of Sharyati and his young daughter came into the forest on a hunt. Upon encountering Chyavana Rishi, the princess, who was perplexed by his shining eyes, poked them with blades of grass. This enraged the sage, which caused the king to appease him by having his daughter marry the rishi. Once having a taste of nuptial bliss with his young bride, Chyavana was keen to to prolong his pleasure.
Ashwini Kumar, the famous Ayurvedic physician, remedied their vast age difference by prescribing kayakalpa, a rejuvenative treatment, for the rishi. This treatment included a ritual bath in a nearby river and eating the herbal formula that became known as chyavanprash.
Chyavanprash has a jamlike texture. It is considered a single entity even though it contains over 40 herbs and minerals, which include ghee, sesame oil, honey, raw sugar, long pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, sandalwood, turmeric, cloves, saffron, amalaki, ashwaganda, shatavari, bala, gudduchi, and gokshura.
The dominant ingredient is amla, also known as amalaki or Indian gooseberry, a long-living tree that produces an intensely sour citrus fruit; it is one of the most powerful rejuvenative herbs in Ayurveda. Each amla fruit, about the size of a golf ball when ripe, contains more than 3,000 mg of vitamin C, a powerful source of antioxidants.
Its touch of sweetness also plays a significant role. In Ayurveda honey and sugar are commonly added to certain herbal formulations to act as an anupan, a substance that directs the properties of the herbs deep into the tissues. In the case of chyavanprash, its sweet flavor means it is quickly assimilated into the bloodstream, which helps to better facilitate its active ingredients into cell walls.
Chyavanprash can be used by people of all ages. According to Ayurveda, it decreases vata and kapha and increases pitta doshas. It has a warming, unctuous, and heavy nature that is believed to improve longevity. Chyavanprash is also commonly called upon to support those with physical weakness from loss of body weight; respiratory ailments such as chronic cough and asthma; metabolic fatigue due to a lack of natural vitamins, proteins, and minerals; as well as some age-related conditions, including diminished resistance to disease, anemia, and loss of memory. One teaspoon of chyavanprash jam taken twice daily is often advised. If you buy chyavanprash in powdered form, five grams of the powder should be mixed with one cup of warm water and taken twice daily.
Many sources list the formula as having no specific contraindications, but because chyavanprash can increase pitta dosha, it should be used cautiously if you suffer from aggravated pitta disorders, such as diarrhea or peptic ulcer. And as always, consult an Ayurvedic practitioner before taking this or any other herbal formula.
Herb columnist James Bailey practices Ayurveda, Oriental Medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and vinyasa yoga. He lives with his family in Santa Monica, California.