Herbal Extracts and Cellular Agni

By Michael Dick


Recently Dr. Lad presented material on the concept of agni. Of especial interest were his revelations on the nature and significance of the cellular agnispilu and pithara. In another section of this issue is an extended discussion on pilu and pithara agnis so they won’t be discussed in detail here. In general, these two agnis serve to protect and promote the many cellular functions within the concepts of anu srotas—with pilu orienting more at the gross cellular functional level and pithara mainly at the functional level of DNA dealing with the cell’s consciousness. This column has a particular focus—the application of these notions to the area of herbology.

The “food” or “fuel” for the functioning of these metabolic fires arrives at the cellular membrane as a substance (dravya) which has an effect on the cell by virtue of its inherent qualities (guna) and actions (karma). This is to say that the substance is a packet of instructions guiding cellular activities. While DNA provides one level of instruction, this instruction is modified by the interaction that occurs when a substance comes into contact with the cell membrane and/or enters the cell. Recall from earlier Journal articles that all functioning of the cell is governed by the operation of the interactive principles of prana, tejas and ojas and their respective functional mediators, vata, pitta and kapha. The cell exists, reproduces, changes and perishes by virtue of the interaction of these governing principles. Tejas—the subtle fire and inner light of intelligence—and pitta—its container—are the father and mother, respectively, of these cellular agnis or fires. The cellular agnis can be nourished directly, by increasing the strength and efficiency of metabolic processes, or indirectly, by removing ama, for example. As a cell exists in a particular tissue environment, it may or may not be affected by the ingestion of a particular substance.

There is a class of fermented herbal extracts called asavas in Sanskrit. The Caraka Samhita lists nine sources of these extracts: cereal, fruit, root, heartwood, flower, stem, leaf, bark, and sugar. While their mixtures are innumerable by combinations, ingredients and methods of preparation, there are 84 primary ones considered most wholesome. Caraka states that asavas generally promote courage, corpulence, satisfaction, imagination, strength of mind, body and digestion; they alleviate sleeplessness, anxiety, and anorexia and are exhilarating. Technically, there are two categories of extracts: asavas made from fresh herbal juice with yeast as the fermentation agent and arishta made from concoction by cooking. Dr. Lad has provided a comparison of these two categories in Table 1. By taking these herbal asavas and arishtas, one can improve the sattvic quality of mind and assimilate thoughts, feelings and emotions into pure awareness.

In this issue, our interest is with draksha and ashvagandha. Draksha is an herbal wine, the asava from grapes. It is energy-promoting by virtue of its blood-building iron content but tends to be constipating, because of the iron. Draksha contains self-generated alcohol. When taken after food, it promotes proper digestion and when taken before food, it stimulates jathar agni and consequently stimulates appetite.

Ashvagandha—Withania somnifera, also called winter cherry—has bitter and astringent taste (rasa); heating (ushna) energy; sweet post-digestive effect (vipaka). It balances vata and kapha but may increase pitta. It does act on all seven tissues (dhatus) and in this way is rejuvenative. Ashwagandha is indicated for geriatrics, sexual debility in males, anxiety, hypertension, ulceration and general muscular debility. Asava of ashvagandha nourishes the tissue agnis of mamsa, meda, asthi, majja due to its natural affinity for these tissues. Owing to the heavy qualities of asavas, they fail to nourish the cellular agnispilu and pithara. And because they are heavy they may actually produce the formation of ama in the cells and tissues if dhatu agnis are low. Ama destroys cellular intelligence and consciousness because of its heavy, sticky, dull, cloudy, static nature.

Ashvagandha prepared in the form of an arishta, on the other hand, has few drawbacks and numerous benefits. Because of its lightness and subtlety, it enters the cell membrane and easily nourishes the mamsa, meda, asthi, majja dhatus and cellular agnispilu and pithara. Their intelligent and efficient functioning are promoted and maintained. This means ama—mental, emotional and physical—is rooted out of the cell, balance of the doshic principles within the cell is facilitated, bliss is experienced and longevity is secured.

Dr. Lad has given us some recipes for the use of ashvagandha:

•  Insomnia and general debility: ∫ teaspoon ashvagandha + 1 teaspoon ghee boiled with 1 cup  milk, taken 1 hour before bed

•  Lactation: 1 teaspoon ashwagandha + ∫ teaspoon licorice root (yasti mahdu) boiled with 1 cup  milk

•  Emphysema: ∫ teaspoon ashvagandha + ∫ teaspoon pippali + 1 teaspoon honey

•  Low sperm count: 1 teaspoon ashvagandha + 1 teaspoon honey taken after meals

•  Low libido: 1 teaspoon ashvagandha boiled with 1 cup milk, taken 90 minutes before sex

•  Emaciation: 1 teaspoon ashvagandha boiled with 1 cup goat’s milk, morning and evening


Caraka Samhita, P.V. Sharma, translator, Chaukhambha Orientalia, Varanasi, India. 1981, Vol. I,  pp. 173, 174, 209, 210

Dr. Lad, Agni Seminar, February 1997

Dr. Lad, Herbology I Seminar, March 1994

Dr. Lad, Private Conversation , March l997



fresh herbal juice

made from concoction

require no cooking to produce

by cooking

heavy on dhatu agni digestion

light on dhatu agni digestion

affect or nourish only rasa (plasma/lymph) and rakta (red blood cells) dhatus (tissues)

nourish mamsa (muscle), meda (fat), asthi (bone), majja dhatus (tissues)

require strong dhatu agni as a prerequisite of use

recommended even for debilitated dhatu agni

made only seasonally

preparation is available in any season

build prana

build tejas and ojas

may add to dhatu ama because they are heavy on dhatu digestion

burn ama

should be taken on empty stomach

may be given after food

may produce constipation

help elimination

act by virtue of taste (rasa), energy (virya), and post-digestive effect (vipaka)

act according to rasa, virya, vipaka, and prabhava (its special effect)

helps to promote digestive fire of jathara agni

kindle pilu and pithara agnis.


(C) Copyright 2001 Michael Dick All Rights Reserved  www-www.ayurveda-florida.com